O'Reilly, Suthers falsely attacked Colorado Democrats over efforts to curb sex offenders

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly smeared Democrats in the Colorado legislature as being "soft on child sex offenders." O'Reilly and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers (R) baselessly accused Democratic lawmakers of opposing measures to curb sex offenders -- ignoring the fact that Democrats have sponsored and voted for numerous bills designed to crack down on sex offenders.

During the March 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly falsely accused six Democratic lawmakers in Colorado of blocking "all efforts to harshly punish child predators." O'Reilly's accusation followed a February 19 O'Reilly Factor interview with Colorado Attorney General John Suthers (R) about a Colorado bill that would require sex offenders to register their email addresses, during which O'Reilly uncritically aired Suthers' misleading comment that Democrats killed the bill because "they simply said they thought it was unfair to sex offenders." In fact, Democrats said the bill created "a false sense of security" and had "little teeth," as a February 7 Denver Post article noted.

The Post article (an online version appeared February 6) also reported that the legislation in question, House Bill 1127, "is being revised to address opponents' concerns that it is too broad and that registrants using work e-mail addresses would damage the reputation of those companies," according to sponsor Rep. Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial). On February 28, the revised version of HB 1127, HB 1326, was introduced in the legislature and is being co-sponsored by one of the six Democrats who originally voted against it.

During the February 19 interview with Suthers (transcript accessed through the Nexis database), O'Reilly stated, "What I'm getting from you is in Colorado you have the Democratic Party in your state soft on child sexual offenders." He then asked Suthers, "Am I wrong?" Suthers replied, "The winds are changing in Colorado. And I think we're going to have a lot less emphasis on public safety."

O'Reilly also stated, "Now this ID act, six Democrats voted against it. You can't get it out of committee." Then, without acknowledging that one of the primary sponsors of the ID act was Democratic Sen. Paula Sandoval of Denver, O'Reilly asked Suthers, "Why do the Democrats oppose it?" Suthers replied:

SUTHERS: In Colorado, they simply said they thought it was unfair to sex offenders.

O'REILLY: Unfair to sex offenders?

SUTHERS: Unfair to those sex offenders who hadn't previously committed crimes on the Internet. I explained to them that we have people coming out of prison today who are child molesters who have never had access to the Internet. And this is going to a boon to them to have access to the Internet.

Presumably, the "ID act" O'Reilly and Suthers discussed was HB 1127, which would have "require[d] sex offender[s] to provide electronic communication identifiers when registering as sex offenders."

However, according to the February 7 Post article, Rep. Terrance Carroll (D-Denver), a member the House Judiciary Committee who eventually voted against the bill, said "he's concerned the bill creates a false sense of security." Carroll was quoted as saying, "It's a feel-good measure with little teeth." The article also reported that "technology professionals questioned the effectiveness of such a bill, as individuals can easily create new e-mail addresses and screen names."

The Post noted the comments of Steve Walden, an executive of Pitney Bowes Group 1 Software, which creates mapping software used for sex-offender registries "that allows people to use a map to see how close they live to registered sex offenders." Walden said HB 1127 would "be tough to enforce":

"It can't hurt, but I don't see how it's really going prevent someone that's going to prey on an individual if their mind is made up to do so" he said. "You can create a brand new e-mail address in minutes."

[...]

"I think the intent here is that various chat-room communities can flag these users while they're online," Walden said. "The Internet is one of those domains where they can roam with complete anonymity. Tying an e-mail address to a person is a very difficult thing to do."

The article also noted the measure's price tag: "The bill also is expected to add $1.3 million over five years to the costs of Colorado's prison system because violators could receive sentences of up to 18 months."

During the February 19 broadcast, O'Reilly baselessly stated, "[I]t looks like this is a partisan issue for the Democrats. I can't believe they're making it one." O'Reilly and Suthers both failed to mention that Colorado statehouse Democrats are the lead sponsors on several bills aimed at cracking down on sex offenders.

