FNC's O'Reilly Spars with MSNBC Over Iraq War Coverage
On Thursday's The O'Reilly Factor, during his show's regular "Talking Points Memo," FNC's Bill O'Reilly attacked NBC News/MSNBC for its Iraq war coverage, listing several examples he found worthy of criticism, and defended himself against accusations that some of his recent comments about his show's level of war coverage were insensitive to U.S. troops. O'Reilly: "The latest NBC News indignity is trying to convince their few viewers that Fox News is negligent because we don't cover every terrorist incident in Iraq. Somehow we're insulting military families if we don't run in the explosion du jour."
The FNC host was likely responding to comments MSNBC general manager Dan Abrams made while guest hosting on Tuesday's Scarborough Country in which Abrams took exception with the way O'Reilly worded his rationale for not covering the violence in Iraq more throughly. Abrams: "But today's big loser, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who insulted our troops and our intelligence today when he said that it does not, quote, 'mean anything,' when a bomb goes off in Iraq. It was part of a horrible effort to undermine a new study that shows Fox covers the Iraq war far less than MSNBC." (Transcripts follow)
Returning to Thursday's The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly continued: "Now, as everybody knows, al-Qaeda's strategy is to break the will of the American people to fight the jihad. Osama bin Laden has stated that in writing. So blowing things up and hopefully getting the carnage on TV is what the terrorists want." The FNC host then listed several examples of bias from NBC News or MSNBC, including NBC News analyst William Arkin's labeling of U.S. troops as "mercenaries," correspondent Richard Engel's comments that in one combat unit, "all [the troops] told me it's time to end the war," and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann's remark that President Bush's demand that Democrats "give the troops their money" was "asinine."
The controversy began after the release of a study by the left-leaning Project for Excellence in Journalism which reported that Fox News devotes a substantially lower percentage of its time to the Iraq war than do the other cable news networks. O'Reilly made his first comments on the subject on Tuesday's The Radio Factor after CNN president Jon Klein had criticized Fox News, and then, as already documented by NewsBuster Matthew Sheffield, O'Reilly made additional comments on his The O'Reilly Factor television show. Abrams took offense to O'Reilly's argument that CNN and MSNBC's war coverage is "helping the terrorists" and O'Reilly's remark that when another bomb explodes in Tikrit, "it doesn't mean anything."
As Abrams guest hosted Tuesday's Scarborough Country, after going through the show's regular feature of naming "Winners and Losers" in the news, the MSNBC head began his criticism of O'Reilly. Abrams: "But today's big loser, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who insulted our troops and our intelligence today when he said that it does not, quote, 'mean anything,' when a bomb goes off in Iraq. It was part of a horrible effort to undermine a new study that shows Fox covers the Iraq war far less than MSNBC."
Abrams then played an audio clip of O'Reilly from Tuesday's The Radio Factor. O'Reilly: "On my program, I don't do a lot of Iraq reporting because we don't know what's happening. We can't find out. So I'm taking an argument that CNN and MSNBC are actually helping the terrorists by reporting useless explosions. Do you care if another bomb went off in Tikrit? Does it mean anything? No! It doesn't mean anything!"
Abrams continued: "Wow! It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean anything. I wonder if the families of the troops feel that way. I was asked by a reporter about this study. I refused to attack Fox, the way my counterpart at CNN did. I've got a lot of respect for what they do over there. But when O'Reilly suggests that we are somehow helping terrorists by covering what is probably the most important issue facing America today, and more importantly, says it doesn't matter when bombs go off that kill American troops, I have got to speak up."
Abrams then hosted a discussion featuring Retired Colonel and MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, liberal MSNBC media analyst Steve Adubato, and conservative media analyst Bob Kohn.
Below is a complete transcript of O'Reilly's comments from his "Talking Points Memo" from the Thursday June 14 The O'Reilly Factor on FNC, followed by the complete discussion of the controversy from the Tuesday June 12 Scarborough Country on MSNBC, with a few critical portions highlighted in bold:
From the Thursday June 14 The O'Reilly Factor on FNC:
BILL O'REILLY: Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. Supporting the troops in Iraq: That's the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo." As part of their business plan to woo left-wing viewers, NBC News consistently attacks Fox News, as you know. Well, it hasn't worked, as they're losing ratings, and there's big trouble at that network.
