Fox News host Bill O'Reilly falsely asserted that Notre Dame professor Don Wycliff, in a June 22 Chicago Tribune op-ed that criticized O'Reilly, wrote that "the United States government bears more responsibility ... than the terrorists" for the recent deaths of two U.S. soldiers in Iraq who were also apparently tortured. In fact, Wycliff criticized O'Reilly in the op-ed for attacking "the press or the Democrats or the ACLU or Air America" for the soldiers' deaths rather than blaming the Bush administration officials responsible for conducting the war "for whom you have been a cheerleader."
During a debate with Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page on the June 22 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly falsely asserted that former Tribune public editor Don Wycliff, in a June 22 Tribune op-ed that criticized O'Reilly, wrote that "the United States government bears more responsibility ... than the terrorists" for the recent deaths of two U.S. soldiers in Iraq who were also apparently tortured. In fact, Wycliff criticized O'Reilly in the op-ed for attacking "the press or the Democrats or the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] or Air America" for the soldiers' deaths rather than blaming the Bush administration officials responsible for conducting the war "for whom you have been a cheerleader."
In addition, O'Reilly denied Page's suggestion that O'Reilly had "praised the way Saddam Hussein ran" Iraq, stating that he had only noted that Saddam "ran the country in a totalitarian way, and he didn't have an insurgency because he ran it that way." As Media Matters for America has noted, on the June 19 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, O'Reilly advocated running Iraq "just like Saddam ran it," by establishing curfews and shooting violators "right between the eyes."
O'Reilly also called Wycliff a "coward" for declining to debate O'Reilly on the Factor after attacking him, a tactic O'Reilly frequently employs. In fact, O'Reilly has created a "cowards list," which he described as "people who will not stand up and answer questions about their bomb-throwing statements." O'Reilly's "coward" list includes Cindy Sheehan, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Jane Fonda, and former President Bill Clinton, among others. O'Reilly has said, "If you attack someone publicly ... you have an obligation to face the person you are smearing. If you don't, you are a coward." In December 2004, Media Matters President and CEO David Brock sent O'Reilly a letter asking to appear on the Factor to address O'Reilly's attacks against Media Matters. We never received a response.
Wycliff, now the associate vice president of news and information at Notre Dame University, criticized O'Reilly for engaging in "intellectual dishonesty" by linking the ACLU, Air America Radio, and other organizations to the recent murder of two U.S. soldiers in Iraq. As Media Matters previously noted, during the June 20 O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly declared that the ACLU, the BBC, and Air America Radio "are helping the terrorists" and offered that a way to help control the chaos in Iraq would be if the Bush administration began "challenging those who are helping the enemy," such as the media and the ACLU. Wycliff wrote:
O'Reilly wasn't just mad about what had happened to these two young Americans; he wanted something done about it. We've got to get tougher and more aggressive, he opined. Outfits like the American Civil Liberties Union and Air America need to be "exposed," and all those who inadvertently help the enemy -- like ministers who sign petitions against torture -- should mind their p's and q's. And the Iraqi government ought to declare martial law in some parts of Iraq that O'Reilly considers in particular need of iron-fist treatment.
After O'Reilly finished his rant, he brought on two retired generals who apparently serve as regular expert commentators on Fox. For several minutes Wild Bill and this posse took out after the murderous barbarians in Iraq, as well as the "liberals" and dupes here in the U.S. who insist on hobbling the war effort by exercising their rights to think and speak freely.
While debating Page, O'Reilly accused Wycliff and the Chicago Tribune of "irresponsibility" and of publishing "lie[s]." Misrepresenting Wycliff's argument, O'Reilly asserted that Wylciff blamed the United States government "for the brutal mutilation and murders" of the two soldiers. O'Reilly later added: "[T]he difference between me and this Wycliff is that I want the USA to win and I don't believe there is a moral equivalency with what we do with what the terrorists do, and he does."
Yet, in his column, Wycliff alleged no such "moral equivalency." Rather, Wycliff argued that O'Reilly may be better served directing his criticism of how the Iraq war is being run at the people who are actually running the war, not news outlets and organizations that have been critical of the effort. Wycliff chastised O'Reilly for "peddling the notion that Bush is hamstrung in fighting the Iraq war because of domestic doubt and opposition from the left," noting:
Less than two years ago, George W. Bush won a second term in office with the biggest popular vote in American history. His party controls both houses of Congress. The ACLU is preoccupied with controlling the speech of its board of directors. The New York Times, which also came in for some of Bill's dishonorable mention, has not endorsed the winner in the last two presidential elections.
Bill, does the name Eric Shinseki mean anything to you? On the assumption that it doesn't, let me explain that he was the Army chief of staff who was shown the door by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld after Shinseki had the audacity to tell members of Congress that we would need "several hundred thousand soldiers" to control Iraq after an invasion.
