Shoot-out at the O'Reilly-Krugman Corral: One-on-one debate featured Factor lies old and new

››› ››› GABE WILDAU

After a familiar diatribe against The New York Times for alleged liberal bias and deception on the July 20 edition of FOX News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly threw down the gauntlet: "[E]nough's enough, and I am issuing this challenge directly to The New York Times. I will debate any Times editor or columnist on the Charlie Rose PBS program. ... So I'm calling these sleazy guys out. We'll let you know what happens. Do you think they'll show up? Yeah, sure." But despite his initial skepticism, O'Reilly announced on August 5 that "far-left columnist Paul Krugman" of The New York Times had accepted the challenge. The O'Reilly-Krugman debate aired on the August 7 edition of CNBC's Tim Russert.

During the show, O'Reilly repeated several lies and distortions familiar from his radio and FOX News Channel programs and added some new ones. The complete broadcast of the debate -- which was recorded earlier in the week -- also revealed that O'Reilly, on his August 4 radio show, mischaracterized the debate when he claimed, "[H]e's [Krugman] not strong enough to stand up to me. And I didn't take any mercy on him, I have to say."

Lie #1: "[H]e predicted the Bush tax cuts would lead to a deeper recession"

Krugman pointed out that the economy has fallen some seven million jobs short of the job growth predictions the Bush administration made in the 2002 Economic Report of the President. In response, O'Reilly accused Krugman of being "absolutely dead 100 percent wrong in his columns two years ago when he predicted the Bush tax cuts would lead to a deeper recession." But in fact (as Krugman quickly pointed out), Krugman made no such prediction. When Krugman explained what he had actually said about the Bush tax cuts -- that "they were ineffective at job creation" -- O'Reilly accused him of splitting hairs, arguing that calling a policy proposal "ineffective at job creation" is tantamount to a saying it will lead to recession:

KRUGMAN: Let me just say it's a lie. I said they were ineffective at job creation. And if you look at the Bush administration ...

O'REILLY: Hold on, hold on. Hold it. Now "ineffective at job creation," what is that? Semantics now?

KRUGMAN: No, it means that...

O'REILLY: The economy is based on job creation, and you're saying it's ineffective. Don't call me a liar, pal. That's what you do all the time, and I'm not going to sit here and take it.

KRUGMAN: Well -- no. I'm sorry. You just did.

O'REILLY: "Ineffective"? You can -- that's the biggest bunch of spin in the world.

But when Krugman challenged him directly, demanding, "Find a place where I said that they were going to cause a recession," O'Reilly changed his definition of "recession," defining it not in terms of job creation but rather in terms of gross national product (GNP). In fact, economists typically refer to gross domestic product (GDP), which excludes from GNP the value of goods and services produced outside U.S. borders: "Look, you want to call it 'ineffective in job creation.' What is a recession? A recession is when the GNP ... goes backward. Everybody knows it's going forward." But however one defines "recession," Krugman never said what O'Reilly falsely attributed to him.

Nonetheless, National Review Online contributing editor Donald Luskin -- in NRO's August 9 "Krugman Truth Squad" column, titled "The Dead Zone" -- interpreted this exchange as a great victory for O'Reilly. He noted, "O'Reilly had reminded Krugman of his repeated predictions of economic catastrophe as the result of President Bush's tax cuts." But the best example of a catastrophic prediction Luskin could produce in support of O'Reilly was an excerpt from Krugman's April 23, 2003, column, in which Krugman predicted that the Bush tax cuts would be a "major drag on the economy" by "busting the budget" and "indirectly destroying jobs by preventing any rational response to a weak economy" -- not that they would cause a recession.

Krugman's point, then and now, is that large tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy are relatively "ineffective at job creation" on their own, while also destroying jobs "indirectly" by creating budget deficits that effectively eliminate the possibility for a true stimulus package that would be effective at job creation.

