Olbermann: O'Reilly "laughing at" Edwards' statistic about homeless veterans

››› ››› ANDREW IRONSIDE

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann criticized Fox News' Bill O'Reilly for ridiculing Sen. John Edwards' assertion that "200,000 men and women who wore uniforms and served this country patriotically as veterans will go to sleep under bridges and on grates." Referring to O'Reilly's pledge to radio host Ed Schultz that "if you know where there's a veteran sleeping under a bridge, you call me immediately, and we will make sure that man does not do it, is not there" after Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America executive director Paul Rieckhoff noted it would cost $15,000 to keep a homeless veteran off the streets for a year, Olbermann said: "OK, Billy, put your money where your mouth is. House every homeless vet tonight, just tonight. That'll be about $6,435,000."

During the January 16 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann criticized Fox News host Bill O'Reilly for continuing to ridicule the claim former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) made, most recently during the January 15 Democratic presidential debate, that "200,000 men and women who wore uniforms and served this country patriotically as veterans will go to sleep under bridges and on grates." Olbermann stated: "A shaming statistic that, in our third story in the Countdown, Bill O'Reilly is still denying and, in fact, laughing at, most recently, last night. His latest, the second in a week, as he made political hay off the backs of homeless vets." Olbermann then aired a short clip of O'Reilly's discussion with radio host Ed Schultz, during which, as Media Matters for America documented, O'Reilly said of homeless veterans: "They may be out there, but there's not many of them out there. OK? So, if you know where one is, Ed ... if you know where there's a veteran sleeping under a bridge, you call me immediately, and we will make sure that man does not do it, is not there."

Discussing O'Reilly's comments with Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Olbermann asked: "But do you know of any homeless vets, by any chance?" Rieckhoff responded: "Absolutely. I mean, the VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] says that there are approximately 200,000 of all generations. We know that there are at least 1,500 that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan." Rieckhoff added: "This is a very real problem. And all you have to do, to be honest with you, if you're Bill O'Reilly, is go downstairs and look out in the streets of New York, and you can find homeless veterans living on our streets every night." Later in the broadcast, Rieckhoff asserted: "And there are also families. There are children. We've met some single moms that are veterans that are living on the streets with their kids. And there are actually people living under bridges. This film When I Came Home opens with a very powerful scene of a Vietnam veteran who literally lives under a bridge in California. He's created a makeshift living situation for himself. So it's very real, and it's not something we should mock, and it's something we need to address urgently."

Regarding the statistic Edwards cited, Olbermann asked Rieckhoff: "Is there a way we can explain that 200,000 figure and the other one, the 340,000 or so who are intermittently homeless over the year? Which left-wing, anti-American, secular progressive, NBC-dominated organization provided that number?" Rieckhoff replied: "The VA. The VA, which provides health care to millions of veterans all over the country. And this is an organization that's had a hard time keeping up with them. But this is, unfortunately, what happens when you don't take care of veterans who come home with severe mental health issues, who face financial problems, and face, to be honest with you, a real lack of low-cost housing. That's a recipe for homelessness. And we're seeing this number rise. And this is an aftereffect of war that's predictable and we need the entire country to rally behind."

Referring to O'Reilly's discussion with Schultz in which he said "if you know where there's a veteran sleeping under a bridge, you call me immediately and we will make sure that man does not do it, is not there," Olbermann asked: "How much does that cost? What does -- with his big mouth, Bill O'Reilly, owe these homeless vets -- 195,000 or so -- you know, just to put them inside someplace warm, say, for a year? What would the price of that be?" Rieckhoff replied: "About $15,000. ... For one veteran. About $15,000 for room, board, supportive servicing, and a staff that can take care of them." Olbermann concluded the segment, saying: "And OK, Billy, put your money where your mouth is. House every homeless vet tonight, just tonight. That'll be about $6,435,000."

As Media Matters documented, O'Reilly first claimed that Edwards "has no clue" after Edwards had cited the homeless veterans figure in his speech following the January 3 Iowa caucus and asserted: "That was Edwards' concession speech last night. I mean, come on. The only thing sleeping under a bridge is that guy's brain. Ten million illegal alien workers are sending billions of dollars back home, and Edwards is running around saying nobody has any money. Hard to believe."

From the January 16 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

OLBERMANN: On the website of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, in black and white, it states the sad truth about many of the men and women who served this country in uniform. "Current population estimates suggest that about 195,000 veterans, male and female, are homeless on any given night, and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year." A grotesque statistic that Senator John Edwards has repeatedly cited during his bid for the presidency -- most recently, last night.

EDWARDS [video clip]: Tonight, across this country, 200,000 men and women who wore our uniform and served this country patriotically as veterans will go to sleep under bridges and on grates --

OLBERMANN: A grotesque statistic fully vetted by the U.S. government, even under the presidency of George W. Bush. A shaming statistic that, in our third story on the Countdown, Bill O'Reilly is still denying and, in fact, laughing at, most recently last night. His latest, the second in a week, as he made political hay off the backs of homeless vets -- a segment with radio show host Ed Schultz.

[begin video clip]

SCHULTZ: As far as John Edwards is concerned, I think his message is strong and he's got tremendous conviction. But I think he needs a little bit more material than just the "two America" talk. He's got to get --

O'REILLY: Well, we're still looking for all the veterans sleeping under the bridges, Ed. So if you find anybody, let us know. Because that's all the guy said for the last --

SCHULTZ: Well, they're out there, Bill. Don't kid yourself.