Now, the latest NBC News indignity is trying to convince their few viewers that Fox News is negligent because we don't cover every terrorist incident in Iraq. Somehow we're insulting military families if we don't run in the explosion du jour. Now, as everybody knows, al-Qaeda's strategy is to break the will of the American people to fight the jihad. Osama bin Laden has stated that in writing. So blowing things up and hopefully getting the carnage on TV is what the terrorists want. Here at The Factor, we report honestly on the Iraq war and bring you reports that advance the story. For example, earlier this week on The Radio Factor, Colonel David Hunt said that the surge has improved things in the Anbar Province, the Sunni stronghold, but not yet in Baghdad. And we believe that analysis is accurate.
NBC News, on the other hand, has, well, let's say just their Iraq coverage has been questionable. Item: NBC News analyst William Arkin called U.S. troops "mercenaries" and disparaged the sacrifice they're making to bring freedom to that country.
Item: NBC News correspondent Richard Engel filed a report that said one American combat unit, quote, "all told me it's time to end the war," unquote. Well, The Factor received e-mail from some soldiers in that unit saying that was absolutely false.
Item: NBC News correspondent Jane Arraf blogged that Iraqis who have lost loved ones during the war were scarred much more than they were under Saddam. Well, yeah, but what's the point? Millions of Iraqis were given the chance to have freedom, madam.
An NBC commentator also called funding for the war in Iraq "asinine." NBC News is, of course, entitled to its opinion in the commentary realm, and the results of said opinion are seen every day in their disastrous ratings. However, for these clowns to say Fox News is insulting military families because we don't show every bombing is dishonest in the extreme, which is what we've come to expect from that organization. And that's the "Memo."
From the Tuesday June 12 Scarborough Country on MSNBC:
DAN ABRAMS: Dan Abrams filling in for Joe Scarborough tonight. Before we get to Fox News's Bill O'Reilly saying that bombings in Iraq don't mean anything and then even suggesting that MSNBC is somehow supporting terrorists by just covering the war, let's start with tonight's other "Winners and Losers."
ABRAMS: But today's big loser, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who insulted our troops and our intelligence today when he said that it does not, quote, "mean anything," when a bomb goes off in Iraq. It was part of a horrible effort to undermine a new study that shows Fox covers the Iraq war far less than MSNBC.
BILL O'REILLY, in audio clip from The Radio Factor from June 12: On my program, I don't do a lot of Iraq reporting because we don't know what's happening. We can't find out. So I'm taking an argument that CNN and MSNBC are actually helping the terrorists by reporting useless explosions. Do you care if another bomb went off in Tikrit? Does it mean anything? No! It doesn't mean anything!
ABRAMS: Wow! It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean anything. I wonder if the families of the troops feel that way. I was asked by a reporter about this study. I refused to attack Fox, the way my counterpart at CNN did. I've got a lot of respect for what they do over there. But when O'Reilly suggests that we are somehow helping terrorists by covering what is probably the most important issue facing America today, and more importantly, says it doesn't matter when bombs go off that kill American troops, I have got to speak up. Here now, MSNBC military analyst and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Jack Jacobs, MSNBC media analyst Steve Adubato and Bob Kohn, author of Journalistic Fraud. Thanks to all of you for coming on the program. Appreciate it. All right, Colonel Jacobs, is this an insult?
Retired Colonel JACK JACOBS, US Army, MSNBC Military Analyst: Yeah, well, I think it's just stupidity, especially when he says that the reason he doesn't report anything is because he can't find anything out. It's easy to find anything out. The essence of journalism is calling up people and getting their take on things. I talk to people in the government all the time. It's easy to get information about Iraq and anything else you want.
ABRAMS: But what about the idea that, you know, it doesn't matter, I mean, that no one's interested in a bombing in Tikrit, for example?
JACOBS: Well, clearly, everybody's interested. And as a matter of fact, I'd be surprised if this isn't the issue that decides the next election.
JACOBS: It doesn't, this is the singular use of the military instrument in our time. It's going to decide what happens not only in the United States but what'll happen in the Middle East for a long time to come.
ABRAMS: All right, now, Bill O'Reilly asked his own experienced military analyst his opinion on his radio show. I'm guessing he didn't like what he had to say, either.
O'REILLY, in audio clip from The Radio Factor from June 12: Is there any value to you as an American, not as a military analyst, to see the latest atrocity du jour, the latest explosion du jour? Do you want to see that?
