O'Reilly boycotts truth to spin French boycott; falsely claimed it “hurt France”

On his nationally syndicated radio show, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly touted a boycott of French products, which he began promoting in March 2003 in response to that country's opposition to the Iraq war. Discussing the possibility of calling for a boycott against Aruba if evidence emerged that “the Aruba government is whitewashing” the case of missing American teenager Natalie Holloway, O'Reilly said: “We hurt France, but it took, you know, millions of Americans to say, 'I'm not gonna buy French stuff.' ” But the evidence shows that O'Reilly's boycott has not measurably hurt French exports to the United States, which have increased each year since 2002.

Media Matters has repeatedly debunked O'Reilly's false claims of success regarding a French boycott. On April 27, 2004, he asserted that the boycott had cost France “billions of dollars,” citing the "Paris Business Review" as a source, but Media Matters documented that Census figures actually showed an increase in U.S. imports from France; additionally, there is no evidence of a publication named the "Paris Business Review."

Later, in a July 6, 2004, letter to the New York Daily News, O'Reilly claimed success because “in the months following the boycott call, France did $138 million less business with the U.S.A. than it did the previous year.” In response, Media Matters noted that conclusions drawn from two months of data are meaningless. By contrast, Census figures for a longer time span of four months after March 2003 show that O'Reilly's call for a boycott had no measurable effect on U.S. imports from France; from March through June 2003, French exports increased by $55 million over the same time period in 2002.

Finally, on the July 14, 2004, edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly stated: “French exports to the USA have fallen by more than a billion dollars from 2001 to 2003.” In fact, French exports in 2003 increased by $979 million over exports in 2002. This is a more relevant period for measuring the boycott's purported effectiveness, since O'Reilly didn't begin promoting a boycott until March 2003.

That trend has continued: French exports in 2004 increased by nearly $2.39 billion over 2003. In addition, French exports to the U.S. in the first five months of 2005 (through May 2005) increased by more than $1.5 billion over the same period the year before.

O'Reilly has continued to promote and sell “Boycott France” bumper stickers on his website. He renewed his call to boycott France on February 18 and continued to promote his boycott stickers on The O'Reilly Factor, most recently on May 5, June 17, and July 8.

From the July 27 edition of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

CALLER: I was just going to say if there's a boycott [of Aruba], all it's going to do is create travel deals for the rest of the country and the rest of the world. And, you know, people are going to go there, especially if, you know, it's affordable. And I don't think a boycott's going to do anything.

O'REILLY: Well, I think you might be right in the sense that, you know, individual boycott, very difficult. We hurt France, but it took, you know, millions of Americans to say, “I'm not gonna buy French stuff.” And -- but here's the deal, [caller], here's how you could do this. If it gets to the point where it's obvious the Aruba government is whitewashing the case, then what I'll do is call for the cruise ship companies not to stop there. And that puts pressure on these cruise ships, you know, to either say yes or no.