Lie #2: States are overwhelmed with federal education dollars

Repeating a bogus statistic that he had previously cited on the August 3 and August 5 editions of The Radio Factor, O'Reilly claimed that under the recently enacted No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), federal education money is so plentiful that states are simply unable to spend it all:

O'REILLY: You know that the No Child Left Behind Act and all of the federal money that has poured in to try to help the kids -- which, you know, everybody wants to help the kids, right? -- states can't spend the money. Most of the states are gonna have to give it back to the Treasury. They just can't spend the money.

This talking point originated with the Bush administration, which used it to defend itself from critics who claim the administration has left NCLB underfunded. But the truth is, as the National Council of State Legislatures noted in a January 15 memo addressing this claim, federal law grants states have at least 27 months (and often longer) following the start of the fiscal year to spend the money appropriated for that year, and states spent fully 99.5 percent of federal K-12 education money allocated for fiscal year 1998 -- the most recent year for which all relevant deadlines for state expenditures of federal education money have passed. The U.S. Department of Education cannot disburse money to states in lump sums. Rather, a state must commit to spending the money on a specific project before the federal government reimburses the state for its expenditure. That means that for long-term projects, states often receive federal money only at the end, when the bill comes due.

Lie #3: Bush won Florida "no matter what"

Krugman confronted O'Reilly with a lie from the July 19 edition of The O'Reilly Factor (previously documented by MMFA), when O'Reilly claimed, "At least four organizations analyzed the Florida vote in 2000 ... and all concluded Bush would have won no matter what." O'Reilly stood by his lie:

KRUGMAN: I've got you saying that everyone has said that no matter how you count the votes, Bush won Florida. And that turns out to be flatly not true.

O'REILLY: Oh, is that right? How about the Miami Herald investigation? How about USA Today? How about the University of Chicago?

KRUGMAN: OK, here were are. Published by the AP [an article by the Associated Press], November 2001, the National Opinion Research Group [sic]. They looked at statewide counts under six standards: prevailing standard, two-corner standard, most inclusive, least inclusive, county-by-county standard, Palm Beach standard, and under every one of those, Gore won.

O'REILLY: OK, look, if you wanna think that, fine.

[...]

O'REILLY: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I gotta get this in. Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, USA Today, and the University of Chicago investigation all went in and repudiate [sic] what he just read.

KRUGMAN: It's just not true.

O'REILLY: Yes it is!

The truth, as MMFA previously explained, is that the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center (NORC) studied Florida's disputed ballots and concluded that Gore emerged the winner in at least four recount scenarios, as reported in The Washington Post on November 12, 2001.

Moreover, O'Reilly's listing of various recount investigations is highly deceptive: Only two significant independent analyses of disputed Florida ballots occurred, not four, as O'Reilly suggested. The Miami Herald and USA Today were partners in a single investigation. And what O'Reilly called "the University of Chicago investigation" is actually the same as what Krugman cited as "the National Opinion Research Group." The Orlando Sentinel and Associated Press (whose summary of the NORC findings Krugman read in the above passage) -- along with numerous other news organizations including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN, and The Tribune Co. -- were all partners in the consortium that commissioned the NORC study.

The Herald study, which only examined approximately 60,000 so-called "undervotes" (votes for which counting machines failed to register any vote for president) study was more favorable to Bush -- since Gore gained votes in the NORC study which examined all 180,000 uncounted Florida ballots, primarily from so-called "overvotes" (ballots for which vote-counting machines registered votes for more than one candidate). Even so, the Herald identified recount scenarios in which Gore would have won, even in a recount involving only the undervotes. Thus, even if we interpret O'Reilly as intending to refer only to that study, his July 19 claim that "Bush would have won no matter what" is still false.