Wycliff argued: "[I]t wasn't the press or the Democrats or the ACLU or Air America that sent our soldiers to Iraq in numbers that evidently are too small to control the place. It was Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz who did that." Wycliff concluded that he understood O'Reilly's "dilemma," that O'Reilly "want[ed] to blame somebody for outrages like the murders of" the soldiers "but if you put the blame where it really belongs, you have to say bad things about some people for whom you have been a cheerleader."
When Page echoed Wycliff's assertion, stating that that O'Reilly has "cheerleaded" the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq War, O'Reilly interrupted Page and shouted "Bull!" at least eight times, because, according to O'Reilly, "I have been very critical of the way they've waged the war."
Disagreeing with Page's assertion that O'Reilly "praised the way Saddam Hussein ran the country over there," O'Reilly retorted: "I never praised Saddam Hussein once. I said he ran the country in a totalitarian way, and he didn't have an insurgency because he ran it that way. ... That's exactly what I said. It's a statement of fact." In fact, O'Reilly has suggested that both the U.S. military and the Iraqi government should employ Saddam's methods in Iraq, as Media Matters has previously noted:
- On the June 19 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, O'Reilly declared that if he were the president of Iraq, he would run the country "just like Saddam ran it," by establishing curfews and shooting violators "right between the eyes."
- On the June 20 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly again suggested that Iraq should be run as it was under Saddam Hussein, stating: "Saddam was able to control Iraq, as you know, and defeat insurgencies against him. The new Iraqi government can do the same, but it needs to get much tougher." In particular, O'Reilly suggested the Iraqi government "declare martial law in areas controlled by insurgents" and repeated his suggestion that Iraq should establish a policy of "shoot-on-sight curfews."
From the June 22 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: And, of course, I am the topic of discussion because I want a tougher approach in Iraq. A teacher at Notre Dame University, Don Wycliff, wrote this today in the Chicago Tribune.
Quote, "If intellectual dishonesty could be said to have a face, I saw it Tuesday evening as I watched Bill O'Reilly's program on Fox News. ... O'Reilly was burned up about the mutilation and murders of those two American soldiers. ... He wanted something done about it. We've got to get tougher and more aggressive, he opined. Outfits like the American Civil Liberties Union and Air America need to be 'exposed,' and all those who inadvertently help the enemy -- like ministers who sign petitions against torture -- should mind their p's and q's. And the Iraqi government ought to declare martial law in some parts of Iraq that O'Reilly considers in particular need of iron-fist treatment. ... Bill, that is so-o-o-o Saddam of you ... [but] I understand your dilemma. You want to blame somebody for outrages like the murders of [Pfc. Kristian] Menchaca and [Pfc. Thomas] Tucker, but if you put the blame where it really belongs, you have to say bad things about some people for whom you've been a cheerleader. It's OK, Bill, nobody" cares -- "nobody who cares about the truth takes you seriously, anyway." Unquote.
Nice, right? Well, we asked Don Wycliff, who teaches media criticism at Notre Dame, to appear this evening. He agreed, but then he canceled one hour before air time. So much for the Fighting Irish. Wycliff is one of the hiding Irish. If you're going to launch a personal attack, sir, at least have the courage to back them up. Cowardice is not becoming.
O'REILLY: All right. Let's deal with the irresponsible position first. If you are going to say the blame for the brutal mutilation and murders lies with the American government, which this man did, Wycliff, that's what he said, it's in print. If you're going to say that, I believe that is grossly irresponsible. The terrorists did this. The savages who killed Menchaca and Tucker are terrorists. He blames -- Wycliff blames the American government. Now, that is the irresponsibility. It's very clear to me.
PAGE: Well, follow the logic, Bill. Look at your own commentaries over the last week. You praised the way Saddam Hussein ran the country over there, said that we ought to have martial law, we ought to have the kind of crackdowns that Saddam had. The fact is you can't have martial law if you have inadequate police force, an inadequate army, and our American troops are inadequate. Enough troops were not sent over there in the beginning. That is a widely agreed-upon fact now. And that's what Don is talking about. We put --
O'REILLY: No. Don is talking about --
PAGE: -- our people in harm's way.
O'REILLY: -- his opinion is that the war hasn't been waged properly. Valid opinion.
PAGE: That's your opinion, too, right? You want to get tougher, right?
O'REILLY: You bet. And I have said that --
PAGE: Well, I'll say. You're entitled to your opinion, he's entitled to his.
O'REILLY: Hold it. Number one, I didn't praise Saddam Hussein. That is a lie and a distortion. I did not do that.
PAGE: You did praise his tactics.
O'REILLY: No, I did not. I said he controlled the country by a totalitarian method. That's not praise, that's fact.
PAGE: Everyone can see the commentaries on your website --
O'REILLY: Wait, wait, wait, Clarence --
PAGE: -- I don't need to quote the whole thing, but the fact is --
O'REILLY: There's a difference -- There is a difference between -
PAGE: -- that you did praise the way he ran it and the current government needs to run it the same way.
O'REILLY: That is not true. There is a difference between --
PAGE: You don't think they need to run it the same way. You don't think they need the kind of police-state tactics that Saddam used in a totalitarian state?
