O'Reilly cherry-picked Engel's reporting to support further attacks on NBC

››› ››› ANDREW IRONSIDE

On the March 8 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly aired a clip of NBC News Middle East correspondent Richard Engel describing "the situation ... in western Baghdad" as "very dire" in a March 6 report on NBC's Nightly News. O'Reilly went on to complain: "[W]hat Richard Engel and [Nightly News anchor] Brian Williams did not report ... is that violence has dropped about 80 percent in Baghdad since the surge, according to the Army." O'Reilly continued: "Mr. Engel is a brave man, but has consistently taken an anti-war position in general. That's not what correspondents are supposed to do."

In fact, while neither Engel nor Williams noted the reported decrease in violence in certain areas of Baghdad on the March 6 or March 7 editions of Nightly News, on March 5, Engel did report the Army's claim that "in the past few weeks, violence in the Sadr City area [of Baghdad] is way down. In December, there were 254 murders, 440 total attacks. In February, just 19 murders, 91 total attacks." Engel observed that Sadr City was previously "one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in all of Baghdad," adding: "The last time U.S. troops entered this Shiite slum of two million two and a half years ago, they battled the Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, for weeks. What the soldiers found today surprised them. No resistance ... In Sadr City instead today, brisk traffic, families out, children playing."

Also reporting from Baghdad on March 5, Williams observed that "[t]here are now pockets of relative peace where there had been awful ongoing violence." Later, during a discussion with retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing, Williams stated: "And, general, we should point out we took every requirement and precaution for our safety and security today. We're not wearing vests in this environment. We once had to, but not this trip. It's deemed safe enough."

As the weblog Crooks and Liars noted, on the March 8 edition of MNSBC's Scarborough Country, host Joe Scarborough asserted that O'Reilly had gone off "the deep end" with his criticism of Engel and Williams earlier that evening -- so much so that Scarborough said, "[W]e changed our show after hearing it less than an hour ago." Scarborough aired O'Reilly's claim that Engel had not reported the Army's claim regarding the decreased violence in Baghdad, which Scarborough called "a lie." He later noted that Engel had in fact "cited statistics from the U.S. military that indicated that violence was down ... in Sadr City."

While guest-hosting Tucker the following day, Scarborough again devoted a segment to O'Reilly's criticism of NBC. In response to O'Reilly's declaration regarding "what correspondents are supposed to do," Scarborough said: "I'll tell you what people like Bill O'Reilly are not supposed to do: skew the facts." Scarborough went on to ask one of his guests, Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford, "What's Bill O'Reilly trying to do here?" Crawford responded, "Well, he cherry-picks what he wants to make the case that he's been making for some time because NBC's his new whipping post."

Indeed, Scarborough noted at the top of the March 9 segment that "every bully needs an enemy, and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly's current straw man is none other than NBC News." O'Reilly's obsession with NBC" is a topic Scarborough has addressed on multiple occasions in recent months, as the Fox News host has repeatedly attacked NBC's coverage of Iraq. As Media Matters for America documented, on the December 7, 2006, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, he claimed that "NBC News ... has turned sharply to the left." Also, following NBC's decision to label the situation in Iraq a "civil war," O'Reilly asserted on November 28, 2006, that their decision was "insane," "insulting," "over the top" and "very disturbing" and said: "[T]he American media is not helping anyone by oversimplifying the situation and rooting for the USA to lose in Iraq."

From the March 8 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: "Talking Points" has no problem with Brian Williams, but NBC's coverage remains dubious. Listen to this.

ENGEL [video clip]: On the ground, the situation does look very dire. I was out today in western Baghdad on a street they call "phone card." And there were -- all the shops were closed. There were burned-out cars in the middle of the road, and the situation is very severe. And U.S. commanders have said we're at a turning point in the past, and unfortunately, that hasn't been the case.

O'REILLY: Well, what Richard Engel and Brian Williams did not report last night is that violence has dropped about 80 percent in Baghdad since the surge, according to the Army. Mr. Engel is a brave man but has consistently taken an anti-war position in general. That's not what correspondents are supposed to do.

