Bill O'Reilly Challenges Sen. Coburn for Bashing Fox News

Bill O'Reilly challenged Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) Tuesday for bashing Fox News at a town hall meeting in early April.

"The intention is not to put anybody in jail," the Senator told an attendee who asked a question about penalties for folks who don't purchase health insurance once ObamaCare kicks in.

"That makes for good TV news on FOX, but that isn't the intention."

O'Reilly challenged Coburn for this slight (video follows with transcript and commentary): 

BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Now for the top story tonight. Very interesting political situation. Republican Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma recently appeared at a town hall meeting, where he was questioned about Obama care, specifically how the government will punish people who don't buy mandatory health insurance. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If they can put us in prison, take away our liberty, are they not trampling on our Fifth Amendment right by putting it under the IRS?

COBURN: The intention is not to put anybody in jail. That makes for good TV news on FOX, but that isn't the intention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'REILLY: Wow. A bit later on, Senator Coburn was asked about Nancy Pelosi.

COBURN: I'm 180 degrees in opposition of the Speaker. She's a nice lady. I don't think we can wait -- come on now. She is a nice -- how many of y'all have met her. Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn't mean they are not a good person. Don't catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody's no good. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'REILLY: All right. Joining us from Washington is Senator Coburn. Biased by Fox News senator? Really? 

COBURN: Well, Bill, remember, the constituents that come to my town hall meetings, they routinely and uniformly listen to your network. And every network has some bias. I have a bias. You have a bias. You all work hard at trying to get that bias out. But the first question about people being put in jail, she didn't make that up. She had heard that.

O'REILLY: Okay. Can you tell me--

COBURN: --so the point is--

O'REILLY: Yeah.

COBURN: The point is this, Bill, is what we have to do, if we're going to win for a limited government, for freedom, for liberty, for the expression that we all want to have in our country of our own individual rights, then we have to win on the real facts of the issues. And when we change those to where we inflame them, we lose our culpability.

O'REILLY: Okay. And I've been saying that more than anybody--

COBURN: You have--

O'REILLY: --the personal attacks are foolish and propaganda is foolish.

COBURN: I give you credit for that.

O'REILLY: Okay, but can you tell me one person on Fox News just one who has told this audience that they'll go to jail if they don't buy health insurance? 

COBURN: Well, I didn't ask the lady when she'd heard it, but--

O'REILLY: Well, why then was it legitimate to bring in Fox News to a discussion where, number one, you don't know anybody on Fox News because there hasn't been anyone that said people will go to jail if they don't buy mandatory insurance? And number two-- 

COBURN: Well, are you talking news--

O'REILLY: --the lady was asking a general question and you brought in Fox News. That wasn't fair.

COBURN: Well, maybe it wasn't fair.

O'REILLY: Okay.

COBURN: But here's the point. I listen to FOX a lot.

O'REILLY: Yes.

COBURN: Okay? I'm very glad you're there. You offer a balance to the total slant on the left. But when we're not accurate, or when we overstate the case, and I will tell you I have heard that in certain FOX programs, the case is overstated.

O'REILLY: But tell me what -- because it doesn't happen here. And we researched to find out if anybody on Fox News had ever said you're going to jail if you don't buy health insurance. Nobody's ever said it. So it seems to me that what you did was you used Fox News as a whipping boy when we didn't qualify there.  

Well, it's actually not that simple. It turns out, Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) did say this on Fox on October 6, 2009 (full transcript available here):  

REP. JOHN SHADEGG, R - ARIZ.: Well, the problem is that in August (INAUDIBLE) a bill that might fine us, and now we've discovered that the bill has criminal penalties.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: How's - I mean, like, in what way? I mean, if I don't do something under the bill, I could get charged criminally?

SHADEGG: What the bill says is that this is a tax. If you don't buy health insurance and you don't by government-approved health insurance, then they will impose a tax on you and they told you how much the tax was. But unfortunately, the code says that if you don't pay the tax, that's a misdemeanor, and we can fine you more, in this case, an additional $25,000. And on top of that, we can put you in jail for up to a year.

So the bill that we're all upset about in August because we thought it had some fines it if people didn't buy the government-approved health insurance, we now discover has an additional $25,000 in fines and jail time.

