Accuracy in Media

Under pressure from the far-left, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are refusing to participate in a September 23 debate co-sponsored by Fox News. The absurd rationale is that Fox News, the channel of Geraldo Rivera and Greta Van Susteren, is too right-wing.

On Monday night, Bill O’Reilly tried to wield a hatchet on a noted right-winger, Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute in Colorado. But the hatchet job backfired.

The issue involved objectionable comments on sex and drugs made by panelists during a Boulder, Colorado, high school event. Kopel, the parent of a student at the school, had written a Rocky Mountain News column taking issue with what O’Reilly and others had said about the controversy. O’Reilly may have thought Kopel was a left-wing hippie because Kopel’s hair in the photo with the column appears to be shoulder length. He has since gotten it cut.

O’Reilly’s meltdown at the hands of Kopel didn’t have to occur. The Fox News personality, who has the most popular show on the channel, had initially set out to do something worthwhile. Some of the things that were said during the high school panel discussion were scandalous and parents and the public had a right to know about them.  Kopel said he agreed that some of the comments were objectionable but that O’Reilly had taken some of the remarks out of context.

For example, Kopel made the point that controversial comments made by one panelist, about having sex without condoms, were actually designed to highlight inappropriate behavior that he had engaged in as a youngster. O’Reilly had misrepresented them as current advice for young people.

Kopel told me that he thinks conservatives should keep the conservative media honest.

But charged with being deceptive, O’Reilly exploded, falsely accusing Kopel of being a “secular progressive.” Not only that, but O’Reilly told Kopel to shut up and quit filibustering.

O’Reilly’s modus operandi on this particular program seemed to be, “Don’t talk while I’m interrupting.” He looked completely ridiculous.

Far from being “progressive” or liberal, Kopel is a conservative who is well known for his expertise on second amendment issues and a staunch advocate of second amendment rights. And far from being secular, Kopel tried to make the point, while O’Reilly was interrupting, that he attends St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Boulder, Colorado. He also tried to draw attention to his pro-Virgin Mary website.

All of this followed O’Reilly’s claim that if Kopel were not a secular progressive, then he, O’Reilly, was Donald Duck.

Kopel wants to have the last laugh and make O’Reilly quack. “The next time Mr. Duck is in Boulder, I invite him to St. Thomas Aquinas Church with me in the morning and afterwards we’ll go shooting together at the Boulder rifle club,” Kopel told me. “And at both places he’ll meet lots of people who don’t fit his stereotype about Boulder.”

In addition to getting some basic facts wrong, O’Reilly mispronounced Kopel’s last name during the entire segment of the program.

If he had done some basic research, O’Reilly would have discovered that Kopel, like many libertarians, believes the government has gone too far in the war on drugs. Indeed, his position has been construed as being in favor of legalizing drugs. This background may have been relevant to the dispute, which involved what high school students were being told about the dangers of drugs and certain sexual activities. But O’Reilly did not bring any of that up.

In terms of additional background, which O’Reilly clearly did not have, Kopel serves as research director for the Independence Institute, “Colorado’s free market think tank,” and has come under a series of attacks from the Colorado affiliate of Media Matters, the same left-wing group that has attacked O’Reilly on numerous occasions. Media Matters criticized Kopel for his stands on such matters as global warming, immigration, and the Terri Schiavo case. Kopel also wrote a famous piece identifying 59 lies and distortions in the Michael Moore film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

O’Reilly and Kopel probably agree on more issues than they disagree on. But O’Reilly seemed not to know any of this when he unloaded on Kopel on Monday night’s show.

In terms of the controversy, having examined the transcript of what was said during the high school discussion, the panel was clearly unbalanced and several of the comments were worse than objectionable. If O’Reilly had stuck to the facts, without exaggerating what had been said, he would have remained on solid ground. Instead, he went after Kopel personally when he caught O’Reilly making mistakes.

It was to O’Reilly’s credit that he had Kopel on his show, and he thanked Kopel at the end of the interview, after insulting him. However, there was absolutely no excuse for O’Reilly to have behaved this badly on the air. It was an embarrassing moment for O’Reilly and the Fox News Channel.

If O’Reilly is committed to something other than maintaining high ratings, he will give Kopel the apology he deserves. An apology would certainly be preferable to wearing a Donald Duck costume on the air.

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