A Media Matters analysis of the media coverage of the Iraq war debate shows that the favored Republican talking points on Iraq have gone largely unchallenged in the media and have even been adopted as truths by some media outlets and figures.
On Countdown, Keith Olbermann honored Brent Bozell and Glenn Beck with first and third-place honors, respectively, in his nightly "Worst Person" award segment: Bozell for repeating the Republican assertion that a recently declassified report found there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion, and Beck for comparing The New York Times' report on a Treasury Department program designed to track terrorists' international financial transactions to condoning the genocide committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
In response to the reports describing a Treasury Department program designed to monitor international financial transactions for terrorist activity, President Bush and other White House officials lashed out at the media -- and The New York Times in particular -- for purportedly undermining the government's antiterrorism efforts. But as with the disclosure of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance and domestic call-tracking programs, the administration and its supporters in the media have relied on numerous false and misleading claims to support their arguments.
Explaining his decision not to call for a boycott of The New York Times, Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that "I've called for one boycott in my 10 years on the air, and that's been France." Just one week earlier on his radio show, O'Reilly called for boycotts of a number of other organizations of which he has been critical, including The New York Times.
Bill O'Reilly attributed Gary Krantz's recent move to step down as president of Air America Radio and Rick Kaplan's decision to leave MSNBC to "karma" and "two bad guys [getting] theirs," saying, "Do bad things, you'll get yours eventually. Do good things, you'll get rewarded."
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly claimed that U.S. Customs agents and Palm Beach County sheriffs were engaged in "political persecution" of radio host Rush Limbaugh, who was detained at the Palm Beach, Florida, international airport for possessing a bottle of Viagra that was reportedly not prescribed to him. O'Reilly stated that he "believe[d] powerful people in" Limbaugh's "home county are trying to unjustly harm him," asserting repeatedly that Limbaugh engaged in "no wrongdoing"
Bill O'Reilly railed against The New York Times' disclosure of a secret Bush administration program designed to monitor international financial transactions, falsely claiming that "by all accounts" the program is "entirely legal" and that "[n]obody is asserting that they [the Bush administration] overstepped their authority." Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter similarly asserted that "no one thinks" the program "violates any laws." In fact, some legal experts and politicians have indeed questioned the legality of the newly disclosed program.
Keith Olbermann handed out his nightly "Worst Person in the World" awards, with Geraldo Rivera receiving runner-up honors, behind Saddam Hussein, for saying that "in the last 35 years, I've seen a hell of a lot more combat" than Sen. John Kerry. John Gibson was awarded third place for claiming that "human-rights groups" hadn't "sa[id] a word" about reports that two U.S. soldiers had been brutally tortured and murdered.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly falsely asserted that Notre Dame professor Don Wycliff, in a June 22 Chicago Tribune op-ed that criticized O'Reilly, wrote that "the United States government bears more responsibility ... than the terrorists" for the recent deaths of two U.S. soldiers in Iraq who were also apparently tortured. In fact, Wycliff criticized O'Reilly in the op-ed for attacking "the press or the Democrats or the ACLU or Air America" for the soldiers' deaths rather than blaming the Bush administration officials responsible for conducting the war "for whom you have been a cheerleader."
On June 21, hosts and guests on several Fox News programs hyped a false assertion by Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Peter Hoekstra that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, despite the network's own reporting that discredited the claim.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly claimed that "most Americans have no tolerance for what they call amnesty" in the Senate immigration bill, and Fox News political contributor Newt Gingrich called the bill "absurd" because "it will be very unpopular." But recent polling almost universally shows that Americans support a path to citizenship -- provided for in the Senate bill -- for some illegal immigrants currently in the United States.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly again suggested that Iraq should be run as it was under Saddam Hussein, stating: "Saddam was able to control Iraq, as you know, and defeat insurgencies against him. The new Iraqi government can do the same, but it needs to get much tougher." O'Reilly also declared that the American Civil Liberties Union, the BBC, and Air America Radio "are helping the terrorists."