O'Reilly challenged Rather to "put up or shut up" for claiming that Fox News echoes White House
Research ››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN
On the December 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly attacked former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather for his criticism of Fox News Channel, telling Rather that he "needs to put up or shut up." On the November 17 edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, Rather asserted that "I think it's fair to say, Bill, in fact, I know it is, that Fox News operates at least in a somewhat different way than every other news organization that I know. ... They have their talking points ... from the White House." Rather defended his claim during the December 17 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources. Responding to Rather's assertions, O'Reilly stated that he "want[ed]" Rather to provide "some documentation of his accusation" when Rather appears on The O'Reilly Factor. O'Reilly asserted that Rather "can't" "back ... up" his claim; suggested Rather was "dishonest"; and stated that Fox News is "balanced" because the channel employs O'Reilly himself, hosts Alan Colmes, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren, as well as analysts Kirsten Powers and Michelle Malkin. In fact, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, Fox News anchors, contributors, and correspondents routinely forward White House talking points in their own reporting.
ECHOING WHITE HOUSE TALKING POINTS
- As Media Matters noted, on the December 7 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, Fox News chief White House correspondent Brett Baier claimed that President Bush had "praised the report and the members on the Iraq Study Group [ISG] for tying any withdrawal [from Iraq] to commanders' assessment of the conditions on the ground in Iraq." But in suggesting that the ISG's recommendations were consistent with Bush administration policy, Baier failed to note that the report recommends that "[i]f the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government."
- After an exchange during the December 6 White House press briefing between NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory and White House press secretary -- and former Fox News host -- Tony Snow over the ISG report, numerous Fox News hosts echoed Snow's suggestion that Gregory was asking a "partisan" question about the report. For instance, as Media Matters noted, on the December 7 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly said that Gregory is "a partisan," that he is using "loaded questions," and that "[h]e has come to the conclusion that Iraq is a loser and bases his questioning upon that belief." On the same day's edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that "[i]t's all about David Gregory. It's never about the issue with that guy," adding that Gregory "talks to Tony Snow as if he wants to be famous and he wants John Kerry and Al Gore to be re-elected." Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that Gregory "never lets Tony Snow finish a sentence," called Gregory "Dick Gregory" and "Grouchy Gregory," and asked if "NBC [should] ditch David because he's asking partisan questions."
- On the October 23 edition of The Big Story, Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron repeated the Bush administration's misleading claim that it has created "some five million jobs" in the last "five years." In fact, because there was a net loss of 2.6 million jobs from February 2001 through July 2003, there has been a net gain of 3.2 million new jobs in the first 68 months of the Bush presidency, as Media Matters previously documented.
- In late March, Bush and White House officials advanced the argument that mainstream news outlets' Iraq war coverage was not providing a "complete picture" of the situation there. As Media Matters noted, by March 23, the same day then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan began to advance the argument, the White House's message reverberated across Fox News. On the March 23 edition of Special Report, host Brit Hume posed the question of whether the media is "suppressing or underreporting the good news in Iraq" to his "All-Star Panel." Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke complained that "you never see anything about American heroes" in the media's coverage of the war. "Whoever is winning Silver Stars, we don't know anything about it," Kondracke said. On the March 23 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Hannity noted Bush's and Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of the Iraq coverage earlier in the week before agreeing that "the story is not being told about the good news and about the progress." He continued, "There is lazy reporting going on. It is somewhat institutional, and there is partisanship on the part of the media." Earlier in the day, on Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto asked his audience, "Is the media hopelessly biased against President Bush?"
- On July 13, 2005, Fox News correspondents and commentators, including Cameron and Fox News analyst Newt Gingrich, echoed deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove's reported assertion that former Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, authorized Wilson's trip to Niger to investigate whether Saddam Hussein sought uranium from that country.
- Following a June 22, 2005, speech by White House senior adviser Karl Rove, Hume and Cameron both parroted the White House's defense of Rove's controversial remarks that "[c]onservatives saw the savagery of 9-11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9-11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." On the June 23, 2005, edition of Special Report, both echoed the White House talking point -- that Rove was discussing "different philosophies" rather than specific Democrats. Cameron reported that "Rove compared liberal and conservative philosophies," and Hume prefaced a discussion of the issue with this disclaimer: "Now it's probably worth noting at the outset here that Rove directed his criticism and his comparison at ... liberals as opposed to conservatives.
- On August 10, 2004, edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, O'Reilly cited a bogus statistic propagated by the Bush administration to claim that "[s]o much [federal education] money has poured into the states that they can't spend it, that most states are going to have to give back to the Treasury Department between 20 and 12 percent of the federal money coming in." In fact, at the time, states had spent 99.5 percent of the federal money for K-12 education allocated for the most recent year for which all relevant deadlines for state expenditures of that money had passed.