O'Reilly and Suthers also did not note that in the defeat of the Republican-sponsored HB 1137 to mandate minimum 15-year sentences for those convicted of sex offenses against children age 14 or younger, Republican Reps. Ellen Roberts (Durango) and Debbie Stafford (Aurora) joined with the six Democrats who voted against the measure in the House Judiciary Committee. The fiscal note for that bill estimated its cost to the Colorado Department of Corrections at almost $100 million over the next five years.

In making his baseless accusation about Democratic lawmakers during the "Talking Points" segment on March 6, O'Reilly listed "six Democrats" in Colorado who he claimed were failing to protect children from predators:

In Colorado, six Democrats, Terrance Carroll, Mike Cerbo, Andy Kerr, Rosemary Marshall, Claire Levy, and Morgan Carroll have blocked all efforts to harshly punish child predators. (Emphasis in original.)

O'Reilly never specified what "efforts" Democrats were purportedly blocking, and, in fact, the six Democrats he singled out have voted in favor of a number of measures sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats to increase public safety regarding sexual predators. Besides failing to mention that Republicans in the Colorado legislature have voted against sexual predator legislation for some of the same reasons cited by Democrats, O'Reilly also ignored Democratic sponsorship of and support for several sexual predator bills introduced in the state legislature, including:

Bill and Sponsors

Bill Summary

Votes

House Bill 1067

Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Debbie Benefield and Democratic Sen. Betty Boyd

According to a February 22 Rocky Mountain News article, "Convicted sex offenders would have to tell police where they park a trailer or motor home under" House Bill 1067. It "requires a sex offender to register an address each time a trailer or motor home is moved."

House Judiciary voted 11-0 to pass (including all "six Democrats"). This bill was signed into law. Two of the "six Democrats" -- Kerr and Levy -- were co-sponsors.

House Bill 1127 (see House Bill 1326 below)

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Spencer Swalm and Democratic Sen. Paula Sandoval

A bill that would have "require[ed] sex offenders to provide electronic communication identifiers when registering as sex offenders."

House Judiciary killed this bill 6-5. All "six Democrats" voted against it. The bill was later revised (see below).

House Bill 1326

Sponsored by Swalm, Kerr, Sandoval, and Republican Sen. Steve Johnson

Revised version of House Bill 1127

This was introduced February 28 with one of the "six Democrats" now sponsoring the bill.

House Bill 1137

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Frank McNulty and Republican Sen. Josh Penry

A bill that would create "a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years for a defendant convicted of a sex offense against a child who is fourteen years of age or younger."

House Judiciary killed this bill by an 8-3 vote. All "six Democrats" and two Republicans (Roberts and Stafford) voted against the measure.

House Bill 1179

Sponsored by Republican Rep. David Balmer

A bill that would prohibit sexual predators who have assaulted children "from living or working within

1,000 feet of a school, day care center, or playground."

A February 28 News article reported that "Colorado lawmakers have expressed doubts about such an ordinance's effectiveness. In a 2004 study, Colorado researchers found that child molesters who reoffended did not necessarily do so within 1,000 feet of their homes. And they determined that such restrictions did not deter them from molesting more children."

House Judiciary killed this bill by a 7-4 vote. All "six Democrats" voted against it as did one Republican (Stafford)

House Bill 1317

Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Diane Primavera and Democratic Sen. Ron Tupa

A bill that would require "a local law enforcement agency that chooses to post sex offender registration information on its website also to post educational information concerning protection from sex offenders or provide a link to the educational information included on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation website. Directs the local law enforcement agency to work with the sex offender management board and sexual assault victims' advocacy groups in preparing the educational information."

House Judiciary voted to pass this 10-1 with all "six Democrats" voting for it and one Republican (Roberts) voting against

Senate Bill 017

Sponsored by Cerbo and Republican Sen. Ted Harvey

A bill that would allow sex predator registry boards to add a number of local representatives, including local social workers and law enforcement to their board.

Senate Judiciary passed this 11-0 and it was signed into law.

