Why does Fox News hate our troops?

››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Why does Bill O'Reilly despise the American military? Why did he refuse to report -- in prime time -- on the heroic, fallen soldier who gave his life in Iraq and was posthumously awarded the national highest combat award, the Medal of Honor? What is it about O'Reilly's strident ideology that blinded him to the U.S. military's achievements to the point where he simply ignored the White House presentation of the Medal of Honor? And honestly, doesn't that really tell you all you need to know about O'Reilly and the state of right-wing media?

Why does Bill O'Reilly despise the American military? Why did he refuse to report -- in prime time -- on the heroic, fallen soldier who gave his life in Iraq and was posthumously awarded the national highest combat award, the Medal of Honor? What is it about O'Reilly's strident ideology that blinded him to the U.S. military's achievements to the point where he simply ignored the White House presentation of the Medal of Honor? And honestly, doesn't that really tell you all you need to know about O'Reilly and the state of right-wing media?

I'm referring here to the Medal of Honor presented in April 2005 to the widow and then-11-year-old son of Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who died in April 2003 while defending the Baghdad airport from an attack of Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers. Smith was the first Medal of Honor recipient of the Iraq invasion. But according to a search of the Nexis database, Bill O'Reilly snubbed the story on his Fox News program, and John Gibson never uttered a single word about Smith, although a news report about the Medal of Honor ceremony aired on Gibson's Fox News program.

Meanwhile, what news outlets covered the story of Smith's heroics? The 'liberal' New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, as well as ABC, NBC, and CBS News, which reported nine different times on the Smith story. Better yet, CNN referred to Smith 19 times. Fox News? Not that interested in modern-day hero Paul Ray Smith.

I point out the wild discrepancy only because, lately, O'Reilly and Gibson have been leading the right-wing charge against the mainstream media, specifically The New York Times, for "absolutely ignoring" the Medal of Honor posthumously awarded last month to Lt. Michael Murphy, who won the prize for his selfless bravery as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan. O'Reilly claimed the press turned a blind eye to the Murphy story because of its "anti-military" bias and because journalists are aligned with "the left" and "despise" positive stories, while Gibson charged Murphy represented "a political symbol the left would like to shun." The allegations were cheered online by warbloggers, who for years have been warning their readers about the dangers posed by treasonous journalists.

Please note that Murphy's father, a Vietnam veteran and self-described Republican, just this month praised the press: "The media treated us very well, the reporting was excellent as far as getting Michael's story and Michael's life out,'' he told the supposedly evil New York Times. He also denied claims that have been raised that his son resented the "liberal media." The father insisted his son "knew and liked" journalists and that he'd never heard his son use the phrase "liberal media" before, nor, he added, did his son think that way.

Personally, I'd rather not be discussing Medal of Honor awards in the context of alleged media bias. I think it's disgraceful that the right-wing hatred for the press runs so deep that members feel the need to politicize Murphy's heroics in their dim-witted attempt to show how evil and un-patriotic the American press is. Can't they summon up enough decency to leave American heroes like Michael Murphy alone and find other pieces of rhetorical ammunition to use in their phony, fanatical crusade against journalists?

Then again, right-wingers felt completely comfortable attacking a 12-year-old boy, who suffered serious brain injury in a car accident, after he had the audacity to speak publicly in favor of expanded government-funded health care. So I suppose the idea of politicizing a Medal of Honor recipient is not a big deal for them -- but it is for me. And I think it is for most sane Americans.

But if the far right want to be crass about this (and they do, as they fling around their phony media research), the facts indicate that Murphy's Medal of Honor received an extraordinary amount of mainstream media coverage, and far more than the Medal of Honor awarded in 2005. Back then, the conservative watchdogs voiced few if any complaints about the media's coverage. Indeed, O'Reilly ignored the 2005 Medal of Honor given to Paul Ray Smith. But now with President Bush's popularity in the pits, and more Americans than ever opposed to the war in Iraq, we're told the press has taken an anti-military turn.

Truth is, you'd be hard-pressed to find a Medal of Honor recipient in the last 20 years who received more media attention than Murphy. For instance, in May 1994, when Bill Clinton handed out the highest honor to the widows of Army Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart, both killed in Somalia, the story was reported -- approximately -- by 35 American newspapers, according to Nexis, and received 10 national television mentions. By contrast, the Murphy honor has been reported -- approximately -- by 70 newspapers and received 50 national television mentions.

Not only has the press not turned against the military, but the press has also not turned away from good stories. And the tragic tale of Michael Murphy is an extraordinary tale; one that most journalists should, and would, never ignore. (That's why it's being turned into a Hollywood movie.)

Murphy, who grew up a National Honor Society student in the prosperous suburbs of Patchogue, N.Y., turned down a chance to go to law school in 1998 in order to train to become a Navy commando. Murphy was the first member of the military to receive the Medal of Honor for service in the war in Afghanistan, and he was the first Navy recipient of the honor in nearly four decades. He was 29 when he was killed in the Hindu-Kush mountains while leading a four-man reconnaissance mission on June 28, 2005. When his team was spotted by Taliban fighters, the Navy SEALs became badly outnumbered and pinned down in the mountain ridge.

