Olbermann Attacks Bill "Ted Baxter" O'Reilly Over Amanpour's "Iraq is Disaster"

On his Countdown show Thursday, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann attacked FNC host Bill O'Reilly for comments O'Reilly made on The O'Reilly Factor during a January 31 discussion of CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour's recent declaration, previously reported by NewsBusters (with video), that the Iraq War has been a "disaster." Presumably inspired once again by his frequent source, the far-left Media Matters for America, Olbermann quoted O'Reilly as saying, "You can draw by that that she has a rooting interest in it being a disaster."

However, after examining a larger portion of the discussion, which was omitted in the Media Matters article posted earlier in the day Thursday, this comment by O'Reilly appears to be taken out of context, as it makes it seem that O'Reilly was making a gratuitous attack on Amanpour. Although O'Reilly's precise meaning is debatable, it is arguable that he was making the point that because she has now publicly announced her opinion that the war is a disaster, it threatens the credibility of her future reporting on the war with CNN's audience because if the war turns out favorably, it could be an embarrassment to her. (Complete transcript follows.)

During his regular "Worst Person in the World" segment, Olbermann normally chooses three nominees to be awarded the dishonor of that name. His three nominees are labeled as "Worse," "Worser," and "Worst." On Thursday's show, the Countdown host bestowed the third-place dishonor of "Worse" upon O'Reilly, whom he referred to as Ted Baxter, an unflattering comparison to a character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Olbermann: "Number three, it's Ted Baxter again. [A photograph of O'Reilly appeared.] This time, because CNN's Christiane Amanpour said Iraq has basically turned out to be a disaster, O'Reilly says of Ms. Amanpour, 'You can draw by that that she has a rooting interest in it being a disaster.'"

On his show Tuesday, O'Reilly hosted a balanced discussion of Amanpour's comments with UNC Professor Napolean Byars from the left and Colonel Oliver North from the right, the main issue being whether she, as a reporter, should have crossed over the line toward being a commentator or analyst by giving her opinion. O'Reilly actually made some defense of Amanpour while speaking with North by declaring that "you understand that there are analysts, some of them do work for Fox, who feel that the war is not going that well and that the ultimate outcome is still in doubt." The FNC host also remarked: "Ms. Amanpour clearly feels from her vantage point, and she's been there as well obviously, a brave woman I must say, clearly feels that this is not going well for the USA."

As to his comments on Amanpour having a "rooting interest" in the Iraq War being a disaster, O'Reilly was discussing how her reporting would be perceived. Below is a transcript of this portion of the discussion, including his later declaration that he was "not trying to condemn anybody here."

Bill O'Reilly: "Do you think she made a mistake saying that the situation was a disaster? Would that be a mistake?"

Professor Napolean Byars, University of North Carolina: "Well, I think, let me think about that for a second. I think if you look at metrics for the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq, and even the Department of Defense, Secretary Rumsfeld can't come up with a common set of metrics to judge the-"

O'Reilly: "No, I know, I know that. But look, you have to look at it, Professor, and I'm sure you know this because you do this every day, in the sense of how she's now perceived in her coverage on CNN. I mean, she's declared herself to say it's a disaster, so you could draw by that that she has a rooting interest in it being thus, so if it is successful in three weeks, she's going to look like a shmo."

Byars: "Well, I think we all have points of view."

O'Reilly: "But when you're a reporter, you're not supposed to. You might have one-"

Byars: "But Bill, you have a point-of-view."

O'Reilly: "But I'm an analyst."

Byars: "Every reporter-"

O'Reilly: "I'm an analyst."

Byars: "Yes, but every reporter, we're all humans. Humans are born with points of view."

O'Reilly: "All right. Mistake or not, journalistically?"

Byars: "Journalistically, I believe it was not the best thing to do."

O'Reilly: "Okay."

Byars: "But as a human being reacting to-"

O'Reilly: "Absolutely. People make mistakes, sir. I make them every night. I make them every night. People make mistakes. We're not trying to condemn anybody here."

Below is a complete transcript from the February 2 Countdown show, followed by a complete transcript of the discussion from the January 31 The O'Reilly Factor:

Keith Olbermann: "But first, time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for 'Worst Person in the World.' Number three, it's Ted Baxter again. This time, because CNN's Christiane Amanpour said Iraq has basically turned out to be a disaster, O'Reilly says of Ms. Amanpour, 'You can draw by that that she has a rooting interest in it being a disaster.' Well, no you can't. Not if you use human logic. Besides which, he wouldn't really take a swipe at CNN after saying, quote, 'CNN, for example, usually competes with class, not bitterness.'"

Below is a complete transcript of O'Reilly's discussion with Professor Napolean Byars and Colonel Oliver North from the January 31 The O'Reilly Factor with critical portions in bold:

Bill O'Reilly: "The 'Impact' segment tonight, reporters are supposed to report, analysts are supposed to analyze. But last night, the lines were blurred when CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said this:"

Christiane Amanpour: "The war in Iraq has basically turned out to be a disaster. And journalists have paid for it, paid for the privilege of witnessing and reporting that, and so have many, many other people who have been here. And I think that's terribly, terribly difficult for us. And unfortunately, for some reason which I can't fathom, the kind of awful thing that's going on there now on a daily basis has almost become humdrum."

O'Reilly: "Joining us now from Durham, North Carolina, journalism professor Napoleon Byars, a former lieutenant colonel in the Air Force."

Napoleon Byars, University of North Carolina Journalism: "Thank you."

O'Reilly: "And from Washington, Colonel Oliver North, Fox News military analyst and host of the weekend program War Stories. Because your opinion is different from Ms. Amanpour's, Colonel North, I'll let you begin. Go ahead."