This is not the first time O'Reilly has misleadingly tried to promote himself as an advocate for children. As Colorado Media Matters noted, referring to the March 3, 2006, death of infant Jason Jay "J.J." Midyette, O'Reilly made the dubious claim during the December 11, 2006, broadcast of 630 KHOW-AM's The Caplis & Silverman Show that "if it wasn't for guys like you, and guys like me, baby Midyette would be in the ground dead and murdered and nothin' would happen." However, according to the Boulder Daily Camera, a grand jury was convened in early October of 2006 to investigate the baby's death, a full month before O'Reilly began covering the case.

Additionally, as Media Matters for America has noted (here and here), on the January 15 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly said of Shawn Hornbeck -- who was abducted at the age of 11, held for four years, and recently found in Missouri -- that "there was an element here that this kid liked about this circumstances" and that he "do[esn't] buy" "the Stockholm syndrome thing." O'Reilly also said: "The situation here for this kid looks to me to be a lot more fun than what he had under his old parents. He didn't have to go to school. He could run around and do whatever he wanted."

From the February 19 broadcast of Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: "Factor follow up" segment tonight, Colorado is one of nine states that does not have Jessica's Law. And now politicians there have blocked the sex offender electronic communication ID Registration Act, which would have made it harder for predators to stalk children on the Internet.

Joining us now from Denver is the attorney general of that state, Colorado, John Suthers.

All right, Mr. Attorney General, you voted down Jessica's Law. Six Democrats voted against it. Now this ID act, six Democrats voted against it. You can't get it out of committee. Tell us what that ID Act would have done.

SUTHERS: It would have required the 9,000 registered sex offenders in Colorado -- at the time they registered their physical address, they would also have to register an e-mail address other than their work e-mail.

They'd have to register any chatline ID or instant messaging ID before they used it. Bill, this is important because social networking sites like myspace, things like eharmony are developing the capability of searching state sex offender databases and would be able to preclude sex offenders who participated on their sites.

Amazingly enough, it lost 6-5, straight party line vote in Colorado.

O'REILLY: But I don't understand why the Democrats oppose Jessica's Law and now this I.D. law that seems to make perfect sense. If somebody is a convicted sex offender and have to register with the authorities in Colorado, they should be able to have to register on the Internet. Why do the Democrats oppose it?

SUTHERS: I'm pleased to say I think it's going move through Virginia and Florida quickly. In Colorado, they simply said they thought it was unfair to sex offenders.

O'REILLY: Unfair to sex offenders?

SUTHERS: Unfair to those sex offenders who hadn't previously committed crimes on the Internet. I explained to them that we have people coming out of prison today who are child molesters who have never had access to the Internet. And this is going to a boon to them to have access to the Internet.

O'REILLY: Is Jessica's Law -- is Jessica's Law unfair to child predators who commit felonies? Is that what they said? Jessica's Law is unfair?

SUTHERS: My recollection is they said it was too expensive.

O'REILLY: Too expensive?

SUTHERS: It had a $4.5 million fiscal net. That's correct.

O'REILLY: I mean, I'm not usually a partisan guy here, but what I'm getting from you is in Colorado you have the Democratic Party in your state soft on child sexual offenders. That's what it looks like to me. Am I wrong?

SUTHERS: The winds are changing in Colorado. And I think we're going to have a lot less emphasis on public safety. Because they've said that they think there's too many people in prison. And I think we're going see lots of assaults on minimum mandatory sentencing.

O'REILLY: You know, I hate to see it come down to Republican versus Democrat. You know, Jessica's Law we started, Mr. Attorney General, right after Jessica Lunsford was slaughtered in Florida. It was one state, one state.

And now we've got 41 states, and Colorado is not one of those states. And I've lived in Colorado. It's not a secular progressive paradise. But it looks like this is a partisan issue for the Democrats. I can't believe they're making it one.

SUTHERS: I think we have tough sex offender laws in Colorado. But I'm very -- we have lifetime supervision. Basically, you can get up to life on a sex offense, and you bear the burden of proving to the parole board that you're no longer a danger.

A tip from reader J.E. contributed to this item. Thanks, and keep them coming.

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