Retired Colonel DAVID HUNT: Yeah, I mean, we're going to disagree on this one, Bill. I care about the bomb in Tikrit if it kills American soldiers. That's why I think it's important. And I, we've got guys in combat. We seem, as a nation, we've turned our back on this.
ABRAMS: All right, look, Bob Kohn, you often defend Bill O'Reilly. I think this is almost an indefensible position.
BOB KOHN, Author of Journalistic Fraud: Well, I don't think Bill O'Reilly is insulting the troops, but I do think he's insulting your intelligence. Now, I'm not here to defend Bill O'Reilly. I'm not here as his surrogate. It's not easy to follow the line of reasoning that-
ABRAMS: It's not, is it.
KOHN: -you're throwing here and you're attacking here. But I think there's a meta-analysis here that I think is important because what Bill O'Reilly was simply doing was defending his network against an attack by a liberal think tank, which was picked up by an AP story-
ABRAMS: That's fine.
KOHN: -and now that's being used by you to attack him.
ABRAMS: No, no. Look, look, I had the opportunity-
KOHN: That's what's going on.
ABRAMS: I had the opportunity to attack Fox News when they called me and asked me for comment about the study. I said, you know what, I'm not going to get on my high horse and start talking about these numbers. But when I hear Bill O'Reilly start talking about the fact that it simply doesn't matter when there's a bombing in Tikrit, and then suggest that somehow, by the fact that we cover the war in Iraq, that that somehow shows that MSNBC is aiding the terrorists, I'm not going to be quiet.
KOHN: You're not covering the war, no, no, no. You're not in covering the war in Iraq. There's a lot of coverage that was missed here. There are a lot of parts of Iraq that are quiet, that have progress that's being made, and that's not being reported by your network or by CNN.
ABRAMS: But that's not what he's talking about.
KOHN: Now, this study, no, what this study is, it's by an organization, by the way, this journalists, the Excellence in Journalism-
ABRAMS: Are the numbers wrong? Are their numbers wrong?
KOHN: No, let me, this is an organization-
ABRAMS: I don't care about the organization. Are their numbers wrong?
KOHN: Yes, it does. The objectivity, this organization-
ABRAMS: Are the numbers wrong, Bob?
KOHN: -doesn't believe that objectivity is a goal of journalism. The numbers are right, but why doesn't the headline say, "War Takes Up More Time on NBC"? But the headline is "War Takes up Less Time on Fox." It's just the way you're positioning it.
ABRAMS: Hang on a second, Steve.
ABRAMS: Let me read, this is according to the project. They're called the Project for Excellence in Journalism. And this is the findings, that MSNBC devoted nearly a third of our air time to the war, compared to 25 percent for CNN and 15 percent for Fox. But here's the important point, and follow this up, is that of the 31 percent total, 26 percent was on a policy debate, only 3 percent of the total time of our air time was on the events on the ground. So the notion, Steve Adubato, that somehow we are focusing all our attention on these bombings everywhere and death and destruction is not just absurd, it's just not true.
STEVE ADUBATO, MSNBC Media Analyst: Well, Dan, I wouldn't be surprised, well, I would be surprised if Bill O'Reilly actually apologized because he should apologize. I have a feeling that he senses that he misspoke, that he senses the absurdity of his argument.
ABRAMS: I agree.
ADUBATO: How could you say that the issue of our time, the issue that is not only destroying the Bush administration and their credibility to do all kinds of other things, that as Jack said earlier, will, in fact, dictate the presidential election in 2008, how could you say Americans don't care about -- see, he's playing a game with the word "bombs." No, we don't care about the bombs. What we care about is the over 3,000 Americans killed and their families, who continue to suffer. It is an abomination that he said it. I've got to believe, and I know a lot of folks over there and I have respect for them, as well. I've got to believe that his producers, that the people he works for, are embarrassed and wish that he would speak up, Dan, right now and say I was wrong, I apologize.
ABRAMS: I got to tell you, I hope he apologizes because when he went on his television show today, he changed it a little bit. He wasn't making the same sort of incendiary comments that he made on his radio show. Here's what he said, again, this is his rant against us on his TV show.
O'REILLY, from The O'Reilly Factor from June 12: In my opinion, CNN and especially MSNBC delight in showing Iraqi violence because they want Americans to think badly of President Bush, and that strategy has succeeded. So their Iraqi coverage is more political than informational, again, in my opinion. Could be wrong about CNN. I'm not wrong about the committed left-wing crew over at NBC.