Colonel Oliver North, Fox News Military Analyst: "Well, first, those of us who pray for the wounded ought to include Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt in their prayers for a quick recovery. It strikes me, Bill, that the purpose of going out there, having now been there seven times, is to cover the war, document what's going on, perhaps, if you will, prepare the first draft of history as Rupert Murdock's father did at Gallipoli. Second, when one makes the kind of observation that Christiane Amanpour made last night, it crosses the boundary, it seems to me, from journalism into being a commentator. That the war in Iraq is a disaster is her opinion, and, quite frankly, the facts on the ground don't support it. The dictatorship has been removed, and it's now on trial. They've had three elections. The first constitutionally elected government in all of the Arab world is now in power. And the Iraqi military is becoming increasingly effective. I don't know what her definition of victory is-"

O'Reilly: "Well, I think she's talking about the chaotic terror bombings that occur on a daily basis with, you know, horrible casualties. I think that's what the woman is talking about, Colonel. And surely, you understand that there are analysts, some of them do work for Fox, who feel that the war is not going that well and that the ultimate outcome is still in doubt."

North: "But they shouldn't describe themselves as the chief foreign correspondent for-"

O'Reilly: "No, I got that. I got that. I just want, I want to let the viewers know that we don't have a slam dunk victory there right now. Okay."

North: "And Bill, I certainly understand that. But understand also, everybody going out there, to include Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt know, covering a war is very risky business."

O'Reilly: "Absolutely, absolutely."

North: "The hubris of a reporter saying now that one of us has been hurt, 61 of them, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, have been killed in Iraq, just because one of them has been hurt-"

O'Reilly: "Well, Ms. Amanpour clearly feels from her vantage point, and she's been there as well obviously, a brave woman I must say, clearly feels that this is not going well for the USA. How do you see it, Professor Byars?"

Byars: "Well, I think in the context of reacting to the injury of Bob Woodruff, which we all regret. We regret when anybody gets injured in Iraq,"

O'Reilly: "Sure."

Byars: "-it's clearly understandable that she said that in that one instance. But I think if you look at the body of her work and the body of her work up until that moment, it's dispassionate, it's objective. And she is very well traveled in the Middle East. She knows the situation on the ground. From a journalist's point-of-view, we're not asking her to be a general and to give a military appraisal of what's going on there, but I think-"

O'Reilly: "Do you think she made a mistake saying that the situation was a disaster? Would that be a mistake?"

Byars: "Well, I think, let me think about that for a second. I think if you look at metrics for the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq, and even the Department of Defense, Secretary Rumsfeld can't come up with a common set of metrics to judge the-"

O'Reilly: "No, I know, I know that. But look, you have to look at it, professor, and I'm sure you know this because you do this every day, in the sense of how she's now perceived in her coverage on CNN. I mean, she's declared herself to say it's a disaster. So you could draw by that that she has a rooting interest in it being thus. So if it is successful in three weeks, she's going to look like a shmo."

Byars: "Well, I think we all have points of view."

O'Reilly: "But when you're a reporter, you're not supposed to. You might have one-"

Byars: "But Bill, you have a point-of-view."

O'Reilly: "But I'm an analyst."

Byars: "Every reporter-"

O'Reilly: "I'm an analyst."

Byars: "Yes, but every reporter, we're all humans. Humans are born with points of view."

O'Reilly: "All right. Mistake or not, journalistically?"

Byars: "Journalistically, I believe it was not the best thing to do."

O'Reilly: "Okay."

Byars: "But as a human being reacting to-"

O'Reilly: "Absolutely. People make mistakes, sir. I make them every night. I make them every night. People make mistakes. We're not trying to condemn anybody here. Now colonel, do you believe that Ms. Amanpour, as Professor Byars does, has been a fair correspondent in this conflict?"

North: "Well, quite frankly, no, I don't. And I think that her bias has been demonstrated consistently since, actually the war, before it began. I mean, this is not a network, unfortunately, and full disclosure here, my first paycheck in this business came from that network. But this is not a network that has an Ernie Pyle working for it. This is not a network that has Marguerite Higgins or Dickie Chapel, who was killed with the Marines in 1965 covering the war in Vietnam. This is a network that has, remember, a former vice president, Easton Jordan, who accused the American military of committing murder against reporters, and without any substantive fact behind it."

O'Reilly: "But they dismissed him for that."

Byars: "Christiane Amanpour is one of the best foreign correspondents in the world."

North: "Then she ought to describe herself as such-"

Byars: "Now let's."

North: "-and try to report the news by covering what's happening instead of commenting on it."

O'Reilly: "All right. Here's what I want to do. Here's what I want to do. Hold it, hold it, hold it."

Byars: "Okay."

O'Reilly: "It's more instructive for the audience to have Colonel North give one example of the perceived bias of CNN, and then you to answer it, and you both have 30 seconds. Colonel, go."

North: "Well, I will leave you the facts. The facts on the ground did not substantiate what Christiane Amanpour said about it being a disaster. If the metric is deposing a dictatorship that was brutal beyond words, replacing it with a constitutionally elected government that has now had the people hold three elections, and the Iraqi police and armed forces becoming increasingly more effective as we documented last Sunday night on this network, then I would say-"

O'Reilly: "All right."

North: "-her definition of victory is wrong.

O'Reilly: "And you have the last word, Professor. Go."

Byars: "That cannot be the only metric. How much electricity is being produced there every day?"

North: "More than they did before."

Byars: "How many, let me finish, how many Iraqi civilians are dying every day from other Iraqis killing them? How are sewage treatment plants doing? How is construction going?

O'Reilly: "Okay."

Byars: "I mean, all of those are negative signs. The metrics clearly points out."

O'Reilly: "All right. Gentlemen, very interesting. I appreciate both you guys coming on the program."