Fox's EIT Talking Point Hits Snag

Blog ››› ››› MIKE BURNS

Since Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid last week, Fox personalities and others in the right-wing media have been touting the Bush administration's use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) and claiming that critical information about bin Laden was revealed by using EITs on detainees, despite the fact that there is considerable dispute among experts over whether such methods played a role in gathering intelligence of value. Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, for instance, claimed that "enhanced interrogation" was "such a key part" of the bin Laden raid. Sean Hannity said that "it is very obvious now that enhanced interrogations ... led to the intelligence." Fox News contributor Karl Rove likewise said that "we now know" that "enhanced interrogation techniques ... led to the code word, code name" of one of bin Laden's couriers.

But that much-loved talking point hit a snag tonight when reliably conservative guests on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity pushed back against the argument that there is conclusive evidence that EITs are directly responsible for the intelligence that led to the bin Laden raid and the subsequent killing of the terrorist leader.

During a segment with Fox News contributor Bernie Goldberg in which the two discussed the bin Laden operation, Bill O'Reilly claimed that it is "beyond a reasonable doubt" that "coerced interrogation" gathered from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others led to the gathering of key intelligence. Goldberg, a frequent guest on O'Reilly and bona fide Obama critic, said that while he personally agrees with O'Reilly's claim, he had to "point out" "as a journalist" that people pushing the claim that EITs worked "may have a dog in this fight" because they were part of the Bush administration, which authorized and used the EITs.

Goldberg, sticking to his own script if not Fox's, then lashed out against journalists for pre-emptively dismissing the potential merits of EITs "because they don't like the fact that something that they find wrong led to something good," adding that only if Obama admitted that "[t]here is a connection" would they possibly come around. Nonetheless, he pointed out that the role EITs played in taking out bin Laden is under dispute, contradicting O'Reilly in the process.

On Hannity the following hour, Elise Jordan, a Republican strategist and former speech writer for Condoleezza Rice, was singing a similar tune, much to the surprise of Hannity, who repeatedly pushed the EIT line throughout the show.

"This is a tough one," Jordan said. "I want to learn more about what the actual intelligence that enabled us to get the courier, that enabled us to get bin Laden, what area it came from." She added: "I just don't know that the exact intelligence that merited the kill came from those times" EITs were used. Hannity was incredulous, exclaiming at one point when Jordan refused to agree about the effectiveness of EITs: "You worked for Condi."

Keep in mind that Jordan is no Obama shill -- far from it. In November 2009, Jordan penned a scathing op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accusing Obama of "profound[ly] misunderstanding both our Afghan partners and the on-the-ground realities of holding elections in a war zone" and of "undermin[ing] Mr. Karzai and le[ading] allies to wonder if the U.S. was willing to stand by Afghanistan in its war against radical extremists."

Of course, the fact that two Fox News guests who are demonstrably anti-Obama raised the possibility that EITs did not lead to the gathering of critical intelligence will do little to ebb the talking point. Yet it does show just how reflexively partisan Fox personalities and others in the conservative media are, how they are unrelenting in their attacks on the president even when other conservatives note that the evidence is inconclusive.

Here are Goldberg's comments:

And here is Jordan:

Fox News Channel
Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Bernard Goldberg
The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity
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