- On the August 6, 2004, edition of Special Report, the "Fox All-Star Panel" attempted to put the best possible spin on disappointing job numbers for July, discussing the new data using almost the same language as the Bush administration and the Republican National Committee (RNC), as Media Matters documented.
ADOPTING WHITE HOUSE TERMINOLOGY
- As Media Matters noted, days after the Bush administration adopted new rhetoric to describe its warrantless domestic surveillance program, Fox News reporters and anchors began using the White House's terminology, misleadingly referring to it as a "terrorist surveillance program." On January 22, the White House Press press office released a backgrounder -- called "Setting the Record Straight" -- on the National Security Agency [NSA] spy program, in which the term "terrorist surveillance program" appeared 10 times in reference to the program. Bush first used the term publicly during a January 23 speech at Kansas State University. On the January 24 edition of the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends, co-hosts E.D. Hill and Steve Doocy used the term "terrorist surveillance program" while discussing the president's speech, and then concurred that the White House's terminology "sounds better" and "is more accurate." The following day on Fox & Friends First, Doocy and Kilmeade announced their intention to refer to the program as "the terrorist surveillance program." By January 25 -- during a week that saw the administration go on the offensive to promote its practice of spying on U.S. residents without obtaining warrants -- Fox News began slipping the term, without qualification, into its news reports and commentary. The term "terrorist surveillance program" is misleading, as it suggests that only known terrorists' communications have been targeted, when, in fact, thousands of innocent Americans were reportedly spied on. As The New York Times noted, the NSA forwarded the Federal Bureau of Investigations "thousands of tips a month," nearly all of which "led to dead ends or innocent Americans."
- As Media Matters for America has also noted, Fox News followed the White House's lead in replacing the terms "suicide bomber" and "suicide bombing" with "homicide bomber" and "homicide bombing" to describe attackers who kill themselves and others with explosives. On April 12, 2002, then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer adopted the term, and Fox News immediately followed suit in its reporting. According to an April 13, 2002, Associated Press report, "Dennis Murray, executive producer of [Fox News'] daytime programming, said executives there had heard the phrase ["homicide bombing"] being used by administration officials in recent days and thought it was a good idea." On a February 23, 2005, Media Matters documented the Fox News website's doctoring of AP articles about terrorist attacks in the Middle East to conform to Bush administration terminology -- even altering a quote from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) to fit White House jargon.
INTERNAL FOX NEWS MEMOS
As documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald's film Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism and Media Matters have noted, internal Fox News memos bearing the name of Fox News Senior Vice President, News Editorial John Moody often appear to direct employees to frame coverage favorably for conservatives. Most recently, as Media Matters noted, after the Democrats won control of Congress in November, Moody reportedly authored an internal memo stating, 'The elections and [former Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld's resignation were a major event, but not the end of the world," and: "The war on terror goes on without interruption." The following is a sample of reporting instructions contained in memos from 2003 and 2004.
- [T]he pictures from Abu Graeb [sic] prison are disturbing. They have rightly provoked outrage. Today we have a picture -- aired on Al Arabiya -- of an American hostage being held with a scarf over his eyes, clearly against his will. Who's outraged on his behalf? It is important that we keep the Abu Graeb [sic] situation in perspective (5/5/04).
- Into Fallujah: It's called Operation Vigilant Resolve and it began Monday morning (NY time) with the US and Iraqi military surrounding Fallujah. We will cover this hour by hour today, explaining repeatedly why it is happening. It won't be long before some people start to decry the use of "excessive force". We won't be among that group (4/4/04).
- The events in Iraq Tuesday are going to be the top story, unless and until something else (or worse) happens. Err on the side of doing too much Iraq rather than not enough. Do not fall into the easy trap of mourning the loss of US lives and asking out loud why are we there? The US is in Iraq to help a country brutalized for 30 years protect the gains made by Operation Iraqi Freedom and set it on the path to democracy. Some people in Iraq don't want that to happen. That is why American GIs are dying. And what we should remind our viewers (4/6/04).
- If, as promised, the coalition decides to take Fallujah back by force, it will not be for lack of opportunities for the terrorists holed up there to negotiate. Let's not get lost in breast-beating about the sadness of the loss of life. They had a chance (4/22/04).
- The continuing carnage in Iraq -- mostly the deaths of seven US troops in Sadr City -- is leaving the American military little choice but to punish perpetrators. When this happens, we should be ready to put in context the events that led to it. More than 600 US military dead, attacks on the UN headquarters last year, assassination of Iraqi officials who work with the coalition, the deaths of Spanish troops last fall, the outrage in Fallujah: whatever happens, it is richly deserved (4/4/04).
