FOX News host Bill O'Reilly admitted misquoting and mischaracterizing a Houston Chronicle editorial when he claimed the piece criticized a new sex offender law in Florida as “too harsh.” O'Reilly apologized for misattributing a quotation to the editorial and also admitted that the Chronicle “didn't actually say” that the mandatory sentence stipulated by the new law was “too harsh.” But he went on to argue that he was still justified in attacking the Chronicle based on “everything that I extrapolated from the editorial.”
On the May 10 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly lambasted a May 10 Houston Chronicle editorial for criticizing a new Florida law. The so-called "Jessica's Law" strengthened sentencing guidelines for convicted sex offenders and required them to wear satellite tracking devices following their release from prison. O'Reilly claimed that the Chronicle described the law as “too harsh” and that it advocated counseling for convicted offenders rather than incarceration.
In a May 12 editorial, the Chronicle refuted O'Reilly's charges, asserting that it had never commented on the “harshness of the punishment” imposed on sex offenders, but rather the effectiveness of the safeguards put in place once the convicts are released on parole:
The [May 10] editorial, citing extensive research on this subject, said hooking GPS monitors to sexual predators released from prison might prove less effective than closer supervision by parole officers and other low-tech strategies. The Chronicle did not call for lighter punishment; it called for the adoption of the most effective measures to protect our children.
The Chronicle further criticized O'Reilly for misquoting the May 10 editorial in the segment.
On the May 12 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly admitted misattributing a quotation to the Chronicle during his original report. “My mistake. No excuses,” he said. He also admitted that the Chronicle's editorial “didn't say the Florida law [...] was too harsh.” Nonetheless, O'Reilly stood by his original criticism, noting: “But from everything that I extrapolated from the editorial, why would they bother to write the editorial if they didn't think it was too tough?” In fact, the editorial focused on the law's effectiveness, not its harshness.
From the May 10 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Now most of us applaud that law, but not the Houston Chronicle. Oh, no. In an editorial today, it says the law is too harsh. “Although some compulsive offenders can only be contained rather than cured, counseling reduces recidivism. Community watch programs ... are a powerful disincentive for predators, researchers say. Finally, educating children about healthy and unhealthy touch ... remains the best defense against sexual abuse.”
No, it doesn't. Taking convicted predators off the streets is the best defense, not counseling, not community watch programs. This is insane. That newspaper's incredible stance is what has failed in this country for years.
From the May 12 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: On Tuesday, I criticized the newspaper for publishing an editorial that said “Florida's sex offender law ... [is] not the best way to stop sexual predators from preying on children.”
Now, I disagree with that. I think the law named after the murdered child Jessica Lunsford is a good one. A sentence of 25 years to life is the best way, in my opinion, to stop predators.
Well, today the Houston Chronicle replied in an editorial called “The No-Facts Zone,” which blistered me for allegedly misleading you. The paper said, “O'Reilly told his viewers that the Chronicle editorial said the Florida law was too harsh. He was mistaken. The editorial excerpts that O'Reilly projected on the screen said nothing about the harshness of the punishment.”
Well, that's true. I form my opinion by reading the entire editorial, which ended this way. “Although some compulsive offenders can only be contained rather than cured, counseling reduces recidivism.”
Well, call me crazy, but I believe those words indicate a stance that calls for less punishment and more rehab of child molesters. Maybe I'm wrong.
I was wrong about one thing in my initial report. I misquoted the editorial in assessing what regular folks can do to protect kids. My mistake, no excuses.
O'REILLY: You know, one of the interesting things that they attacked me on today was that they didn't say the Florida law, 25 to life, first offender, molesting a kid under the age of 12, was too harsh. And they didn't. They didn't actually say that.
But from everything that I extrapolated from the editorial, why would they bother to write the editorial if they didn't think it was too tough? So I'm saying to myself, OK, you didn't say it, but they won't answer my question.