As Hot Air reported Tuesday:

That's from an interview segment titled, er, "Health Insurance or Jail?" In Greta's defense, it's not like the possibility of prison was some far-out conspiracy theory: Obama and Pelosi were both asked about it months ago, when the bill was still taking shape, and both conspicuously declined to say "no way."    

As such, Coburn was somewhat correct. But wouldn't his real battle be with Shadegg who made the claim?

After all, Shadegg had just introduced a resolution on the House floor dealing with problems he had in that chamber's version of the bill.  

Was it wrong for Greta to do a piece on this subject given the questions surrounding the legislation and the associated penalties? If a member of Congress believed prison could be amongst such penalties, and introduced a resolution to deal with it, was it wrong for Fox to interview him?

Considering this, it would have very been interesting if Coburn's staff had him better prepared for what should have been an easily predicted question from O'Reilly.

Regardless, they continued: 

O'REILLY: Now let's go to Nancy Pelosi. 

COBURN: Well, you may -- okay.

O'REILLY: Here you may have a point. Here -- you don't have any point on the health thing. You were wrong to do that, senator, with all due respect.

COBURN: Well, that's your--

O'REILLY: But here you have a point because Nancy Pelosi forced some commentators on this network is the devil. There's no question about that. And your point about, hey, just because we disagree with her doesn't mean that she's a bad person. I'm with you all the way. But, again, it looks like you were singling out Fox News for a whipping here. Maybe we deserve it on Pelosi, but we didn't deserve it on the other. Go ahead. 

COBURN: Well, you didn't play what I said about CNN and FOX. I said you have to listen to both. And my point to the town hall is we, who believe in limited government and individual liberty and personal responsibility, will win the battles on the merit. So what we have to do is if we're going to win those battles, just like I try to win in the Senate, I have to know what they're thinking. And then I want individuals and I've heard you say this on your show. You make up your mind. Here's the facts.

O'REILLY: Yes. You present the facts.

COBURN: That's right.

O'REILLY: And then you let the folks make up their mind.

COBURN: And Bill, you're very good at doing that, but not everybody is. And not everybody's perfect at it. So we need -- and it's just like I said to that town hall group, I tried to read "The New York Times," not because I agree with it, I want to know what the other side is thinking.

O'REILLY: And there's no problem with that. But I think that the audience, particularly in Oklahoma, and the audience that follows you, is surprised and shocked that you were putting FOX up as this beacon of bias. And then you know, you know that the far left cranks that dominate the media took what you said and ran with it all day long.

COBURN: Well, here's the problem, Bill. And here's the problem I see with that. First of all, you all are running the media now in Oklahoma. I can guarantee you. All right? And across a larger and larger percentage of this country.

But when that becomes the news story instead of us trying to not add to the debt, what we do is take a courageous stand and we say we're not going to pass an unemployment insurance bill that we're going to charge to our grandchildren, we're going to do that, it's that the story on the networks is more important than the actual happenings that are going on. And that's a problem in the media--

O'REILLY: Listen--

COBURN: --because they don't want to talk about the real substantive issues. You do. But many do not.

O'REILLY: Okay, but you're not--

COBURN: And so what do they do--

O'REILLY: --Senator, from your perch on Capitol Hill, you're not going to reform a corrupt media. It's not going to happen. You're in the business to make money. And a lot of people preaching to the choir. But I don't want you, who I believe is an honest man, and you're obviously a stand up guy for coming on and taking the fire here. I don't want you to be used by the real evil doers in the media. And you know who they are. And they did use you in this case. I'll give you the last word.

COBURN: Well, my last word is this. Having been on that side of the receiving end, I think members who agree with us philosophically ought to do everything we can to not demonize our opponents, but to win on the issues. In the long run, we gain credibility and we gain respect when we do that. And we win. We win on the--

O'REILLY: All right, I can't disagree with that at all. And I think that's why our program is number one rated. And I respect you putting that forth. And Senator, thanks for coming on. It was very interesting debate.

COBURN: Hey, Bill, good to be with you. God bless you.

O'REILLY: All right.

COBURN: God bless you.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.