- [L]et's refer to the US marines we see in the foreground [of pictures coming out of Fallujah] as "sharpshooters" not snipers, which carries a negative connotation (4/28/04).
- [Le]t's spend a good deal of time on the battle over judicial nominations, which [th]e President will address this morning. Nominees who both sides admit are [qu]alified are being held up because of their POSSIBLE, not demonstrated, views [on] one issue -- abortion. This should be a trademark issue for FNC today and in [th]e days to come (5/9/03).
- [Sen. John] Kerry [(D-MA) and Democratic presidential candidate at the time], starting to feel the heat for his flip-flop voting record, is in West Virginia. There's a near-meaningless primary in Illinois (3/16/04).
- John Kerry may wish he'd taken off his microphone before trashing the GOP. Though he insists he meant republican [sic] "attack squads," his coarse description of his opponents has cast a lurid glow over the campaign (3/12/04).
- [Th]e president is doing something that few of his predecessors dared undertake: [pu]tting the US case for mideast peace to an Arab summit. It's a distinctly [sk]eptical crowd that Bush faces. His political courage and tactical cunning ar[e] [wo]rth noting in our reporting through the day (6/3/03).
- The so-called 9/11 commission has already been meeting. In fact, this is its eighth session. The fact that former Clinton and both frmer [sic] and current Bush administration officials are testifying gives it a certain tension, but this is not "what did he know and when did he know it" stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate. Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let's not desecrate that (3/23/04).
- [At] the UN, Catherine Herridge will follow the US sponsored resolution calling [fo]r the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. Not surprisingly, we're facing [re]sistance from our erstwhile European buddies, the French and Germans (5/9/03).
- The pictures shown in the Times and NY Post today of the dead American contractors are exactly what we chose NOT to use yesterday. Please don't get sucked into this taste race to the bottom (4/1/04).
- [Th]e tax cut passed last night by the Senate, though less than half what Bush [or]iginally proposed, contains some important victories for the administration. [Th]e DC crew will parse the bill and explain how it will fatten -- marginally -- [yo]ur wallet (5/22/03).
- For everyone's information, the hotel where our Baghdad bureau is housed was hit by some kind of explosive device overnight. ALL FOX PERSONNEL ARE OK. The incident is a reminder of the danger our colleagues in Baghdad face, day in and day out. Please offer a prayer of thanks for their safety to whatever God you revere (and let the ACLU stick it where the sun don't shine) (3/24/04).
O'Reilly also appeared on the December 19 edition of Fox & Friends, where Doocy asked O'Reilly "what ... Dan Rather [is] smoking." O'Reilly asserted that Rather has "got a little confusion in his life," to which Kilmeade replied: "I think he's gotta get a therapist." Additionally, Doocy complained that Rather allegedly "comes on" Fox News "when he needs to sell something." But seconds later, Doocy plugged O'Reilly's new book Culture Warrior, saying: "Culture Warrior would make a perfect Christmas gift. ... Fits right in that stocking." Also, in Doocy's last appearance on The O'Reilly Factor on October 20, he promoted his book The Mr. & Mrs. Happy Handbook (HarperCollins, October 2006).
From the December 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Also, Dan Rather needs to put up or shut up.
RATHER [video clip]: I want to be specifically clear. Bill Reilly [sic] may never get White House talking points, and I believe him when he says that he didn't get it.
O'REILLY: We'll have the latest on the Dan Rather-Fox News controversy.
O'REILLY: All right. Now, right after that, we invited Mr. Rather on the Factor. He said he would come on in the future, but he was very busy. However, he did find time to go on CNN and say this.
RATHER [video clip]: First of all, Bill has invited me on the program, and I intend to be on the program. I stand by what I said on the Bill Maher program. Not only is it true, but it's widely known to be true, and I do know it to be true.
I want to be explicitly clear. Bill Reilly [sic] may never get White House talking points, and I believe him when he says that he didn't get it. I also believe him when he said he checked with top management and top management said, "We never see pieces of paper, what have you."
O'REILLY: Now, Rather can't have it both ways. If he says Fox News gets White House talking points, he'd better be able to back it up. And so far, he can't, no matter how many interviews he does with CNN.
Mr. Rather is welcome here to explain himself, but he should have done that already.
Joining us now with their takes on this, Fox News analyst Kirsten Powers in New York and Michelle Malkin in Washington, D.C.
Look, I know you're not a fan of Rather. My estimation of Dan Rather, to be brutally honest, is declining rapidly, because all I want -- this is simple. This is a simple deal. All I want from Dan Rather is some documentation of his accusation. He's made it twice, HBO and now CNN.