O'REILLY: They may be out there, but there's not many of them out there, OK? So if you know where one is, Ed--

SCHULTZ: Well, actually -- now, wait a minute -- two hundred and five --

O'REILLY: -- Ed -- Ed -- if you know one where -- if you know where there's a veteran sleeping under a bridge, you call me immediately, and we will make sure that man does not do it, is not there.

SCHULTZ: I will do that.

O'REILLY: OK.

[end video clip]

OLBERMANN: We're joined now by Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of IAVA, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Thanks for coming in, Paul.

RIECKHOFF: My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Well, we know what we want to say here, and it involves suggesting Mr. O'Reilly should go and do something anatomically impossible to himself with that attitude. But do you know any homeless vets, by any chance?

RIECKHOFF: Absolutely. I mean, the VA says that there are approximately 200,000 of all generations. We know that there are at least 1,500 that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our organization and others are in touch with them every day. I made a few phone calls today to my friends who work in Los Angeles. They go out to Skid Row every day, and they said they're tracking six Iraq veterans alone that are living out in Los Angeles. We know there are about five or 10 here in New York. So, they're there. This is a very real problem. And all you have to do, to be honest with you, if you're Bill O'Reilly, is go downstairs and look out in the streets of New York, and you can find homeless veterans living on our streets every night.

OLBERMANN: Right. He's two blocks this way from where we are. He's two blocks downtown. Two blocks, three blocks uptown, on Fifth Avenue, there's one church by which you see 40 or 50 guys in the neighborhood, if not all at the same time. They're there. I mean, you have to deliberately try to avoid seeing this problem. Is that what he's doing? What -- do you have any idea what the mentality is? Have you encountered any of this where people don't want to deny it because it can't be that anybody is making this statistic up if the VA is even admitting this. It can't -- it doesn't -- it's not a publicity stunt of some sort.

RIECKHOFF: I mean, I don't know. This is the guy that went after the USO just a few weeks before, so I don't know what his agenda is here. But we hope that he uses this as an opportunity to focus on a very critical issue. Homeless veterans are real. We provided your producers with a video that we shot in Los Angeles just two weeks ago. They're out on the streets. We helped produce a documentary about it, called When I Came Home, that tracked the life of an Iraq veteran who was homeless, living in Brooklyn. This is a very real problem. We need everybody's help. And we need folks to support our veterans. This isn't a partisan issue. It's not about John Edwards. It's about taking care of the people when they come home.

OLBERMANN: Is there a way we can explain that 200,000 figure and the other one, the 340,000 or so who are intermittently homeless over the year? Which left-wing, anti-American, secular progressive, NBC-dominated organization provided that number?

RIECKHOFF: The VA. The VA, which provides health care to millions of veterans all over the country. And this is an organization that's had a hard time keeping up with them. But this is, unfortunately, what happens when you don't take care of veterans who come home with severe mental health issues, who face financial problems, and face, to be honest with you, a real lack of low-cost housing. That's a recipe for homelessness. And we're seeing this number rise. And this is an aftereffect of war that's predictable and we need the entire country to rally behind. And, I hope to O'Reilly will join our outreach folks in a van that goes out to Skid Row just about every day. We'd be happy to take him out there, and his crew, and we'll show him that there are homeless vets living on the streets now.

OLBERMANN: Well, he said -- I think what I heard him say was he would arrange some sort of coverage for -- and I mean that in the literal sense, not of the television sense -- of any homeless vet to make sure they're not homeless tonight. How much does that cost? What does -- with his big mouth, Bill O'Reilly, owe these homeless vets -- 195,000 or so -- you know, just to put them inside someplace warm, say, for a year? What would the price of that be?

RIECKHOFF: About $15,000. For supportive services --

OLBERMANN: For one -- for one guy --

RIECKHOFF: For one veteran. About $15,000 for room, board, supportive servicing, and a staff that can take care of them. It's about $15,000. So, as a country, if we want to multiply that times 200,000, you're at about $2.6 billion, which is a drop in the bucket compared to what we're spending in Iraq every day. So, it's really about priorities and we hope that we can use this as an opportunity to focus on veterans' issues. Last night was a great step. The presidential candidates finally started talking about traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the other issues that we've been focused on for years now.

OLBERMANN: We'll also probably have to explain to Bill O'Reilly that not every one of these guys -- 200,000 guys -- live under a bridge. He may be focused -- fixated on that term. The guys with bridges to sleep under may be the lucky ones. Those are the guys who have cover. Those are the guys who have protection against the elements. I mean, there are people who are literally on the streets. Nothing above them, maybe a piece of cardboard. This is not some joke that he should be making.

RIECKHOFF: And there are also families. There are children. We've met some single moms that are veterans that are living on the streets with their kids. And there are actually people living under bridges. This film When I Came Home opens with a very powerful scene of a Vietnam veteran who literally lives under a bridge in California. He's created a makeshift living situation for himself. So it's very real, and it's not something we should mock, and it's something we need to address urgently.

OLBERMANN: He just doesn't think it's true; therefore, it's not true.

RIECKHOFF: Step outside on the streets of New York. We could probably see some over our shoulder right now, unfortunately.

OLBERMANN: If he could wish it away, I'd go over and shake his hand. If he's correct and it's not true, I'll go over and shake his hand -- I'll kiss his hand if it's not true because he takes homeless veterans off the street.

RIECKHOFF: We can sell tickets and raise money for veterans.

OLBERMANN: Right, give it to [unintelligible]. Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Thanks, Paul.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN: And OK, Billy, put your money where your mouth is. House every homeless vet tonight, just tonight. That'll be about $6,435,000.

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