In a discussion with Fox News Watch host Eric Burns, Bill O'Reilly said he would fire "rabid dog" media commentator Neal Gabler as a Fox News Watch contributor. O'Reilly accused Gabler of promoting "an idiot conspiracy theory" from a "far-left blog," suggesting that it was "not bad PR" if the Bush administration dragged out the story of Cheney's hunting accident to deflect attention from more substantive news. O'Reilly added that "this is the second time this guy did this -- the first time he smeared me about the Christmas controversy."
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On the February 20 broadcast of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly said that, given the chance, he would fire "rabid dog" media writer Neal Gabler as a contributor to Fox News' media critique program Fox News Watch. In a discussion with Fox News Watch host Eric Burns about comments made by Gabler during the February 18 edition of that show, O'Reilly advised Burns to "come down hard on this Gabler guy" for promoting "an idiot conspiracy theory" from a "far-left blog" that led Gabler to suggest it was "not bad PR" if the administration dragged out the story of Cheney's hunting accident to deflect attention from the more substantive news of the week.
O'Reilly went on to say that Gabler "shouldn't be on" Fox News Watch, noting that "this is the second time this guy did this -- the first time he smeared me about the Christmas controversy." As Media Matters for America previously noted, during the December 3, 2005, edition of News Watch, Gabler claimed that Fox News' coverage of a purported battle over public acknowledgement of Christmas was excessive; declared the so-called "war on Christmas" a "demagogic campaign"; and referred to O'Reilly and Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and John Gibson as "demagogues" who seek to "rally the masses."
Gabler's February 18 comments -- concerning Vice President Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of hunting partner Harry Whittington on February 11 -- were made during a discussion of news coverage of the incident with Burns, nationally syndicated columnist and Fox News host Cal Thomas, and political analyst and Newsday columnist James P. Pinkerton. Thomas said, "I think it's a conspiracy, Neal, and you ought to pick up on this. This was a brilliant strategy by the vice president to reveal the pettiness of the press." Gabler responded, "But Jay Rosen [author of the PressThink weblog] also says this could be a conspiracy. And in this very sense. Look at what this did. This got [newly published photos of alleged abuses of prisoners at] Abu Ghraib off the front pages; it got [Senate testimony about shortcomings in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina by Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff off the front pages. While we're here talking about the idiocy of him shooting his friend, we're not talking about the major, major problems that this administration is having. That's clever PR. That's not bad PR." But when O'Reilly showed the clip of the segment during The O'Reilly Factor, he cropped out the reference to Rosen and accused Gabler of picking up conspiracy theories from a "far-left blog" -- presumably a reference to Rosen. When Burns defended his hosting of the program during which Gabler made his comments, by pointing to an impending commercial break, O'Reilly advised, "I would have edited it, to tell you the truth. I would have edited [Gabler's comments] out."
In a February 16 PressThink post, to which Gabler was apparently referring, Rosen claimed that Cheney's handling of the shooting was an example of what he called "rollback" -- a "larger aim" by the Bush administration "to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country" -- but Rosen also wrote that he "found something disingenuous about the performance of the White House press" in its coverage of the Cheney shooting incident.
From the February 20 broadcast of Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Now, there are all kinds of irresponsible statements being made about the vice president, one of which occurred this weekend on the Fox News program News Watch.
GABLER (Fox News Watch video clip): This could be a conspiracy. And in this very sense. Look at what this did. This got Abu Ghraib off the front pages, it got Chertoff off the front pages. While we're here talking about the idiocy of him shooting his friend, we're not talking about the major, major problems that this administration is having. That's clever PR. That's not bad PR.
O'REILLY: Now, Gabler was referring to a conspiracy theory and one of those nutty far-left blogs. Joining us now from The Factor's New York studio, Eric Burns, host of the News Watch program. Hey, Eric, you gotta come down on this Gabler guy. I mean, he's just out of control, and I'll tell you why. Your program is a watchdog program of the media. And here you have Gabler picking up a far-left blog, an idiot conspiracy theory, spitting it out there. And you guys sit there -- not just you, but everybody else -- like Humpty Dumpty. What's going on?
BURNS: Now, Bill, if you would have continued to play the clip, you would see what the problem was. The problem was we were up against a commercial break. Jim Pinkerton jumped in at that moment to take issue with him. And Neal went back and forth with him very briefly. We were running over time and I had to jump in.
O'REILLY: But didn't you say, when you came, I -- listen, I'm up against the breaks all the time. And it's electronic breaks, so people know we have to hit 'em or we go off the air. But look, you should have come back and said to Gabler, look, you have -- this is a watchdog program. I like your program, Eric. I think you do a nice job. All right? But you got a guy like Gabler, and this is the second time this guy did this -- first time he smeared me about the Christmas controversy. We called him up, he's too cowardly to come on. You let him slide with that. And now you got him coming in here with this insane conspiracy thing. And I'm -- you know, I'm watching Fox News because I think Fox News is tough on these things. It's not a left-wing blog, all right? And you let this guy get away with it.
BURNS: No --
O'REILLY: And you shouldn't have.
BURNS: You're telling me that I let him get away with it, Bill. He's not my responsibility --
O'REILLY: You're the host.
BURNS: -- and what's -- no, no, but look, what's different between my show and your show is I've got four people on my program. And I will tell you that in both cases, both of the cases you referred to, at least two of the others, and maybe three, were ready to jump in. As a matter of fact, on the comment he made about you being what did he say, a demagogue or demi-god --
O'REILLY: Yes, the usual personal attacks that this guy traffics in all the time.
BURNS: I forget who it was, but somebody jumped in there. There was no way to jump in in this case. And in fact, because --
O'REILLY: All right.
BURNS: -- we have a produced open [video sequence] for the second segment, I can't come back to the topic.
O'REILLY: But don't you understand -- I would have edited it, to tell you the truth. I would have edited that out. Because look, here's the danger. Here's the danger. This guy Gabler, who you shouldn't have on your program, by the way -- if I -- and I don't run Fox News, but I'd fire him in a heartbeat and I'd bring in a responsible person. He traffics in personal attacks, this guy. He brings in insane stuff. You know, you're supposed to -- your show is supposed to be the watchdog of the media. And then you have a rabid dog in there. And it's just not playing.
BURNS: Look, Bill, I -- if the purpose of my being here is for you to tell me that I should host the show differently, that's something we can discuss at some other point.
From the February 18 broadcast of Fox News Watch:
THOMAS: Well, a Rasmussen poll shows only 27 percent of the public believe that it was really an important story. I think it's a conspiracy, Neal, and you ought to pick up on this. This was a brilliant strategy by the vice president to reveal the pettiness of the press and once again turn the American people against them. How's that?
GABLER: Well, first of all, [Fox News anchor] Brit Hume did not ask the major question [in his February 15 interview of Cheney]: Why'd you wait 14 hours? But Jay Rosen also says this could be a conspiracy, and in this very sense, look at what this did: This got Abu Ghraib off the front pages; it got Chernoff off the front pages. While we're here talking about the idiocy of him shooting his friend, we're not talking about the major, major problems that this administration is having. That's clever PR. That's not bad PR.