Bill O’Reilly has become the number one cable news talk show host by conducting a “No Spin Zone.” A favorite of conservatives, his targets have included the Clintons, Jesse Jackson, Bill Moyers, Hollywood liberals, and the ACLU. His coverage of America’s immigration problem has been first-rate. At the same time, O’Reilly has denounced the U.S. military in a homosexual magazine as “homophobic” and, in his first best-selling book, The O’Reilly Factor, smeared conservative former North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms as a southern racist who “hates just about everything and everybody?”
While partisan liberals such as Phil Donahue fail on cable news because they appeal to a small audience, AIM Report editor Cliff Kincaid noted during a February 11 appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor” that O’Reilly appeals to conservatives and liberals. For example, he opposes the global warming treaty but believes in global warming, he is tough on crime yet opposes the death penalty, and he criticizes homosexuals for flaunting their sexuality but wants them to become foster and adoptive “parents” of young children.
Reading emails in response to the discussion, O’Reilly noted that one viewer said, “Bill, Kincaid exposed you for the phony that you are! You are a transvestite in the world of ideology.” O’Reilly’s response: “Oh, phooey.” Ideology aside, O’Reilly has interviewed transvestites, prostitutes and porn stars on his show. As he says in his first book, “sex will defeat talent any day?” The former anchor of the tabloid television show Inside Edition, O’Reilly knows how to attract an audience.
Another thing is clear: although he portrays himself as the spokesman for the average guy with a humble background, he holds two Master’s Degrees, including one from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a bastion of liberalism.
On one issue-the proposed decriminalization of marijuana-O’Reilly has taken both sides. Transcripts show him opposing decriminalization during a May 1, 2002, interview with Keith Stroup of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and then endorsing it on November 15, 2002, during an interview with NORML adviser and former NFL football star Mark Stepnoski.
“I don’t read any ideological journals because mine is not an ideological show,” O’Reilly told Folio, a magazine that covers the media. He said his reading material includes Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Esquire, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Playboy, Vanity Fair, Maxim, Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine and Electronic Media. It’s difficult to make the case that some of these are non-ideological, but it’s certainly true that there is not a conservative journal among them.
Kincaid’s debate began with O’Reilly claiming that Kincaid “says I am not a good conservative, and that’s true because I am an independent-conservative on some issues, progressive on others.” Kincaid corrected O’Reilly, saying, “I’ve never said you weren’t a good conservative. I’ve simply repeated what you yourself said, Bill, is that you aren’t a conservative. You are not a conservative, and I have no problem with that. It’s just that so many of your supporters and detractors call you a conservative. You’re the poster child, the symbol of Fox News, which is always labeled conservative. And I’ve just tried to set the record straight for purposes of accuracy.”
Kincaid shared the seven-minute segment on the program with Paul Rodriguez of Insight magazine, who apparently had been invited there to defend O’Reilly. The show was taped and O’Reilly’s producers did a “pre-interview” so they could know in advance what points Kincaid was going to make.
Former President Clinton has described O’Reilly as on the “right-wing of the Republican Party.” O’Reilly says he was a registered Republican for several years because of a clerical mistake. Eric Alterman of the left-wing Nation magazine, who has appeared on “The Factor,” acknowledges in his new book, What Liberal Media?, that O’Reilly is actually a “relative liberal” on talk radio, where O’Reilly also has a show, and that he “is pro-gun control, pro-choice [on abortion], and willing to consider measures to control global warming.” O’Reilly also appeals to the left by bashing big oil companies and urging campaign finance reform.
But the critical issue is whether O’Reilly is honest and accurate in presenting these issues to the American people. Kincaid noted near the end of his appearance that O’Reilly had been to an AIM conference in 1999 and acknowledged there were certain issues he wouldn’t tackle on the air. O’Reilly called that a “ridiculous distortion.”
But the transcript of O’Reilly’s remarks at the conference shows him saying he couldn’t “fight 60 Minutes and the New York Times” on such issues as the mysterious death of Clinton White House lawyer Vincent Foster and the destruction of TWA Flight 800. O’Reilly said he would be portrayed as a “lunatic” if he went on the air and said Foster didn’t commit suicide or that TWA 800 was shot down by a missile. He also said “the government” would come after him, too, and that “They are much more powerful” than journalists. “I can’t be painted as a lunatic,” O’Reilly said. “Then my credibility and my career goes down the drain.”
Another issue that O’Reilly has sidestepped is the rising threat of Communist China. While he labeled China “an enemy” in an April 11, 2001, commentary and has done numerous stories about corruption in the U.S. nuclear weapons labs, he has failed to explore the Chinese espionage problem at the same labs that is documented in Notra Trulock’s new book, Code Name Kindred Spirit. Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Fox News parent corporation, has extensive financial dealings with the Chinese communists and has been accused of pandering to them to gain market access in China.
