Thursday, September 30, 2004

Bill O'Reilly's Factoring

I don't watch a lot of Fox News, but I check in every once in a while to see what the GOP talking points and memes are. When I do watch, I admit to enjoying sometimes (and sometimes not), The O'Reilly Factor, which seems like a parody of itself to me because O'Reilly's schtick is obvious and over-the-top and because he wears his insecurities on his sleeve.

Anyway, so I'm watching, and heard on 9/16/04, Bill say the following:
As far as Dan Rather (search) is concerned, 38 percent say he is biased in favor of John Kerry. And 38 percent say he's fair and balanced.

Even the ultra liberal editorial page of The Los Angeles Times says this. "CBS News was had. It's hard to reach any other conclusion."

But as usual, The Times blames it all on those dreaded conservatives. "As CBS floundered, conservatives cited this episode as an egregious case of liberal media bias."

Well, come on, L.A. Times. It isn't only conservatives who are concerned about the validity of the story. It should be every clear thinking American. CBS News is a powerful voice in America and millions rely on it for their information. Any kind of mistake regarding the president of the United States must be fully explained.

Sure, some conservatives are hammering Mr. Rather, but the story is much bigger than ideological passion. The national press must be held accountable for its reportage. We have a responsibility to see that everything is above board and transparent. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,132602,00.html Note: the Fox site has this dated 9/17, but it's an error on their part; they have two of O'Reilly's Talking Points Memos dated for 9/17).
Now here's an excerpt from the L.A. Times editorial O'Reilly was referring to:

As The Times reported, conservative bloggers detected glaring inconsistencies, such as a Microsoft Word type style. The alleged memos from Killian also contain stylistic problems, such as the fact that Killian signs his rank not in accordance with National Guard procedure.

In addition, Killian's signature on a memo dated May 4, 1972, is different from one on file in the
Pentagon. The part of a memo supposedly written by Killian that refers to pressure from an earlier Bush commander to help out the young fighter pilot is highly dubious. The 1973 memo is dated almost a year and a half after the commander had resigned from active duty.

As CBS floundered, conservatives cited this episode as an egregious case of liberal media bias, while some liberals indulged in the comforting notion that Karl Rove, who is responsible for everything bad that happens everywhere, must be behind the documents.

Whatever the truth, CBS' real error was trying to prove a point that didn't need to be proved. It doesn't take documents for anyone to realize that Bush pulled strings to get into the National Guard. And, during the Vietnam draft, nobody went into the National Guard out of passion to defend his country.

It also doesn't take new documents to establish that Bush shirked even his National Guard duties when he moved to Alabama and then to Harvard Business School in Massachusetts.
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-cbs15sep15,1,7747016.story
The L.A. Times wasn't "blaming" conservatives for anything. It was blaming CBS for the shoddy journalism it practiced. The editorial merely pointed out that:
  • conservative bloggers were the first to question the documents and
  • that some conservatives did see the Killian documents fiasco as a case of liberal media bias while at the same time some liberals thought it was Karl Rove who set it up.
Now O'Reilly might have challenged the L.A. Times for tacitly dismissing the bias argument by linking it with Rove conspiracy theory, but he didn't do that. He claimed the L.A. Times was blaming conservatives for CBS troubles. That's clearly not the case.

I don't know whether O'Reilly is deliberately dishonest or blinded by his own schtick, but the fact is that he uttered out of context a single sentence from of the L.A. Times editorial, and then spun it to fit one of his favorite memes: the liberal elite media is out to get President Bush.

Well, duh! Of course liberally led editorial pages generally run arguments critical of Bush, just as conservatively led pages run arguments critical of Kerry. The point is, that here, the L.A. Times was agreeing with the general assessment that CBS News blew it, was crediting --not blaming-- conservative bloggers for questioning the documents authenticity, and pointed out that now both sides have their consparicy theories about why and how the documents were used by CBS.

But that's not how things play out in the no spin zone, where sometimes O'Reilly spins so you so fast and often you get whiplash.

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