Lie #4: "We put more liberal voices on the air than conservatives"

When Russert raised the topic of Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, a recently released documentary that charges FOX News Channel with systematically distorting the news in a pro-Republican direction, O'Reilly reacted with a bevy of lies in defense of FOX. Krugman referred to internal FOX News daily memos (primarily written by FOX News senior vice president John Moody), commenting, "[I]f your fantasy was that there was a memo every morning [at FOX] that told you how we're gonna cover the news so as to slant it, your fantasy would be right. We've now got copies of the memo."

O'Reilly responded by denying the memos and lying about the ideological composition of FOX News commentators and guests: "We put more liberals on the air than conservatives. We put more liberal voices on the air than conservatives, and we can-- we have a tally every day of what we put on. There is no talking points. There is no marching order. It doesn't exist."

In fact, Media Matters for America obtained and analyzed copies of 33 internal FOX memos and excerpted highlights on July 14. One memo noted: "His [President George W. Bush's] political courage and tactical cunning ar[e] [wo]rth noting in our reporting through the day (6/3/03 [pdf])." Another said: "Ribbons or medals? Which did John Kerry throw away after he returned from Vietnam. This may become an issue for him today. His perceived disrespect for the military could be more damaging to the candidate than questions about his actions in uniform (4/26/04 [pdf])."

O'Reilly's claim that FOX puts "more liberals on the air than conservatives" also flies in the face of documentary evidence. A study by the national media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) documented the conservative skew of guests on FOX's flagship political news program, Special Report with Brit Hume, during a 25-week period in 2003. The FAIR study, which was cited in Outfoxed, found that "20 percent of guests were non-ideological. Among ideological guests, conservatives accounted for 72 percent, while centrists made up 15 percent and progressives 14 percent." It also found that, "Of the 42 partisan guests, 35 were Republicans and only seven were Democrats -- a five-to-one imbalance." A comprehensive classification of guests for FOX's entire lineup is not publicly available. On The O'Reilly Factor, however, the three most frequent regular contributors -- Newt Gingrich (former Republican Speaker of the House), Dick Morris (right-leaning former campaign strategist), and Tony Snow (conservative radio host) -- all lean solidly conservative. If O'Reilly or FOX News Channel is willing to release the channel's daily "tally" of guests, however, MMFA will happily issue a correction if necessary.

Bonus Radio Factor Lie: "He's just -- he's not strong enough to stand up to me"

On the August 4 broadcast of The Radio Factor, O'Reilly urged listeners to watch the Krugman debate (which he had recently recorded but had not yet aired), bragging, "I didn't take any mercy on him, I have to say."

From the August 4 broadcast of The Radio Factor:

O'REILLY: You're going to really enjoy this Krugman-O'Reilly shootout. It's not much of a shoot-out, I have to say. It's not like [the July 27 O'Reilly Factor meeting between Michael] Moore and O'Reilly. You know, Krugman, you know, he's just -- he's not strong enough to stand up to me. And I didn't take any mercy on him, I have to say.

Anyway -- one of the points that he was trying to make was that FOX is a right-wing network. You know, he's trying to put us in the right-wing radio category and I ran down -- I said, OK. Let's take it from 6:00 [p.m.] to 11:00 [p.m.]. Brit Hume? Leans a little bit right. Shep Smith? No bias at all. Just straight down the middle. O'Reilly? Traditional guy. If you want to put him a little right, go ahead.

[Sean] Hannity? Right. Rabid right. [Alan] Colmes? Rabid left. [Greta] Van Susteren? Left. Add it up. And then commentators -- right down the middle. And guests -- more liberals than conservatives. So, Krugman, what is your complaint? Humma, humma, humma, humma, humma, humma. [chuckle] It's a great moment.

But the CNBC video of the debate itself reveals that O'Reilly's defense of FOX News Channel's primetime lineup came just before a commercial break. When O'Reilly was through making his point, Russert immediately cut in to conclude the segment: "I'm gonna come back and give you a chance to respond in full," he said. Krugman did not even open his mouth to respond before the commercial, let alone stammer dumbly, as O'Reilly told listeners.

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