ABRAMS: Yes, of course, of course, of course. "That strategy has succeeded." The bottom line is he talks about the fact that Fox's ratings are so great and no one watches CNN or MSNBC, and yet somehow, we've been able to shape public opinion in this country so much-
KOHN: This is like McCarthyism. This is like McCarthyism, you know, Dan-
ABRAMS: How's that?
KOHN: How is that? Because you guys complain that your patriotism was being questioned when you guys spoke out against the war. Now you're questioning this guy's dedication-
ABRAMS: What do you mean "when you speak out against the war." Who's speaking out against the war?
KOHN: You're questioning his dedication to the troops. Absolutely. I think you're taking this out of context. He was definitely making a point here about the journalism that's going on here.
ABRAMS: No, no. But you know, look-
KOHN: You have a liberal think tank make a report. It's twisted by AP. You never see a right-wing think tank-
ADUBATO: Stop with the "liberal think tank," Bob, deal with the numbers.
KOHN: You never see a right, look at the numbers.
ABRAMS: Here's the problem, Steve. He can't deal with the numbers. Bill O'Reilly can't deal with the numbers. And instead of, at least he should do-
KOHN: No, no! It's the analysis of the numbers. I'm sorry, Dan. I know what the numbers are. NBC is distorting the news against President Bush.
ABRAMS: I know. I know. Let's listen to-
KOHN: It's absolutely how you read these numbers. Absolutely.
ABRAMS: Let's listen to another distortion here from NBC News's Brian Williams, again, talking about, again, going after the President, talking about how awful things are. Here's Brian Williams earlier this year.
Unidentified soldier: They do not want us to leave. They want to see the police come through.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC Nightly News Anchor: You just said they don't want us to leave. That's the 10th time today I've heard that.
ABRAMS: And again, he's reporting the fact that they don't want us to leave. There's Brian Williams on the ground, reporting to people, I know it doesn't fit in with the Bob Kohns and Bill O'Reillys of the world. It doesn't fit in.
ADUBATO: That wasn't very long ago.
KOHN: Fair enough, but night after night, I think what he's talking about is the preponderance of news about just bombing. Now, any journalist will know it's all about the exceptions, okay? Well, war is about bombing. And if you show bombing every night in the war, you're not showing the full picture of the war. That's not what's going on.
ABRAMS: But this is, Jack Jacobs, this is what Bob Kohn and Bill O'Reilly love to do. They love to twist things.
ABRAMS: Again, when we talked about the 3 percent, we talked about that 3 percent of our coverage has focused on the events on the ground, 3 percent -- now, I could see, Jack Jacobs, if someone, a military man, could argue, you know what, you guys ought to cover the events on the ground even more.
JACOBS: Hold on a second. As a matter of fact, of that 3 percent about the events on the ground, I myself have spoken often on the air in that 3 percent, talking about the good things that are taking place. And I'll tell you right now, a lot of good things are taking place in Anbar province, where attacks are down over 90 percent. But unless-
KOHN: Yeah, why isn't that reported on NBC?
ABRAMS: Let him finish, let him finish, Bob. Go ahead.
JACOBS: If you're going to be a journalist, you talk about everything. And this is the seminal issue of the last four to five years-
KOHN: We're only getting one side of it.
JACOBS: -and will be in the future, and there's no reason whatsoever why anybody shouldn't talk about what is actually happening. And the figures speak for themselves.
ABRAMS: This is an embarrassment-
KOHN: I don‘t think you can believe these figures!
ABRAMS: -and shame. I understand that this is an embarrassment-
KOHN: The figures are from an organization who don't believe in objectivity!
ABRAMS: Hang on a second. Hang on a second. This is an embarrassment. I get it. It's a huge embarrassment to Fox News. I wasn't going after them. I was staying out of the fray because, you know what, when you start talking about numbers, who knows what's going to come out of the numbers. I stayed out of the fray. But then Bill O‘Reilly-
KOHN: Yeah, I'm sure he regrets it. I'm sure he regrets the two sentences that came out of his mouth. Absolutely.
ABRAMS: All right, so then Bill O'Reilly tonight, today and tonight, doesn't just insult us. I can deal with the insult to us. But again, the notion it doesn't matter-
KOHN: It is an insult to you.