The alliance between The New York Times and NBC News becomes even more troubling with the announcement today that CBS News has hired a committed liberal to run the Katie Couric broadcast. Producer Richard Kaplan is a close friend of the Clintons, has a long history of left-wing activism. At CNN, he oversaw a bogus Vietnam report designed to make the American military look bad.

[...]

O'REILLY: OK, secondly, you heard Richard Engel just say the situation in Baghdad is dire but not say that according to the Army, violence has dropped 80 percent. You're going to sit there, Jane, you teach journalism --

JANE HALL (American University professor): Yes.

O'REILLY: -- and tell me that is a fair minded report, madam?

HALL: Well, you know, I think you have to consider his -- the context in which he made that report.

O'REILLY: Oh, stop it. Stop it. He did not mention --

HALL: There are -- OK, there are deaths night after night. There are a lot of people --

O'REILLY: All right.

HALL: -- that are questioning how efficient we are being with this surge, Bill.

O'REILLY: Jane, if I were a student in your class and I asked you that question, and you gave the answer you just gave, you'd have to give me an A.

From the March 5 edition of NBC's Nightly News:

WILLIAMS: But first, we begin with the situation right here. In this city today, a suicide bomber detonated a car full of explosives in the historic so-called booksellers' district of the city, killing at least 20 people, injuring 65 others. The attack comes during a period of change here. There are now pockets of relative peace where there had been awful ongoing violence. We start with two reports tonight. Today, my colleague Richard Engel visited dangerous Sadr City section of Baghdad, while I was invited to ride along on an inspection of the new policy in action in the cities of Ramadi and Hit, getting Iraqi and American troops, Army and Marines, into smaller outposts to fight this war block by block.

[...]

WILLIAMS: Now to a different experience: our longtime correspondent here in Baghdad, Richard Engel, who also went out today with U.S. forces in the usually rough Sadr City neighborhood. Richard, it's good to be here on your turf.

ENGEL: Thank you very much, Brian. For the last several years, Sadr City has been one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in all of Baghdad, completely out of government control. Today, I went in with U.S. forces who are trying to take it back.

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne today mounted up and braced for what has been a no-go zone for American forces, Sadr City. The last time U.S. troops entered this Shiite slum of two million two and a half years ago, they battled the Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, for weeks. What the soldiers found today surprised them: No resistance.

The Mahdi Army in Sadr City seems to have just faded away. Its fighters no longer patrol the streets. They've even taken down their propaganda posters. The big question is: Are they just regrouping, waiting to return?

In Sadr City instead today: brisk traffic, families out, children playing.

"Finally we feel there is security. It's better," said a man who brought his daughter outside to see the U.S. soldiers. The U.S. military says in the past few weeks, violence in the Sadr City area is way down. In December, there were 254 murders, 440 total attacks. In February, just 19 murders, 91 total attacks.

[...]

WILLIAMS: Retired Army General -- four-star general, that is -- Wayne Downing is with me on this trip, just as he was with me in Iraq for the initial invasion. He is here tonight to talk about what we learned together in western Iraq today, and Richard Engel is back with us as well.

And, General, we should point out we took every requirement and precaution for our safety and security today. We're not wearing vests in this environment. We once had to, but not this trip. It's deemed safe enough. But what a strange part of the war we saw today, rolling through almost ghost towns.

DOWNING: That's exactly right, Brian. I mean, they've conduct some very intensive operations in both Ramadi and Hit for the last two weeks. And, of course, there's a lot of heavy patrolling, let's not kid ourselves, before we went in there today. What we saw were M1 tanks, Bradleys, a lot of infantry. But one of the things that was very striking is you didn't see a lot of children out waving --

WILLIAMS: Right.

Gen. DOWNING: -- you didn't see a lot of people out looking at that -- us. So, I mean, I think that reflects the fact that not only the U.S. forces are cracking down, but we saw a lot of Iraqi police there too and Iraqi army. So they right now are breaking the grip of Al Qaeda. That's an Al Qaeda area that we were in today. And things were far from normal.

From the March 8 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:

SCARBOROUGH: But first, Bill O'Reilly goes off the deep end with the attack tonight on NBC News, so over the top that we changed our show after hearing it less than an hour ago.

[...]

