Bill O'Reilly downplayed Ann Coulter's recent attacks on the widows of the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, baselessly alleging that "some far-left pundits have said far worse things." O'Reilly added that "it looks like there's a double standard" in the treatment of conservatives and liberals by the "mainstream media."
On the June 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly downplayed right-wing pundit Ann Coulter's recent attacks on the widows of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, baselessly alleging that "some far-left pundits have said far worse things." Citing criticism of Coulter in recent media coverage, O'Reilly added that "it looks like there's a double standard" in the treatment of conservatives and liberals by the "mainstream media." He then highlighted his past criticism of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son died serving in Iraq -- ignoring the personal attacks he leveled against her while doing so -- as an example of how Coulter could have made the "valid point" that the 9-11 widows have become "liberal activists" who are "being used" by the left. O'Reilly later reiterated these views during an interview with Coulter on the June 8 broadcast of The Radio Factor.
While questioning her methods, O'Reilly accepted Coulter's underlying point in attacking the 9-11 widows: "Miss Coulter has a good point about these women being used by one spectrum of the political debate in this country. That is a valid point." In her new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Crown Forum, June 2006), Coulter pointed to certain 9-11 widows' disapproval of the Bush administration's foreign policy and their support for Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) presidential campaign to argue, as she did on the June 6 edition of NBC's Today, that "the left" exploits a "doctrine of infallibility" by promoting these widows to make "a political point while preventing anyone from responding." As a result, Coulter said, conservatives "always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die" and appear to be "questioning the authenticity of the grief."
As purported examples of "far-left pundits" who are treated better than Coulter by the mainstream media, O'Reilly asserted filmmaker Michael Moore, whose film, Fahrenheit 9/11 (Miramax Films, June 2004), was "pretty brutal" and "said a lot of things about President Bush and other conservatives," and Air America Radio, which O'Reilly claimed "does the most vile, despicable things on a daily basis." In his June 8 interview with Coulter on The Radio Factor, O'Reilly likened Coulter to liberal Air America host Al Franken, stating that Coulter risked becoming "the right-wing Al Franken" because both "smear" others in their books.
As Media Matters for America has documented, O'Reilly has also compared Coulter to Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines, stating that both women spout "rhetoric" that is "extreme." O'Reilly was apparently referring to Maines's remark during a March 2003 performance in London, where she told the audience, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
But O'Reilly provided no specific examples of Moore, Franken, Maines or any other progressive individual or organization making any remarks similar to those made by Coulter.
In Godless, Coulter writes of the 9-11 widows: "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much." [p.103] Media Matters has identified several other attacks on the 9-11 widows included in Coulter's book:
- "These self-obsessed women seemed genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them." [p.103]
- "[T]hey believed the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was an important part of their closure process." [p.103]
In addition, as Media Matters has documented, Coulter has recently criticized the 9-11 widows on television. For example, on the June 6 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Coulter declared that "nobody likes being lectured by a victim" and asked: "[D]o I have to kill my mother so I can be a victim, too?"
Moreover, Coulter has engaged in inflammatory rhetoric on a number of other topics, as well. For instance, she has:
- stated that "[w]e should invade their [Muslims'] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." [United Press Syndicate (UPS), 9/12/02]
- suggested that Islam is "a car-burning cult." [UPS, 2/8/06]
- wished "[t]hat the American military were targeting journalists." [CNBC's Kudlow & Cramer, 2/7/05]
- stated: "My only regret with [Oklahoma City bomber] Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." [New York Observer, 8/26/02]
- stated that the debate over former President Bill Clinton should have been "about whether to impeach or assassinate." [High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton (Regnery, 1998)]
- asserted, "I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantánamo." A "daisy cutter" is the nickname for a 15,000-pound bomb with a lethal radius of 300 to 900 feet -- the largest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal. (UPS,12/21/05)
O'Reilly has previously attempted to trivialize Coulter's repeated controversial remarks. As Media Matters previously noted, during the May 24 broadcast of his radio show, O'Reilly conceded that "if you were going to make an example of somebody who takes rhetoric to the extreme, Ann Coulter would be probably your best right-wing shot." Yet, O'Reilly also stated it was "funny" when Coulter "takes something and runs with it;" suggested Coulter was "just doing this for theatre;" and praised Coulter's ability to back up her opinions.
