FOX News host Bill O'Reilly repeatedly attacked Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for her pointed questioning of Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice during a January 18 confirmation hearing, repeatedly misquoting Boxer's remarks to Rice and presenting an account of "Senator Boxer's strategy to fight the war on terror" that was riddled with lies and distortions.
During his "Talking Points Memo" on the January 19 edition of FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly declared that "there's nothing wrong with grilling Condoleezza Rice about policy, but implying Dr. Rice is not sympathetic to the troops is way over the line." Later, he opined, "Boxer also went over the line by saying to Dr. Rice, 'Hey, you know, you put the troops in the background for your ideological loyalty to [President] Bush.' That's what she said." And on his radio show earlier that day, O'Reilly opined that "to say that Condoleezza Rice doesn't have respect for the troops -- 'overwhelmed the respect for the troops'-- cheap shot all day long."
But Boxer never mentioned Rice's "respect for the troops." Rather, Boxer told Rice that "I personally believe ... that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth" (emphasis added), as the transcript shows (and as the Associated Press, The Washington Post, Reuters, and The New York Times all reported, among others).
O'Reilly's dishonest attack on Boxer's terror "strategy"
O'Reilly purported to summarize Boxer's "strategy to fight the war on terror" and concluded: "The truth is that Boxer has no solutions to the War on Terror." But his summary was rife with baseless assertions, dishonest attacks and vicious ridicule, as detailed below.
Syria Accountability Act
O'Reilly ridiculed Boxer's sponsorship of the Syria Accountability Act, mocking the effort as a "waste of time" and claiming that it is ineffective because "there's no stick ... no embargo, no boycott." In fact, the law grants the president the power to impose concrete sanctions on Syria until the country ceases its sponsorship of terrorism and its de facto occupation of Lebanon. On the January 19 broadcast of The Radio Factor, O'Reilly assumed a high-pitched, helpless-sounding female voice to imitate Boxer:
O'REILLY: Boxer sponsored a Bill to halt Syrian support for terrorism. Oh, that worked. That really worked. Thanks, Senator Boxer. And, you know why it didn't work? There's no stick. She gets a bill -- [switches to helpless female voice] "Please stop supporting terrorism, Bashir [sic: Syrian president Bashar al-Assad]. Please don't do it, oh, we don't like it. It's baaaaad." No stick! No embargo, no boycott, nothin'. [switches to helpless female voice] "Just don't do it, you bad people over there in Syria." Yeah, Syria really oughtta tremble when Barbara Boxer introduced legislation to have them stop supporting terrorism. That really worked well, Senator. Not a waste of time or anything.
Telling the Syrians to stop supporting terrorism -- that's what she's got. I mean, they're lookin' at her like, "Yeah, OK, lady, fine. We'll stop supporting it because you said so."
The Syria Accountability Act authorizes the president to "prohibit the export to Syria of U.S. products (other than food and medicine)"; "prohibit aircraft of any air carrier owned or controlled by Syria to take off from, land in, or overfly the United States;" "reduce U.S. diplomatic contacts with Syria"; and freeze Syrian government assets in the United States, among other sanctions. The Syrian government denounced the act when Congress passed it, suggesting that the government views it as a serious threat, and in May 2004 Bush imposed the export ban on Syria under the powers granted by the act. Moreover, Rice herself thanked Congress for passing the act during her confirmation hearing on January 18. She said: "And I just want to thank the Congress. We do have, thanks to the Syria Accountability Act, some tools [to deal with Syria], but we will have to mobilize them because Syria should not be, but is thus far not a constructive force."
Aviation security legislation
O'Reilly falsely claimed in his "Talking Points" that Boxer "authored the airport security bill, the one that shakes down grandma before she gets on the plane." O'Reilly also attacked Boxer for this bill on the radio:
O'REILLY: She sponsored a bill, the Aviation Security Act, where they shake you down to get on a plane. She likes that. "Let's shake everybody down. Let's get granny, turn her upside down and hold her by the ankles." She's big on that. So, she was the sponsor of that. Next time you go in and some pinhead grabs your crotch, thank Barbara Boxer for that. Okay?
In fact, Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, former Democratic senator from South Carolina, was the lead sponsor and putative author of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (S.1447). Boxer was merely one of 30 cosponsors of the bill, a list that also includes Senators John Warner (R-VA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Ted Stevens (R-AK). Moreover, the law accomplished much more than simply tightening passenger screening procedures; it created the Transportation Security Administration, which put all airport screening in the hands of federal workers rather than private security contractors; fortified cockpit doors on airplanes; provided for federal marshals on flights; and upgraded baggage screening technology at airports. Moreover, the act won near-universal support. The act passed the Senate by a voice vote (that is, it was so uncontroversial that a roll call vote was deemed unnecessary) and passed the House 410-9.
