O'Reilly, right-wing writers teamed up to bash “smear merchants” at Media Matters

In a falsehood-laden segment on the October 25 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor in which Media Matters for America was a focus of the attack, Bill O'Reilly hosted two right-wing commentators -- one of whom is known for launching an ill-fated T-shirt venture protesting an effort to get women admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club, a venture that reportedly left him “broke.” The commentators, FrontPageMag.com columnist Jacob Laksin and Human Events contributor Todd Manzi, joined O'Reilly in baselessly accusing Media Matters of “smear[ing]” conservatives. No contrary perspective about Media Matters was provided; O'Reilly has repeatedly refused Media Matters president and CEO David Brock's request to appear on The O'Reilly Factor.

As a columnist for David Horowitz's FrontPageMag.com, the online publication of the Horowitz-led Center for the Study of Popular Culture, Laksin has some experience with smearing. For example, Laksin lambasted filmmaker Michael Moore in a 2004 column as "Hezbollah's Hollywood Hero." More recently, in a July 27 column appearing shortly after John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination to the Supreme Court, Laksin berated what he called "The Hate America, Hate-Roberts Left." Laksin bashed Media Matters in an August 29 article, calling us “a clearinghouse for leftwing outrage,” and attacked Brock as a “Media Liar” in a September 21 column. Both articles also appear in Horowitz's DiscovertheNetworks.org database, which bills itself as a “guide to the political left.”

While O'Reilly acknowledged that Laksin writes for “a conservative publication,” he identified Manzi only as a “journalist” who has “looked into the Bill Bennett matter.” Manzi wrote an October 18 column for Human Events attributing the furor over radio host and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett's remark that “you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down” to a “vast left-wing conspiracy” led by Media Matters, which originally exposed Bennett's remark.

But while O'Reilly described Manzi as a “journalist,” his experience appears to lie more in other areas. According to a February 28, 2003, Associated Press article, Manzi is a former advertising executive and real estate salesman who, before becoming a "frequent contributor" to the “national conservative weekly” newspaper Human Events, made a name for himself by protesting an effort by Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, to gain access for women to the Augusta National Golf Club. According to the AP, "[s]omething inside Manzi snapped" when he heard about Burk's campaign, and he decided to turn his “passion” into action. He conceived of a slogan and “ordered dozens of golf balls with a likeness of Burk on the side and began offering them for sale along with the T-shirts and hats on his web site.” AP continued: “One indication of how he's fared is apparent from the link in the top right corner of the home page. It reads: 'Todd Manzi is looking for a real job. Click here if you would like to hire Todd.' ”

Before introducing Laksin and Manzi, O'Reilly began the segment by baselessly accusing the “smear merchants” and “character assassins” at Media Matters of feeding “propaganda” to mainstream journalists. To purportedly support his claim, O'Reilly cited 1) a column by Macarena Hernandez in The Dallas Morning News which O'Reilly claimed used Media Matters' work to “quot[e] a Radio Factor transcript out of context” ; and 2) Bennett being “crucified by the elite media which used smear website information.”

But, contrary to O'Reilly's claim that Hernandez took a Radio Factor transcript “out of context,” Hernandez merely confused O'Reilly's radio and television programs when she wrote that a sample comment from “the anchor and the callers” of the O'Reilly Factor is that illegal immigrants are “biological weapon[s].” As Media Matters has noted, a caller on The Radio Factor made the claim; O'Reilly agreed with the caller's comment and added that “I think you could probably make an absolutely airtight case that more than 3,000 Americans have been either killed or injured, based upon the 11 million illegals who are here.” Further, while O'Reilly suggested that the mainstream media used Media Matters' work to “crucif[y]” and “smear” Bennett, we provided the full audio and transcript when we exposed Bennett's controversial remark.

From the October 25 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: In The Factor “Investigation” segment tonight: If you can't beat 'em, smear 'em. Far-left billionaires George Soros and Peter Lewis, who heads the Progressive insurance company -- remember that; if you have Progressive insurance, you may want to look elsewhere. Those guys have poured tens of millions of dollars into political organizations designed to harm people with whom the left disagrees. For example, Soros and Lewis have each donated $2.5 million at least to MoveOn.org, which is a relentless liberal attack machine. Now, all of this would be of minor concern if the major media were not involved, but The Factor has learned that a number of newspaper columnists and TV and radio commentators take information fed to them by the far-left organizations and use it as primary source material. That is, they don't check anything. They just throw the propaganda out there in print or on the air. For example, Macarena Hernandez quoting a Radio Factor transcript out of context. We believe she took it off Media Matters, which tapes us every day. Example: Bill Bennett being crucified by the elite media which uses smear website information.

