FOX News host Bill O'Reilly misrepresented a recent survey of American attitudes about the war on terrorism, disparaging Democratic voters. On the "Talking Points Memo" segment of the January 25 edition of FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly declared: "[M]illions of Americans still can't come to grips with the problem [of terrorism]. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, only 17 percent of Americans who voted for [Senator] John Kerry believe military force is the best way to defeat the terrorists." In fact, according to the poll he cited, only 39 percent of all voters -- including 17 percent of Kerry voters and 66 percent of those who voted for President Bush -- agree with O'Reilly that "military force is the best way to defeat terrorism." By contrast, 51 percent of Americans responding to the same question believe instead that "relying too much on military force creates hatred that leads to more terrorism." In addition, 55 percent of all Americans agree "that good diplomacy, not military strength, is the best way to ensure peace."
O'Reilly used his January 25 "Talking Points Memo" to attack Democrats and imply that Kerry voters are hopelessly out of touch with both mainstream America and common sense:
O'REILLY: For nearly 20 years, the USA allowed worldwide terrorism to go unchecked. ... [M]illions of Americans still can't come to grips with the problem. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, only 17 percent of Americans who voted for John Kerry believe military force is the best way to defeat the terrorists. Incredible.
Does anybody really believe you can convince [Osama] bin Laden and [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi to stop slaughtering civilians in the name of Allah? What will it take to convince the world that these guys are Nazis, fascists who kill for sport in the name of God?
In fact, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey revealed that when poll respondents were asked whether "[u]sing overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world" or "[r]elying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism" better reflects their view, only 39 percent chose the former, while 51 percent chose the latter. Ten percent chose "neither" or "don't know."
Moreover, a clear majority of voters chose "diplomacy" over "military strength" as "the best way to ensure peace," even though Republicans increasingly favor "military strength" over "diplomacy." And contrary to O'Reilly's suggestion, the poll did not indicate that Kerry voters oppose military action against hardened terrorists who are immune to all other inducements, let alone that they favor attempts to reason with murderous terrorists. From the Pew survey:
Significantly, the values study found little change in the public's overall views on basic foreign policy attitudes, even as Republicans and Democrats have grown further apart. A modest majority of all Americans (55%) said in December 2004 that good diplomacy, not military strength, is the best way to ensure peace. That was the same number who held that view in 1999 and virtually the same as in 1996 (53%).
However, an increasing number of Republicans subscribe to the view that military strength -- rather than effective diplomacy -- is the best way to ensure peace. The percentage endorsing diplomacy as the better option dropped from 46% in 1999 to 32% in 2004.