O'Reilly falsely claimed that Boxer and her supporters "don't want the Patriot Act ... even though yesterday we learned that, under the Patriot Act, they caught this guy in New York who was settin' up attacks all day long because they monitored his Internet, library correspondence with Al Qaeda." But Boxer voted for the Patriot Act, and a Media Matters for America search produced no evidence that Boxer has advocated repealing it. Rather, Boxer has introduced a bill, the Library and Bookseller Act (S.1158 ) that would repeal one element of the Patriot Act by forbidding FBI agents from obtaining court orders "for the sole purpose of searching for, or seizing from, a bookseller or library documentary materials that contain personally identifiable information concerning a patron," according to the Library of Congress summary of the bill.
O'Reilly's reference to "this guy in New York" was apparently a reference to the recent arrest in New York of Murtada Ali Barakat, which occurred "in connection with an investigation conducted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Joint Terrorism Task Force and the New York City Police Department," according to an Associated Press article. But Media Matters found no evidence that Internet or library surveillance aided that investigation. Indeed, little is known about the case, since public disclosure of the arrest apparently resulted from the accidental leak of secret information from the Homeland Security department.
Funding for Afghanistan
On the radio, O'Reilly also falsely claimed that Boxer voted "No" on "funding for the war in Afghanistan":
O'REILLY: Funding for the war in Afghanistan? No. Funding for the war in Afghanistan! No. This is -- what is this woman? Why is she sitting in the Senate? Why are you people voting for her in California?
In fact, the first supplemental appropriation bill for funding of the war in Afghanistan (S.2712), passed the Senate in 2002 by unanimous consent, indicating that all senators supported it. Boxer did vote against the $87 billion supplemental appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan, but the vast majority of those funds were for Iraq, not Afghanistan (only about $11 billion of the funds went to Afghanistan), and many Democrats viewed opposition to this bill as a protest against Bush's handling of Iraq. In her speech on the Senate floor, Boxer explained: " No one is suggesting that we abandon our efforts in Iraq. ... My decision to vote no on the $87 billion request and for the Byrd amendment is a stand against the status quo and for a change in this administration's go-it-alone, pay-it-alone strategy." Boxer voted for two amendments to the bill -- one that would have paid for the appropriation by repealing a portion of the Bush tax cuts (Biden amdendment); and one that would have withheld appropriation of some reconstruction funds pending additional international contributions to the effort and require more accountability by the Bush administration to Congress (Byrd amendment). Neither amendment passed.
Anti-missile systems for commercial aircraft
O'REILLY: And, she sponsored a bill to have jet airlines be equipped with missile defense systems. [laugh] It didn't pass because -- so look. I mean, this is a nut. All right? This is a nut we got in the Senate.
But the Homeland Security Department is already spending $90 million to test the feasibility of such a measure, and Israel is already implementing such a system for the fleet of its national airline, El Al.
Detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects
O'Reilly claimed without evidence that Boxer opposes holding detainees from Afghanistan at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and believes that suspected Al Qaeda members should be forced to provide U.S. authorities only their "name, rank, and serial number" in accordance with O'Reilly's interpretation of Geneva Convention protection granted to prisoners of war. A Media Matters search found no instances of Boxer expressing such views. Moreover, O'Reilly has a history of attacking critics of the Bush administration's detention and interrogation policies by falsely claiming that they favor excessively lenient treatment of suspected terrorists (see here and here).
O'REILLY: Guantánamo -- no. No. Guantánamo -- can't have that. Can't isolate captured Al Qaedas on the battlefield. Uhn-uh. No way. All right? Coercive interrogation of terrorists? No. Doesn't want it. Can't do that. Name, rank and serial number. Geneva Conventions.
O'Reilly also claimed without evidence that Boxer "didn't care" about apparent corruption in United Nations oil-for-food program because "she's a big U.N. booster." He provided no quotations of Boxer demonstrating her indifference, but he again ridiculed Boxer by assuming a high-pitched, helpless-sounding voice to imitate her:
O'REILLY: Oil-for-food scandal? What does she think? [switches to helpless female voice] "Aaaahhh." She's a big U.N. booster. She doesn't care. Biggest scandal in world history as far as monetary value. [switches to helpless female voice] "Ahhh, don't do it!" You know, and there comes a time where you gotta make a decision: Do you want these kinds of people with power in the United States?
In fact, it's quite possible to favor a large role for the United Nations in international affairs despite the apparent corruption in the oil-for-food program, since the member nations of the U.N. Security Council played at least as large a role in monitoring oil-for-food as the oft-derided "U.N. bureaucracy," as Media Matters has noted.
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