ABRAMS: -what happens in Tikrit is an insult.
ADUBATO: It is, Bob.
ABRAMS: It's an insult to everyone involved.
ADUBATO: And Dan, let me add this. Here's the absurdity, how really bad this is. You could argue that MSNBC's coverage or NBC, whether they're talking about Brian or anyone else, Brian Williams, you could argue we should be focusing more on the positive, but then you get into a larger question what is news, it is the exception. It is a fair question. And there have been times I've said, wait a minute, we should tell the broader story. But to argue that the reason we don't get a fuller picture of the story in Iraq with MSNBC's coverage is because of an ideological political bias to bash the Bush administration is absurd, number one. And number two-
KOHN: It's not absurd!
ADUBATO: -more importantly, he can't, one second, Bob.
KOHN: That's not absurd! That's what's going on!
ADUBATO: One second, Bob. Bob, let me finish my point.
ABRAMS: I'm giving Bob the editorial at the, yeah, I know, here's what happens. At the beginning of every day, Bob, I sit at the end of a table and I say, all right, guys, and I get all the primetime teams out there and I say, "Let's figure out how to make this administration look as bad as possible." Who wants to do Iraq?
KOHN: Yeah, well, then you'd be stupid and not just biased.
ABRAMS: And they all raise their hands. It's absurd, Bob.
ADUBATO: How does it work, Bob?
KOHN: It's not absurd! It's absolutely what's, it's going on.
ABRAMS: So you know it's happening? Are you accusing, wait, as the person who runs the network, Bob, are you accusing me of telling people to cover the story in a way that embarrasses the administration?
KOHN: I don't know whether you're a news, you're not a news reporter, you're an analyst, okay?
ABRAMS: Right, and I also run MSNBC.
KOHN: You can do analysis any way you want. I'm talking about the network news and the way the network reports the so-called objective news.
ABRAMS: All right. That's a separate topic. Steve, go ahead.
KOHN: That's what O'Reilly's talking about. He's not talking about news analysis.
ADUBATO: Bob, wait a minute. Dan is the general manager of MSNBC. All of us on one level or another report to him. Here's the point. At no point have any of us ever gotten a memo, a word, ever gotten anything said to us about what we should or shouldn't say on the air having anything to do with an ideological point of view or political point of view.
KOHN: That means you've been careful. That means you've been careful.
ADUBATO: Oh, Bob, you're being snide and it's disrespectful, and you know it.
KOHN: How do you end up with these kinds of numbers?
ABRAMS: Look, you know, look, again-
KOHN: You're pandering to your audience.
ABRAMS: Look, I have a lot of respect for O'Reilly. I do. But I think in this particular case, he owes a huge apology. He doesn't have to apologize to us.
KOHN: Fair enough-
ABRAMS: Honestly, we don't need an apology. But the people who do need an apology are the families of those troops-
KOHN: Sure, I'm not going to argue that.
ABRAMS: -who did die from a bombing in Tikrit. They're the ones who are owed an apology here-
ABRAMS: -by Bill O'Reilly.
KOHN: That's how you‘re taking his two sentences.
ABRAMS: That's right.
ADUBATO: That's what he meant.
ABRAMS: Yeah, you know, he's a man, he's a wordsmith. He's not a civilian. He's a wordsmith. And I'm going to take him at his word, and I take everything he says, I listen to it. I'm responding to it. We'll see what he says.
KOHN: We have numbers that say NBC is biased, okay? I'll take you at your word.
ADUBATO: ABC, NBC, CBS Evening News, all the same amount of coverage on the evening news regarding Iraq. Are they all biased, as well?
KOHN: That's the mainstream media. They have been for 20 or 30 years! Yeah, they are biased!
ABRAMS: I will say this. I think that there is great pride in the way we have covered the story and the amount we've covered the story. There is no shame in the fact that MSNBC has ended up covering what I believe is the most-
ABRAMS: -important story facing Americans today.
KOHN: But don't claim to be objective.
ABRAMS: Apparently, at Fox News, I mean, I'm not going to even accuse Fox News because it's really only O'Reilly's who's making this comment. If he wants to justify the fact that they don't cover it by attacking us and saying bombings in Tikrit don't matter, we'll see what the public thinks. Steve Adubato, Colonel Jack Jacobs, Bob Kohn, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.