On June 21, David D. Cole -- professor at Georgetown University Law Center, legal affairs correspondent for The Nation, and author of Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism -- appeared on FOX News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor to discuss an article in that day's New York Times about interrogations of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. What O'Reilly Factor viewers saw was not unusual: a spirited debate -- which became increasingly acrimonious as it progressed -- among O'Reilly, Cole, and former Defense Department official and Ohio State University Mershon Center visiting scholar Mark Jacobson.
As a guest of host Al Franken on the June 24 edition of Air America Radio's The O'Franken Factor, however, Cole described some of O'Reilly's behind-the-scenes distortions, which he witnessed at the FOX News Channel studio on the afternoon of June 21. He also recounted a portion of his debate with O'Reilly that O'Reilly and his producers decided to edit out before the show aired that evening.
From the June 24 edition of the Air America Radio program The O'Franken Factor:
COLE: Well this was the first time I agreed to do O'Reilly, he called me and asked me to talk about the Guantanamo detainees story in The New York Times. So I show up at the Washington studio and I'm listening to him tape his introduction, his sort of daily rant. It's about The New York Times and how they're always misleading us and mischaracterizing things and especially mischaracterizing the fact that there is a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, and so then he says here's what Governor Kean had to say about it this weekend.
FRANKEN: The chairman of the committee.
COLE: Right -- the chairman of the 9-11 Commission, and he plays Kean's quote in which he says something like: "There is -- we have found no evidence whatsoever that there is any link between Saddam Hussein and any attacks on the United States including 9-11, however we have found some contacts between the two." And, you know, originally I think, well maybe what Al Franken said about Bill O'Reilly is false, because here he is, he's playing a balanced quote. But he immediately interrupts and says, "We can't have that quote, we've got to redo this whole thing." And two minutes later, he re-records the whole thing, and this time, when he gets to the Kean part, he doesn't play the soundbite, and instead he says, "And Governor Kean over the weekend, head of the 9-11 Commission, said there's definitely a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."
COLE: So then we get into my thing, which is discussing this New York Times article, and he repeatedly mischaracterizes the article and said that it said that the Guantanamo detainees were innocent, harmless, that they should ... that it questioned why they were being held. And I kept saying, "No, in fact, the Times article doesn't say that. You're saying that they're misleading the readers -- you're misleading the viewers by mischaracterizing the Times article." He says, "No I'm not, no I'm not." The usual kind of, you know, highfalutin ... uh, debating.
COLE: Right. So then I said, you know, why not push it a little bit further, so I said, "It seems to me, Bill, that it's the pot calling the kettle black, because I sat here not five minutes ago and heard you re-record the introduction to this show to take out a statement from the head of the 9-11 Commission saying that there is no evidence whatsoever of any link between Saddam Hussein and 9-11." He goes ... um, I'm not sure what to call it ...
COLE: Yeah, berserk, that's a good word. And basically calls me an SOB repeatedly and tells me there's no way this is gonna get aired, and ...
FRANKEN: Now did he call you an SOB, or did he spell out son-of-a ...
COLE: No no, he said, "SOB."
FRANKEN: Oh ok.
COLE: He didn't need to spell it out.
COLE: And then he said I would never, ever be invited to be on the show again. Which, at that point that I wasn't sure whether to take that as a threat or a promise.
FRANKEN: But he went berserk.
COLE: Yeah. And now, of course ...
FRANKEN: And this airs later?
COLE: Yeah and he cuts it, as he had promised, he cut it right before I accused him of basically doing exactly what he was accusing The New York Times of doing.
FRANKEN: So in other words, what he does -- this is a perfect example of what he does -- because he pre-tapes his show. So if anyone goes on the show and actually beats him up.
COLE: Catches him, right.
FRANKEN: Or catches him, he cuts it out.
COLE: Yeah. Absolutely.
FRANKEN: Isn't that amazing.
COLE: Yeah. Now the most, I thought the most. Yeah, right. The most outrageous thing he did I thought though, you know, is that in referring to this Iraq-Al Qaeda connection he said, "The Factor established the connection last week."
FRANKEN: Prove it, prove it.
COLE: But what was outrageous was that he calls his show The Factor. But you've got the Factor too -- he should call his show A Factor, not The Factor.
FRANKEN: That's what I've been telling him.
FRANKEN: No it's fine, he can call it The Factor, he was The Factor first. I don't mind that.
Thank you, David Cole, for the story about how O'Reilly distorts and lies.
Here's the section Cole referenced from the "Talking Points Memo" segment of the June 21 edition of The O'Reilly Factor that immediately preceded the debate with Cole and Jacobson:
O'REILLY: As you may know, The Factor provided the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq last week. And since that time, The [New York] Times and other newspapers have been under heavy fire for their misleading headlines, basically saying there was no link between the two. Governor Thomas Kean says definitely there was a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda. And he's the 9-11 investigative chief, but that's not enough for the Times, which continues to deny the Iraq-Al Qaeda association.
While Media Matters for America cannot be certain what clip of 9-11 Commission chair Thomas H. Kean O'Reilly decided to cut from his show at the last minute, it was probably this one from the June 20 broadcast of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
KEAN: [O]ur job is 9-11, and what we have concluded, there is no evidence that we can find whatsoever that Iraq or Saddam Hussein participated in any way in attacks on the United States, in other words, on 9-11. What we do say, however, is there were contacts between Iraq and -Saddam Hussein. Iraq, Saddam -- excuse me. Al Qaeda didn't like to get involved with states that -- except -- unless they were living there. They got involved with Saddam. They got involved with, in, where they lived, but otherwise, no, so, but there were contacts. We don't know what they are. We don't know how shadowy they are in some cases, but they existed.