Additionally, though he criticized Coulter for making "personal attacks" while "trying to persuade people to her view," O'Reilly touted himself as an example of how to responsibly criticize the positions of those who have lost loved ones in Iraq. O'Reilly, apparently referring to himself as "the smarter fighter," repeatedly claimed he did not engage in "personal attack[s]" against Sheehan, despite criticizing her for her opposition to the war in Iraq. O'Reilly claimed "[t]here's nobody who did more damage to Cindy Sheehan in this country than I did, but I did it by exposing her agenda." He added: "I did not call the woman any names, disparage her as an American citizen or do any of that." In fact, as Media Matters has previously noted, O'Reilly has called Sheehan "dumb enough to allow" herself to be "run by far-left elements who are using her," stated that Sheehan's "behavior borders on treasonous," and included Sheehan on his "coward's list."
From the June 7 broadcast of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Now, many conservatives have joined liberals in condemning Miss Coulter's words, but not all. On The Radio Factor today, some callers supported Ann. "Talking Points" believes most Americans reject that kind of vitriol because it is mean and counterproductive. The question then becomes: Why does Ann Coulter do it? No doubt the publicity will sell her some books, but she's already well off and famous. No doubt the widows have become liberal activists.
They replied to Miss Coulter today on a far-left [web]blog. But as Americans, they have a right to take any political position they want. No doubt, some far-left pundits have said far worse things than Ann Coulter will ever say and the mainstream media often celebrates them. But a no- spin rule is that you don't justify bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior. Now, three years ago, I chastised Ann Coulter for the personal stuff.
O'REILLY: Now, you may remember Miss Sheehan telling CBS News reporter Mark Knoller that the terrorists in Iraq were "freedom fighters." My point was that Sheehan's description injured the families of U.S. service people killed and hurt by those savages and the far-left activists, Miss Sheehan, needs to be called on that, even if she did lose a son in Iraq. Now, if I had used a personal attack against Miss Sheehan, which I did not, my point would not have been as persuasive, I believe. So, if Ann Coulter's trying to persuade people to her view, the personal attacks are foolish. If she just wants to sing her choir a song, well, you can make money doing that. I believe that, in the end, those standing on the high ground will win the culture war. The vicious fighter often loses to the smarter fighter. And that's "the Memo."
O'REILLY: You can criticize their criticism, absolutely, and now -- look, there's nobody who did more damage to Cindy Sheehan in this country than I did, but I did it by exposing her agenda --
SANDY RIOS (Fox News contributor): Yes you did, Bill, I agree.
O'REILLY: -- telling people who was behind her movement, who was paying the bills, who was running her.
RIOS: Yes. Yes, and thank goodness, you did that.
O'REILLY: I did not. I did not. I did not call the woman any names, disparage her as an American citizen or do any of that. And if I had, I would have lost the debate instead of Cindy Sheehan losing credibility in my opinion.
O'REILLY: But here's the point. Miss Coulter has a good point about these women being used by one spectrum of the political debate in this country. That is a valid point. That's why I used the David Letterman clip. It is absolutely valid. But by calling these women "witches," "harpies, " by saying that they should play -- pose in Playboy and all of these things, she diminishes her argument, don't you get that? She then becomes an object of derision herself and then what her point gets lost. Do you think Matt Lauer or any of these people care about the point she made? No, they're after her.
O'REILLY: Now, Michael Moore came out with a movie, and it was pretty brutal. And it said a lot of things about President Bush and other conservatives. I didn't see him getting worked out -- over by the mainstream media. I mean, they mocked him a little but not a lot.
WILLIAMS: You mocked him.
Certainly, Air America does the most vile, despicable things on a daily basis, yet there have been more than 20 pro-Air America articles, even though it's a disaster financially, in The New York Times. It looks like there's a double standard, here, Juan.
