Foreign fallacy: O'Reilly incorrectly claimed French, German leaders "very unpopular," supported only by "left-wingers"

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

In an August 12 discussion of French and German relations with the United States, FOX News Channel host Bill O'Reilly erroneously claimed on his nationally syndicated radio show that French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are "very unpopular" and only supported by "left-wingers."

From the August 12 edition of the The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: [I]n France and Germany, Chirac and Schroeder are very unpopular in that country, because the economy in both places is very bad. All right? The only people supporting Chirac and Schroeder are left-wingers. If they were to actually be fair to the U.S.A., they would lose that support and they'd have nobody supporting them.

O'Reilly's claim was furthest askew in terms of Chirac's support. While Chirac has faced recent political challenges from within his own party by Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, a recent poll by the Centre for Public Opinion and Democracy indicates that "[m]ore than 63 percent of respondents believe Jacques Chirac is a courageous and charismatic politician, and a worthy representative of France in foreign countries." According to a Bloomberg News story, a recent IPSOS survey for the French weekly magazine Le Point put Chirac's approval rating at 49 percent, the same rating President George W. Bush received in a recent Associated Press/IPSOS poll (and greater than the average approval rating Bush has received from aggregate polling in August).

O'Reilly claimed that Chirac's support derives from "left-wingers," but Chirac is the leader of the conservative movement in France, which is in electoral competition with the left-of-center Socialist Party for control of government. The Centre for Public Opinion and Democracy poll also shows that 47 percent of respondents believe Chirac "[f]osters the union of right-centre [conservative] political parties" in France, compared to 41 percent who believe he does not effectively do so. Chirac was the founder of the former French political party Rally for the Republic (RPR), which merged in 2002 into what became known as the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the major conservative political party in French politics.

While recent European and regional electoral results support O'Reilly's claim that Schroeder is "very unpopular" in Germany, a Forsa poll for the Bild am Sonntag weekly -- reported by the German embassy on July 2 -- indicated that 61 percent of Germans want Schroeder to stay on as chancellor.

The Forsa poll also refutes O'Reilly's claim that Schroeder is only supported by the left, noting that "[E]ven 40% of respondents who support the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) spoke out in favor of the Chancellor." As the BBC reported on February 6, Schroeder stepped down as party leader for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in February largely because of his economic reform agenda, which was "particularly unpopular with left-wingers in his party, who say core principles are being betrayed." The BBC noted that new SPD parliamentary leader Franz Muentefering is "seen as being closer to the party's left wing and core voters."

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