O’Reilly takes pride in his credibility, but that suffered recently when he made the bogus claim that he “broke the story nationally” of the terrorist connections of Florida Professor Sami Al-Arian, who was indicted on February 20 as a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. While O’Reilly did several shows on the controversy and interviewed Al-Arian, the story had been broken years before by journalist Steven Emerson, whose 1994 public television film, Jihad in America, exposed Al-Arian and other suspected terrorists. O’Reilly is aware of Emerson’s work because he features analysts from Emerson’s “Investigative Project” to talk about Al-Arian and other terrorism-related issues. But Emerson is under contract with NBC News and appears on the Fox News competitor MSNBC. “We stood alone on Sami Al-Arian,” O’Reilly claimed in his “Talking Points Memo” on February 21. That was spin, not fact.
While O’Reilly is supportive of the Bush administration in many areas, especially its anti-terrorism and Iraq policies, he has resorted to cheap shots over its handling of environmental matters. “Most everybody, with the possible exception of some in the Bush cabinet, wants a clean environment,” O’Reilly has written. He accepts the theory that human beings are causing global warming through the discharge of fossil fuels and he joined the anti-sport-utility-vehicle campaign launched by Arianna Huffington, Hollywood liberals and environmental activists. “Bill’s with us on this issue,” said Hollywood producer Lawrence Bender.
O’Reilly has written that, “Many reputable scientists say there’s no question that things are heating up fast, and they have the data to prove it.” But Dr. Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told us, “That’s nonsense.” Lindzen’s view is important because, on the show with Kincaid, O’Reilly had said, “My guys at MIT, who I think are the best in the world, say no question, all this fossil fuel is hurting the earth.”
Lindzen, who has never appeared on O’Reilly’s program, is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. Lindzen has engaged in climate and climate-related research for over 30 years and has testified before Congress. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the author or coauthor of over 200 papers and books, and a participant in the proceedings of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Lindzen says the global mean temperature has increased roughly 0.5EC over the past century, but there is no evidence it is linked to human emissions of fossil fuels. And even if there is such a link, he says, this would not imply there is a problem.
O’Reilly regularly highlights outrageous crimes, especially those against children, and he has mounted a campaign against the VH1 cable channel for using convicted killers as rock stars. Yet he opposes capital punishment and insists that America has a “moral question” about “taking a life” through use of the death penalty, even though the Gallup Poll shows 72 percent of the public in favor of it. O’Reilly’s “moral question” doesn’t have anything to do with guilt or innocence because he says that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, whose guilt was never in doubt and who was convicted of killing 168 people, should have been spared the death penalty as well. O’Reilly believes that McVeigh “would have suffered much more had he been sentenced to a life of hard labor” at a “military style” camp in Alaska that would be “in effect a gulag.”
It’s true that McVeigh’s death by lethal injection, which was quick and painless, doesn’t compare with the suffering endured by his victims. On the other hand, he is gone for good, can’t murder again, and can’t appear on VH1. There are cases of killers in prison for life who kill other inmates or guards, and sometimes “life in prison” can mean release or parole.
Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and Dianne Clements and Dudley Sharp of the anti-crime group Justice for All said they didn’t think that O’Reilly’s life in prison in Alaska alternative to capital punishment is a serious proposal that stands even a remote chance of being put into effect. The ACLU, which opposes the return of chain gangs, would sue to stop it, and the courts wouldn’t a permit a gulag-style prison anyway.
But the proposal makes O’Reilly look tough while ruling out the toughest punishment. Sharp was on the show and knocked down the O’Reilly proposal as unrealistic.
Dr. Paul H. Rubin was invited on “The Factor” on June 11, 2001, to discuss his study showing the deterrent effect of the death penalty. A professor of economics and law at Emory University, Rubin conducted the study with Hashem Dezhbadhsh and Joanna Mehlhop Shepherd, also of Emory. Using statistical techniques and data, they found that each execution deters an average of 18 homicides.
“I was surprised because I thought of him as a conservative and he attacked my results, [asking] if there would not be more deterrence from his work-camp in Alaska idea,” Rubin said. “I told him we did not have the data.” But O’Reilly still pushes his own unproven and dubious proposal.
O’Reilly has been called “The unexpected gay rights advocate” by the Gay Financial Network, while the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD) has applauded him for supporting homosexual adoption. He has declared that lesbian Rosie O’Donnell will win her fight against “gay fear” to have the state of Florida legalize adoption “by responsible homosexuals.” He spoke to the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, where, according to one account, he “said he felt any responsible American, gay or straight, should be able to adopt legally and enter the teaching profession. But they just shouldn’t be so out about their personal life.”