O'REILLY: Clarence, take a deep breath. I never praised Saddam Hussein once. I said he ran the country in a totalitarian way and he didn't have an insurgency because he ran it that way. Then I said --
PAGE: You're spinning, Bill.
O'REILLY: No, I'm not spinning at all. That's exactly what I said --
PAGE: You're spinning, Bill, because when you say people ought to run --
O'REILLY: It's on my website. There isn't any praise involved. It's a statement of fact. You are spinning by saying it's praise. That's bull.
PAGE: The record speaks for itself.
O'REILLY: Yeah, it does. Anybody can read it. The second thing is, this despicable Wycliff, who did run the editorial page at the Chicago Tribune before he took to Notre Dame --
PAGE: That's right.
O'REILLY: -- this despicable man is saying that the United States government bears more responsibility for their horrendous deaths of the two privates than the terrorists. That's despicable. It is beneath contempt, and the Chicago Tribune should be ashamed of itself for running something like that without something right next to it -- and my column in the Chicago Sun-Times will counter that.
PAGE: You're entitled to reply in the Tribune, I'm sure, Bill --
O'REILLY: Absolutely. It's despicable to say that the American government, to draw a moral equivalency between the American government's waging of the war and the deaths of these men. The terrorists are responsible --
PAGE: You're reading into his comments --
O'REILLY: -- all right, now here's the lie --
PAGE: I've got to object, Bill. I know it's your show, I've got to object, though, because you are reading into Don's comments. He is a true patriot --
O'REILLY: He said flat-out, if you put the blame where it really belongs --
PAGE: Just let me finish the statement, and then you can respond, Bill.
O'REILLY: No! No! "If you put the blame where it really belongs"! There are the words!
PAGE: Bill, it's your show. You've got the whole hour. Just give me 30 seconds to respond.
The fact of the matter is, you're trying to pick out people and say certain people are helping the enemy and other people aren't. I mean, you are sounding like one of those editors of those Arab governments -- or those Arab newspapers that are censoring Muhammad cartoons.
O'REILLY: Clarence, I don't know what you're talking about. I mean, let's address --
PAGE: Don is entitled to give his opinion --
O'REILLY: He's entitled to his opinion --
PAGE: -- he's not telling Fox News that they shouldn't run your opinion. You shouldn't be telling other people not to run somebody else's --
O'REILLY: Don Wycliff is a coward, and he is not a man of his word. He backed out at the last minute --
PAGE: That's OK, he's got me.
O'REILLY: -- he is entitled to his opinion no matter how despicable it is, and now here's the lie. OK? Here's what he says, quote, "You have to say bad -- O'Reilly" --
PAGE: Don is a gentleman and a scholar and too nice to engage in these kind of combative --
O'REILLY: No, he -- bull! It's bull! He's a coward.
PAGE: I'm entitled to --
O'REILLY: He's a coward! He takes cheap shots, personal attacks at me and won't stand up. He's a coward. He says, O'Reilly "would have to criticize some people for whom you have been a cheerleader."
I've not been a cheerleader for anybody, Clarence. You know it and I know it. OK? Here's what I said May 6, 2004: "We will remind you three weeks ago we reported Donald Rumsfeld lost control of the Iraqi occupation, his mistakes were endangering U.S. troops." I haven't cheerleaded anyone. This guy lies about me in the Chicago Trib, which prints the lie! Explain.
PAGE: There are occasions when you have cheerleaded --
O'REILLY: Bull! Bull!
PAGE: -- and the administration's side. Now, you know --
PAGE: -- sometimes you do criticize, and that's OK. But the fact of the matter is it's a well-known -- very well-known that the -- I'm sorry, I hear the music coming. Am I going to be cut off?
O'REILLY: No! Cut off the music! It's very well-known what?
PAGE: No, it's very well known that you have been defending the administration's side in this war --
O'REILLY: That's bull! I have been very critical of the way they have way they waged the war.
PAGE: You have been criticizing those who criticize --
O'REILLY: I've been very critical of the way they've waged the war.
PAGE: -- any kind of question --
O'REILLY: Hey, Clarence, let me make this --
PAGE: -- on human rights.
O'REILLY: That's not true. Period. I've been very critical of the way the war has been waged.
PAGE: You criticized -- you said people who signed an anti-torture petition were helping the enemy.
PAGE: That's McCarthyism. That's demagoguery.
O'REILLY: Bullsh--! Bull.
PAGE: That's beneath you.
O'REILLY: It's bull! The truth is, I've reported this accurately. I've said when we've made mistakes -- we, the United States government.
But the difference between me and this Wycliff is that I want the USA to win, and I don't believe there's a moral equivalency with what we do with what the terrorists do, and he does. But Clarence, I've gotta tell everybody, you are a stand-up guy, number one.
PAGE: Well, thank you, Bill.
O'REILLY: You knew this was going to be tough. And we appreciate your opinion. You're always welcome here.
PAGE: Let's hear it for free speech, Bill.