Too busy to come here, but he can go on CNN. Because he knows he's not going to be challenged. But back it up, Dan, and he can't.
So now I'm starting to re-evaluate my quasi-defense of him in the National Guard thing, when I said he didn't do it on purpose; it was just sloppy reporting.
You, Michelle, you may have been right and I might have been wrong.
O'REILLY: He never struck me as being a dishonest man, ever. All right? But now, this is so simple. You either put up, Dan, or you apologize to Fox News. Am I right?
MALKIN: Absolutely. Of course. Welcome to the club, Bill, and I'm glad you've joined it. And it's better late than never I suppose.
O'REILLY: I'm still going to let him come on here, now.
MALKIN: Well, look, he's not going to produce any documentation. And if he does, you better be very careful, because it will probably be typed on the same typewriter as those fake memos were.
And I agree with you. I think Dan Rather owes an abject apology to Fox News if he can't back up those slanderous statements. And I think you and [Fox News president] Roger [Ailes] ought to take a big lump of coal and send it to him for Christmas if he doesn't.
O'REILLY: All right. Kirsten, how do you see this?
POWERS: Well, I think that it was -- I was a little bit confused following back and forth, because he makes the accusations, and then he says that it's not happening, then it is happening. So it's a little unclear.
O'REILLY: It is. I mean, he can't have it both ways.
POWERS: And if it is happening, it is bad, or maybe it's not bad. The whole thing is very confusing.
O'REILLY: He is a little confused.
POWERS: But also it's pretty clear that he maybe was watching Outfoxed on Netflix or something, because this is --
O'REILLY: But he knows -- now look, here's the -- here's the deal. I mean, Fox News is under fire from every left-wing loon in town. All right? Every nut in the world is trying to bring this network down on the left, far left. All right? We're used to it.
When a guy like Dan Rather, who has a following and has access to the media, makes an accusation that we're all on the take -- that's what he's basically saying, we're on the take.
O'REILLY: On the pad, all right? The White House tells us what to do and we do it. That's a serious thing.
POWERS: Yeah. And you're right. He should -- he should give you some documentation for it and tell you where he got that. And he said he would come on your show.
And I think that, you know, I saw an interview with Rupert Murdoch [CEO of News Corp., which owns Fox News] not that long ago, at the anniversary, and he said Fox was founded in response, basically, to the liberal media. As opposed to -- there are, you know, the conservative bent to it. Certain shows are more conservative.
There's nothing wrong with that. And in my experience in doing a lot of television is that other places lean very left. And I think that --
O'REILLY: I basically say, look, we have people like you on. We have Michelle on. This is balanced.
O'REILLY: And you have me. You have Alan Colmes. You have Sean Hannity. You have Greta Van Susteren.
From the December 19 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
DOOCY: Just one other thing, Bill, about your program last night. I was watching, and we've got about a minute left. What has Dan Rather been smoking?
O'REILLY: You know, I just think that, and you guys might remember, I kinda stuck up for him in the National Guard memo scandal.
DOOCY: Yep, yep.
O'REILLY: I said he didn't do it on purpose; it was sloppy reporting. But then he goes out and attacks Fox News and say we're getting talking points from the White House, which is just not true.
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): After he was on our show, by the way.
O'REILLY: Yeah, and then he goes on, after I call him on it, then he goes on CNN and says the same thing. And then says, "Well, I don't think O'Reilly gets it, and I do believe him when he says the management doesn't get it either." Well, what are you talking about?
DOOCY: Yeah, it doesn't make any sense.
O'REILLY: It doesn't. So -- and then he goes on CNN, of course. He said to us that he was too busy to come on our show. You know, I think Dan's got a little confusion in his life.
DOOCY: That's a nice way to put it.
KILMEADE: And he's angry, and he still comes on here, so I think he's gotta get a therapist.
DOOCY: He comes on here, the number one channel, when he needs to sell something.
KILMEADE: Right, right.
O'REILLY: Look, I'm not going to ascribe any motivations to him. I think he made a mistake. He compounded the mistake on CNN, and we're just awaiting his visit to the Factor.
DOOCY: Yes indeed. Of course you can watch The O'Reilly Factor weeknights at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. Bill will be following the search efforts for the missing hikers, as they develop. Bill, really excellent stuff in Iraq. That was really nice of you to go all that way, take up your weekend to say thank you to all those men and women over there.
O'REILLY: All right. Well, thank you, guys. Merry Christmas to everybody.
DOOCY: Thank you very much. And speaking of "Merry Christmas," Culture Warrior would make a perfect Christmas gift.
CARLSON: It would.
DOOCY: Fits right in that stocking.
CARLSON: A lot of people are getting it in their stocking.