Here's how the Times describes Murphy's last moments:

With the Americans suffering injuries, ammunition running low and roughly 100 Taliban fighters closing in, Lieutenant Murphy made a bold but fateful decision: He left the sheltering mountain rocks into an open area where he hoped to get a radio frequency.

He managed to make contact with Bagram Air Base, calling in his unit's location and the size of the enemy force, even as he came under direct fire, according to a declassified Navy account of the battle.

He also was shot several times and died.

By making that courageous call, Murphy was able to summon reinforcements. However, when a U.S. MH-47 Chinook helicopter arrived on the scene, Taliban fighters shot it out of the sky with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing all 16 service members aboard. In all, 19 U.S. soldiers were killed, making it the worst single day of U.S. fatalities of the war in Afghanistan. The only survivor was Hospital Corpsman Marcus Luttrell, who went on to write a patriotic, best-selling book about the tragic events, Lone Survivor.

Luttrell, whose book bashes the "liberal media," became a favorite among right-wing talkers, such as Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, and may explain where the unsupported claim that the press ignored Murphy's Medal of Honor came from. The assertion was immediately propped up by the crack staff at Brent Bozell's right-wing Media Research Center, where, as a policy, facts are never allowed to stand in the way of a claim of liberal media bias.

For instance, on October 14, the MRC's Noel Sheppard announced that "according to LexisNexis, outside of New York's local papers such as Newsday, the Daily News, and the New York Post, no major daily bothered reporting Lt. Murphy receiving the Medal of Honor." (This was two days after the White House announced it would be awarding the honor to Murphy's family.)

Newsday Cover

Actually, according to Nexis, at the time of Sheppard's accusatory posting, the Murphy Medal of Honor story had been reported by the Associated Press, the Cincinnati Post, Commercial Appeal (Memphis), Daily Press (Newport News, VA), Denver Post, Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Kansas City Star, Los Angeles Times, Mobile Register, Myrtle Beach Sun-News, Rocky Mountain News, Times Union (Albany, NY) and The Washington Post.

But other than that, Sheppard's research was dead on.

Meanwhile, notice which newspaper was among those that had not reported the Murphy story as of October 14? Clue No. 1: It's really, really conservative. Clue No. 2: Its founder believes he is the son of God. Bingo! The Washington Times, that editorial bastion of patriotic fever did not immediately report that Murphy had been awarded the Medal of Honor. Instead, the right-wing Washington Times waited one week until the honor was actually presented by Bush to Murphy's family at a White House ceremony to write up the harrowing tale of Michael Murphy.

That's precisely what The New York Times did. Yet that paper's actions drew shrieks of protest about an anti-military, anti-American, bias.

  • "[The Times] detests any mission that involves U.S. troops -- whether to protect Americans by killing terrorists or to help stave off a bloodbath in the Middle East" -- Unhinged New York post editorial.
  • "The writer of this article from the New York Post assumes that anybody working at the al Qaeda Times of New YorkTM has any idea what the word valor means" -- UrbanGrounds.
  • "[A]ccording to the New York Times, this story of courage and sacrifice is not 'fit to print' " -- National Review Online's military blog, The Tank.
  • "If Lt. Murphy had been accused of war crimes, you can bet where the NYTimes would have placed the news. Front and center" -- Michelle Malkin.

Here's a telling fact: In the end, The New York Times devoted more words and newspaper inches to telling the story of Murphy's life, his family, and his accomplishments than the offended New York Post did.

Now, did the Times show poor news judgment by not immediately writing up a news story the day the award was announced instead of waiting until the award was presented at the White House? Given the fact that Murphy grew up in the New York metropolitan area, I would say yes, the Times did show poor judgment -- especially considering that, in 2005, when the White House announced that Paul Ray Smith would be given the Medal of Honor, the Times immediately wrote up a story without waiting for the White House ceremony.

And to be honest, critics would have been completely justified in complaining about how the Times handled the Medal of Honor awarded posthumously this past January to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham. All the Times did in that instance was insert a single paragraph about Dunham into a larger news report about congressional wrangling of the war. That kind of thin coverage was unconscionable.

But the Times' miscue still doesn't prove the larger, fact-free allegation that the Times, along with the rest of the mainstream press, occasionally -- and purposely -- underplay stories because they hate the military. (Anti-military? NBC's Nightly News just devoted an entire week to profiling previous Medal of Honor recipients.) That's just hateful paranoia and has nothing to do with media criticism.

But back to the New York Post's name-calling editorial attacking the Times as being a military-hating institution because the paper did not promptly report the Murphy Medal of Honor announcement. Because if you go back to 2005 when the Paul Ray Smith Honor was announced, guess what? The New York Post did not immediately report on the news. Instead, the newspaper waited nearly eight weeks before informing readers about the battlefield award. The AP first reported the honor on February 2, 2005, but the Post's first mention was a paltry 320-word report appearing on March 31, 2005, on the eve of the White House ceremony.

Kettle? Black.

As I mentioned, this latest round of finger-pointing isn't really about the media and it's certainly not about serious media criticism. It's about desperate war supporters flailing around in search of a target; in search of an explanation for how it's really the media's fault that the war in Iraq has failed. That ritual is destined to continue. But please, right-wingers, in the future can you at least have the decency to leave good people like Michael Murphy out of your hateful crusades?

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