O'Reilly defended false Clinton-Bush poverty comparison as “the only accurate measuring stick”

On his nationally syndicated radio show, The Radio Factor, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly again compared the poverty rate at the midpoint of both the Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies to argue that Bush has more effectively alleviated poverty in the United States. Ignoring the overall trend lines during their respective White House tenures, O'Reilly claimed that comparing the 1996 and 2004 numbers is the “only fair comparison” and the “only accurate measuring stick.” But as Media Matters for America has noted -- and as Radio Factor caller “Larry” repeated -- such a comparison obscures the more relevant fact that the poverty rate declined every year of the Clinton presidency and has increased every year under the Bush presidency.

From the September 14 edition of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

CALLER: Hi, Bill.

O'REILLY: Larry.

CALLER: Let's see, poverty is up since Bush took office.

O'REILLY: That's not true.

CALLER: It is true.

O'REILLY: I have the stats right here, Larry.

CALLER: I just looked at the figures. Gun crime is up since George Bush took office.

O'REILLY: All right, Larry, hold it, hold it, hold it. Let's deal with one at a time. The only fair comparison is halfway through Clinton's term, halfway through Bush's term, OK? That's the only fair comparison. You gotta go real time.

CALLER: Bill, I --

O'REILLY: Poverty is down, Larry, one full percent in real time from 1996, halfway through Clinton, 2004, halfway through Bush. That is the truth, Larry, and if you're not willing to acknowledge that's the truth, this conversation is over.

CALLER: Bill, I just finished taking a look at the poverty chart. And in Bill Clinton's years, every year poverty fell. So far in George Bush, every year he has gone up. Those are the facts.

O'REILLY: The facts are halfway through. The poverty under Bush is down 1 percent. That's the fact and the only accurate measuring stick. You wanna know why, Larry? Because of 9-11, that's why. That's the only accurate measuring stick. When Clinton took office, he was coming off a Bush the Elder recession. So he came into a situation that he turned around, and things got better poverty-wise, but it took him time. It took him time. So, halfway through his eight years, he was at -- what's the numbers? -- 13.7, OK, 13.7. Bush comes in, he gets hit on 9-11, which wipes out, wobbles the economy. All right? Halfway through, he's at 12.7. Larry, you can use statistics to do and prove anything. You've gotta get a fair measure. We gave you the fairest measure -- halfway through both terms, both men had to deal with circumstances. Clinton, a Bush the Elder recession; Bush, 9-11 attack.