Lauer joined O'Reilly in serving up misinformation on Today

››› ››› JOE BROWN

During his interview with Bill O'Reilly, NBC Today host Matt Lauer joined O'Reilly in serving up conservative misinformation to Today viewers. In questions he posed to O'Reilly, Lauer suggested that Democrats would play a "dangerous" "troop withdrawal game" in Iraq, and that if detainees were released from the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay and went on to commit terrorist acts, "we've got an international Willie Horton on our hands."

The June 14 broadcast of NBC's Today featured a solo interview conducted by host Matt Lauer with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, marking O'Reilly's ninth* appearance on Today since November 2001. O'Reilly was again invited onto Today even though, in a previous solo interview with former Today co-host Katie Couric, O'Reilly compared those who advocate for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq -- including Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) -- to Hitler appeasers. Additionally, Lauer joined O'Reilly in serving up conservative misinformation to Today viewers; in questions he posed to O'Reilly, Lauer suggested that Democrats would play a "dangerous" "troop withdrawal game" in Iraq, and that if detainees were released from the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay and went on to commit terrorist acts, "we've got an international Willie Horton on our hands."

During the interview, Lauer asked O'Reilly if "good events" for President Bush in Iraq, such as filling the last remaining cabinet positions there and killing terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had "put the Democrats in a position ... of playing the troop withdrawal game," suggesting that Democrats' "only [political] course of action" in light of these events was "to go back in front of the cameras and say, 'When are we bringing the troops home?' " He also asked O'Reilly whether this was "a dangerous game" for Democrats to "play."

Later, during a discussion of U.S. policy toward terrorist suspects held in the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Lauer expanded upon O'Reilly's suggestion that criticism of the current policy was "ridiculous" because the prisoners were too dangerous to be released and did not deserve trials with "civilian lawyers." Lauer asked: "You're saying that if we release these guys [Guantánamo prisoners] and even one of them goes out and commits an act of terror against the United States ... we've got an international Willie Horton on our hands?" O'Reilly had not previously referenced Horton, whose rape and assault of his fiancée after escaping from a 1987 Massachusetts prison furlough was invoked by Republicans in ads attacking Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. O'Reilly responded to Lauer's question, however, by stating: "It's already happened." In a post on the conservative Media Research Center's NewsBusters weblog, talk show host Mark Finkelstein pointed to Lauer's Horton reference to suggest that "Katie Couric's departure" might have "had a salubrious effect" on Lauer, adding that Lauer's remark "does make you sit up and take notice."

As in O'Reilly's November 30, 2005, appearance on Today, an on-screen graphic reading: "No Spin Zone" was displayed prominently throughout the interview.

Despite his numerous appearances on Today, O'Reilly has labeled NBC "the most anti-Bush network."

From the June 14 broadcast of NBC's Today:

LAUER: Let's talk about -- you talk about turning points. What about here in this country? The president's had a good couple of weeks. Parliament's up and running in Iraq, we've got some key cabinet positions filled, the death of al-Zarqawi. How much of a bump do you think the president's going to get domestically because of this?

O'REILLY: A little bit, but it's a wait-and-see situation. Most Americans want us to succeed in Iraq because it's vital for the world and the United States to win there, and most Americans understand that. People who don't like Bush understand it, but they're not going to jump in, because there's been so much bad news there for three and a half years.

LAUER: Does the progress -- do these -- these good events over the last couple of weeks put the Democrats in a position, Bill, of playing the troop withdrawal game? In other words, is their only course of action now to go back in front of the cameras and say, "When are we bringing the troops home?" And isn't that a dangerous game for them to play?

O'REILLY: Look, the Democrats are in a very tough position. If Bush improves, and Iraq improves, then the Democrats' position in November weakens, OK? Because they're running on Bush's incompetency [sic]. That's what they're running on. If things get better, then the Republicans have a better shot to -- to keep control of the House and the Senate. So Democrats are in a very tough position. But you have to put your country first.

LAUER: Let me ask you about Guantánamo. You were recently there. This is just a flashpoint for criticism --

O'REILLY: It's ridiculous.

LAUER: --around the world. But let me -- I mean, all the calls to close it down, to stop the treatment of these prisoners, to release them or at least put them on trial -- let me read you what the attorney general of Great Britain had to say. He said, quote: "The historic tradition of the U.S. as a beacon of freedom, liberty, and justice deserves the removal of this symbol." This isn't some guy, some Muslim cleric -- radical Muslim cleric. This is the attorney general of Great Britain.

O'REILLY: OK. So where are we going to put them? Where do they go? There's 460 of these guys, 300 are deemed to be enemies of Britain. Where are they going? Leicester Square [in London]? Are we putting them over in the Mayfair Hotel over there? Come on.

LAUER: Well what about putting them on trial?

O'REILLY: On trial where? Here in New York? Are you going to do a [Zacarias] Moussaoui? It took four years to get a guy from Minnesota into the supermax prison. All of those people are going to get civilian lawyers?

LAUER: But are we sure all of these people are huge threats to the United States?

O'REILLY: Are we sure? What, did they take a wrong turn at Kandahar [Afghanistan] and wind up in Tora Bora [Afghanistan, site of battle between Afghan allies of the U.S. and Al Qaeda forces]? It's ridiculous.

LAUER: You're saying that if we release these guys and even one of them goes out and commits an act of terror against the United States --

O'REILLY: It's already happened.

LAUER: -- we've got an international Willie Horton on our hands?

O'REILLY: It's already happened. They released a guy from Guantánamo, they repatriated him back to Pakistan, he blew up the Islamabad Marriott [hotel].

* A Media Matters search of the Nexis database revealed eight additional appearances. Search terms: show (today) and allcaps (o'reilly).

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