In a controversial interview with the Advocate, a homosexual publication, O’Reilly not only called the military “homophobic” but expressed support for laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination in the workplace. On homosexual marriage, he initially expressed opposition but then said he wouldn’t have any objection.
O’Reilly has entertained other views on his show, such as when he featured Florida State Representative Randy Ball saying that it would be a “safer decision” to leave a child in foster care than to let him be adopted by a gay couple. “I’m stunned,” O’Reilly responded. “I can’t believe, again, that you’d say ‘Keep them in foster care and deny them a stable home run by gays’?you’re tarring a whole group because you don’t like their conduct. That’s wrong.”
In another confrontation on the show, O’Reilly called Stephen Bennett, an ex-homosexual who now has a wife and children, a “religious fanatic” for citing religious objections to the homosexual lifestyle.
When Kincaid charged that O’Reilly was pushing gay adoption, he exploded, saying, “You say I’m pushing it. You’re the propagandist.” He accused Kincaid of being a liar and of having a “religious point of view” on the matter when the issue of religion had never been brought up on the show or in the pre-interview. It is O’Reilly who sometimes mentions his own Catholic upbringing.
Kincaid went on to note that the Focus on the Family Citizen magazine had made the case that there are plenty of heterosexual couples and parents who would like to adopt or be foster parents but that there is discrimination in some cases in favor of homosexuals. Its February issue includes an article discussing a California case in which two married Christian couples wanted to adopt a boy named Adam only to have the county government place the child with two homosexual men who eventually adopted him. Laurie Ellinger, who wanted to be Adam’s mom, said the 4-year-old boy knew only one word, “mama,” when he was placed with the homosexuals. “And he has no mama now,” she says. A social worker in Missouri told the magazine he was fired for refusing to place children with homosexuals, and that the state agency tried to stop Christians from becoming foster parents.
Paul Rodriguez, the other guest on the show, knew something about this, having published an article by Dr. Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute in his Insight magazine showing that placing children in such a situation increases the risk of them being sexually abused.
Since state agencies in charge of placing children with foster parents don’t provide information about whether they were homosexual or not, Cameron used a data base of regional and national newspapers called Academic Universe to collect and analyze news stories that included the phrase “child molestation” from 1989-2001. He assumed that if the sexual behavior reported involved two males, the molesters were homosexual, and if the behavior involved people of the opposite sex, the molesters were heterosexual. He reported that he found 30 stories about molestation of foster children. In 22 of the cases, foster children were sexually abused by their foster parents. Of those, 15, or 68 percent, involved homosexual molestation.
A more detailed analysis of this matter will be presented by Dr. Cameron at the Eastern Psychological Association on March 14 in Baltimore, Maryland.
O’Reilly, described as a family man with a wife and daughter, frequently argues that children have to be protected from harmful influences in the media. But he regularly highlights a sexual controversy on his show. Sometimes, this serves a legitimate public purpose, such as when O’Reilly interviewed Dr. Judith Reisman about the late Alfred Kinsey, the pedophile propagandist and sex researcher about whom Hollywood is making a film.
But Kincaid accused O’Reilly of going “beyond the bounds of decency” in a December 4, 2002, segment in which he interviewed Dennis Hof, the owner of the legal brothel named the “Moonlight Bunny Ranch,” and glamorized one of his prostitutes, “Sunset Thomas,” by highlighting her $2,000 a night income. They were there to promote an HBO program about prostitution in Nevada, and O’Reilly warned in advance that the segment was “not for children.”
Kincaid noted that, “Your only complaint with the operation was that this was a lazy way to make a living.” O’Reilly claimed that his purpose was to show “what the industry is” and that he said she was “lazy, that she demeaned herself, that this was a-an occupation that had no constructive or positive aspects to it, and that she should be ashamed of herself. That wasn’t enough? What did you want me to do?”
In fact, while O’Reilly did say that prostitution exploited the “weaknesses of people who don’t have firm relationships,” his only complaint with “Sunset Thomas” was that she didn’t work hard enough. He didn’t question her about possible sexually transmitted diseases and acknowledged that the brothel was “clean” and “safe.” He added, “We’re not talking right or wrong.” In a somewhat amusing exchange, after he repeated his charge that prostitution was “a lazy way to make some good money,” Hof replied, “And so is your business.”
With conservatives increasingly subjecting O’Reilly’s performance and statements to critical scrutiny, he will have to work even harder in the future to earn his reported $4 million annual salary and keep his ratings high. He made rather quick work of Phil Donahue, whose competing show on MSNBC was cancelled at the end of February. Ironically, the day before MSNBC announced that it was pulling the plug on the show, Donahue was interviewing lesbian Rosie O’Donnell, who had already appeared on “The Factor.”
Depending on the competition, some may turn off O’Reilly’s show if he tilts too far to the left and shocks and titillates rather than informs his audience.