KAREN HANRETTY (Republican strategist): And they're --
O'REILLY: Let me get to Juan, and then I'll get to you Karen.
JUAN WILLIAMS (NPR senior correspondent): No. Wait a minute -- but even you --
O'REILLY: It looks like there's a double standard.
WILLIAMS: Even you have gone after the Michael Moores of this world. Michael Moore is getting sued. I mean, people go after and say, "Here's where Michael Moore went over the line."
Ann Coulter is so far over the line, it's beyond Michael Moore. That's what's going on here. And that's why I think the callers to The Radio Factor are way off if they are truly supporters of the president or of the president's position on the war, because all this does is make it look like it's a joke.
It just looks like this is all hard-line, right-wing politics and maybe even nuts.
O'REILLY: OK. Let's give --
WILLIAMS: Ann Coulter comes off here --
O'REILLY: Let's give --
WILLIAMS: -- and you know, she's the harpy, not the -- not these four women.
O'REILLY: Let's give --
WILLIAMS: In America, we honor widows and we honor our war dead. What is she doing?
O'REILLY: All right. Let's give Karen the last word. Go, Karen.
From the June 8 edition of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
O'REILLY: Why don't we let everybody read your book -- because that's good for you -- and they can decide whether these are personal attacks or not?
COULTER: No, I did not -- I must say, several of my friends read the book before it came out, and we knew that liberals would say they were indignant. We knew they would say, "This time, she's gone by far, too far" -- which they do, you know, hundreds of times -- this time, unlike the last 47 times. But, we did not know that this it what it would be. Wait. Wait until they read the rest of the book and what I have to say about them in the rest of the book.
O'REILLY: All right, what's the difference between you and Al Franken? Al Franken makes money by putting out smear books, and is there any difference between you and him in your technique?
COULTER: I don't even -- I don't even see the beginning of a similarity.
O'REILLY: Well, I mean, you both call people names.
COULTER: I don't call people names!
O'REILLY: Oh, the compliments keep coming. We're talking to Ann Coulter whose new book Godless -- number one on Amazon. It's going to sell lots of copies. Obviously, Miss Coulter is a publicity genius. All right. Now, Cindy Sheehan exposed herself because she called the terrorists in Iraq "freedom fighters," and as soon as she did that, I came in and said, "This is insane. Here's who's running her. Here's how her point of view is just off the chart." But, I didn't attack her personally. And I think that I won that pretty convincingly -- so was my way of doing it better than your way.
COULTER: No, and I didn't need time to think about that. First of all, although there are many things I would give you sole and exclusive credit for -- exposing Jesse Jackson for example, and there are others. You weren't the only one attacking Sheehan. That was pretty much all over. So, OK, we've taken care of, you know, that one small issue.
COULTER: And a few people had mentioned -- had posted (inaudible) little objections to the Jersey Girls. I'm attacking the whole technique, the whole system, and the fact that people, even like you, will say, "Well, yes, you can attack them, but you have to use these certain words." Well, why? I attack them the same way I attack --
O'REILLY: Well, attack the argument and not the person.
COULTER: No, but that is -- no, don't give me rules on this particular area --
O'REILLY: I can give you rules. It's my program.
COULTER: I attack them the same way I attack [Democratic National Committee chairman] Howard Dean, [incoming CBS Evening News anchor] Katie Couric. The same way I've attacked you.
O'REILLY: OK. I understand. You're mean and you're rotten, but I'm not going to -- I'm not going to --
COULTER: No, no, no. The point that I have exposed is precisely what I'm talking about that these (inaudible) spokesmen that suddenly there are rules --
COULTER: -- of how we can respond to them.
O'REILLY: No, wait, look. It's a free country. If you -- if you want to be the right-wing Al Franken, then you can be that, but you have to understand that you're using the personal attack, you're using it. Now, here's another question for you --
COULTER: Bill, that is just an insult. Do not say I am the right-wing Al Franken. I don't go into people's personal lives. I am talking about the things for which they are in the public eye.