With us now, Jacob Laksin, editor and writer for FrontPage Magazine, a conservative publication, and from Madison, Wisconsin, journalist Todd Manzi, who looked into the Bill Bennett matter. We begin with you, Mr. Manzi. How about did the Bennett thing go down? What did you learn?

MANZI: Media Matters taped one of Bill Bennett's phone calls. A caller had it in. Nothing there at all. They decided they want to make an issue out of that. So they put the transcript up with an incendiary headline. Then all of a sudden, the usual suspects from the left started issuing press releases. [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] issued a press release, [Rep.] John Conyers [D-MI], the NAACP, they all issued press releases. The interesting thing for me, though, is there was no story yet. Bennett's phone call occurred on a Wednesday. Media Matters put them up on a Wednesday. On Thursday, all these people issued press releases. Then the AP finally filed the story Thursday night. So they made a story out of nothing.

O'REILLY: So that's what they always do. They tape The Radio Factor, they tape Rush Limbaugh, they tape Bill Bennett, and they look to see if they can find something to smear us with. So what you're saying is they contacted Harry Reid, the minority Senate leader, they contacted the NAACP. Of course these people don't listen to Bill Bennett's radio program. So they just took it right from Media Matters, and then ran with it in an accusatory style. The AP picked it up, put it in the paper, and then Bennett gets crucified, correct?

MANZI: Yeah. It's in hundreds of newspapers, hundreds of television stations all over.

O'REILLY: Now, is the AP at fault here, in your opinion? The AP --

MANZI: Yes, the AP is absolutely at fault. Yes. The AP is running and considering this news. The AP has misinformed millions of people that had the wrong impression about what happened.

O'REILLY: How did they misinform, though? The controversy over Bennett's remarks has been over and over and over. As we pointed out, I don't think there was any malicious intent in the remark. It was an analogy. But you don't generalize about race in this country. But why did the AP misinform? How did they do that?

MANZI: Well, it gets to the matter of what is news. News is the who, what, why, where, right? I mean, the news in the matter, if you distill it down to its fundamental point, is that Bill Bennett argued that abortion should be debated on moral issues rather than economic issues. That's not news. The news that the AP went with is that Harry Reid was offended. That's not news either. Harry Reid is offended at almost everything. That's what they put out there. What people took away from that was a position that they attributed to Bennett. They were misinformed about what actually happened, what the intent was. Anyone that listened to the call --

O'REILLY: Right, if you listen to the calls, and we urge people to do that, you can make up your own mind on the matter.


O'REILLY: It gets millions of dollars. More than $3 million last year into this little website, coming primarily from these people and other people like Suzy Tompkins Buell, the co-founder of the fashion giant Esprit. All of these people are far-left fringe players, but they know their money is going to smear merchants. They know it's going into character assassins, correct?

LAKSIN: It's actually interesting, because that's exactly what it's meant for. In fact, one of the bigger contributors to Media Matters is the Center for American Progress, that's a liberal think tank.

O'REILLY: That's [John] Podesta's group.

LAKSIN: Exactly. They operate out of Washington, D.C. Basically what it is, it's a partisan group that -- what they do is rapid response to anything that offends them as far as the Republican or conservative agenda is concerned, which is just about everything. And so Media Matters operates in exactly the same way except for where the media is concerned. So it's perfect.

O'REILLY: Right. It is a very well-oiled, effective character assassination machine. There is nothing that exists on the right that I know of that can compare. Do you know of anything?

LAKSIN: No. And one reason is because that right-wing publications have been very effective at getting out their message. They don't need to smear. They can just present the facts as they --

O'REILLY: There was some smearing going on in the Clinton years, to be fair. Now, Todd, one more thing. Here's a name -- here are some names of mainstream journalists who take stuff directly from the left-wing smear sites. Paul Krugman, a New York Times columnist, Jack Matthews, New York Daily News columnist, the aforementioned Miss Hernandez, Alan Dershowitz, the left-wing lawyer at Harvard, Maureen Dowd, another New York Times columnist, Frank Rich, another New York Times columnist. It just goes on and on that these people are fed this kind of stuff and it gets in, as you said, the mainstream media and blows up everywhere. Are these people doing anything morally wrong, in your opinion?

MANZI: Yeah. The issue is whether we should be talking about this at all. They are running with that for the sole purpose of smearing Bennett. It's not about the issue. It's not about moving forward the ideas. Like was just said by your other guest, the conservatives, when we write, we write about issues and ideas. We don't write just to smear people.

O'REILLY: Well, we're going to have a conservative website guy on tomorrow, and we're going to ask him the same questions and see if that's the case. But this is a very, very insidious, well organized, damaging-to-America deal. Everybody should know about it. Thank you, gentlemen. We appreciate it very much.