SCARBOROUGH: This got personal and nasty very quickly. Bill O'Reilly then turned his guns on one of the bravest and most respected correspondents in Iraq, a guy who has put his life on the line for years. His name: Richard Engel.

O'REILLY [video clip]: What Richard Engel and Brian Williams did not report last night is that violence has dropped about 80 percent in Baghdad since the surge, according to the Army. Mr. Engel is a brave man but has consistently taken an anti-war position in general. That's not what correspondents are supposed to do.

SCARBOROUGH: You know, that's just a lie. And we'll get to that in a second and show you why he's lying.

The big question is, what's Bill O'Reilly's obsession with NBC? And has he gone too far this time by attacking a brave war correspondent from the safety of his Washington, D.C., studio?

[...]

SCARBOROUGH: I mean, Bill O'Reilly said that Richard Engel and NBC did not report yesterday that violence dropped.

I want to read you this, because, you know, this is important. Every day the White House releases an Iraq update, where the White House -- not Al Jazeera, not Fox News -- the White House cites news stories that it chooses to highlight. Tuesday's edition noted three NBC News stories. The first was from an interview Brian Williams did with retired General Wayne Downing, who's quoted as saying, "U.S. soldiers are proud of what they're doing in Iraq."

The second is from NBC's Richard Engel, quoting Iraqis on the ground, saying they finally feel like there's security in their region. Engel also cited statistics from the U.S. military that indicated that violence was down, indeed, down in Sadr City.

And the third was an interview Brian Williams did with day-to-day commanders of U.S. troops in Iraq. And Williams said to the general, quote, "They just said they don't want us to leave. You know, that's the 10th time I've heard that today."

What's troubling to me, John Fund [Wall Street Journal columnist], is that Bill O'Reilly goes on an hour ago, he claims Richard Engel didn't cite those Army statistics, claiming that violence was down 80 percent, when, in fact, Engel did last night and, in fact, the White House quoted Engel.

So Bill O'Reilly goes on his air, he lies about a reporter who puts himself in harm's way, and so many millions of Americans just digest it. Isn't that troubling?

FUND: Well, if that's the case, the research department sure failed. I'd be very interested to see what kind of comments along those lines Bill O'Reilly allows tomorrow night on his opine segment, where he allows readers to write in and question him. That'll be the standard.

From the March 9 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

SCARBOROUGH: You know, they say every bully needs an enemy, and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly's current straw man is none other than NBC News. On his show last night O'Reilly attacked NBC and a war correspondent -- a war correspondent in Iraq from the safety of his cushy Fox News Washington, D.C., studio. Watch this.

O'REILLY [video clip]: What Richard Engel and Brian Williams did not report last night is that violence has dropped about 80 percent in Baghdad since the surge, according to the Army. Mr. Engel is a brave man but has consistently taken an anti-war position in general. That's not what correspondents are supposed to do.

SCARBOROUGH: And I'll tell you what people like Bill O'Reilly are not supposed to do: skew the facts. Talk about the spin zone. With me to talk about it, NBC political analyst and columnist for Congressional Quarterly Craig Crawford and White House correspondent for The New Republic Ryan Lizza. You know, Craig, what's so disturbing about this Bill O'Reilly thing attacking a war correspondent in a war zone while you're sitting in a cushy studio in Washington, D.C., is the fact that he didn't even get his facts right. You talk about spinning. Richard Engel actually quoted that same 80 percent number that Bill O'Reilly was talking about. In fact, the White House sent it out in a blast fax earlier that day. What's Bill O'Reilly trying to do here?

CRAWFORD: Well, he cherry-picks what he wants to make the case that he's been making for some time because NBC's his new whipping post. CBS just fell apart after his attacks and Fox's attacks going all the way back to Dan Rather's demise, so I mean, now they've got to pick on somebody else, I suppose. Everything this guy does is always centered on hating somebody -- I mean, rallying his troops against somebody, and NBC's just his latest one for doing that. But, you know, I've been watching Brian Williams reports all week from over there on the Nightly News, and I've been -- I really have been learning a lot on the positive side about what is happening with these new tactics, and that's one of the only places I've been learning that. They've been very balanced in those reports.

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