It's a given, of course, that Fox News has become the greatest font of media mendacity of our times, perhaps in history. But the episodes really don't come any more dishonest than the one Bill O'Reilly featured last night with the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, discussing the shooting in the lobby of the FRC's Washington offices two days ago.
Just as he did earlier in the day, Perkins blamed the Southern Poverty Law Center for the shooting because it has designated the FRC a hate group. It is, of course, an outrageous and absurd charge, as Mark Potok of the SPLC himself explained yesterday.
The whole episode was a bizarre exercise in un-self-consciousness, especially because O'Reilly remains upset to this day that he was quite accurately accused of bearing culpability for the death of abortion doctor George Tiller in Kansas -- a fact that he led the segment off with. And yet he was all too happy to let Perkins come on his show and make similar accusations about the SPLC, all without evincing any awareness that Perkins was indulging the very behavior O'Reilly accused his own critics of engaging.
So, it's OK to lie and demonize someone to the point that they become the targets of violence if you're a right-winger, but it's not OK to accurately call out that very behavior and hold those people up for public condemnation, especially if you're a liberal or perceived as one. Got it?
To pull that off, of course, meant that there was a full menu of outright lying -- and there was plenty of that. O'Reilly himself set the tone when he decried the accusations about Tiller:
O'REILLY: Well, I never called him a killer. I said that he was nicknamed "Tiller the Baby Killer". That man is obviously not an honest person. He's also a late-term abortionist himself. I simply reported what Tiller was doing in detail and the press hammered me for it.
That's just flatly false. Not only did O'Reilly repeatedly refer to Tiller as a "baby killer," he did so without attributing it to anyone else:
We found at least 42 instances of O'Reilly mentioning Tiller by name, going back to 2005. In 24 instances, we found that O'Reilly referred to Tiller specifically as a "baby killer."
Most of the time, O'Reilly would simply refer to the Tiller as "Tiller the baby killer" or as "Dr. George Tiller, known as Tiller the baby killer" without attributing it to anyone. We found four times when O'Reilly said that "some" called him Tiller the baby killer. We did not find any instance where O'Reilly named an individual or a particular antiabortion group that referred to Tiller that way.
As we reported at the time, O'Reilly repeatedly demonized Tiller, and at one point even suggested vigilante violence to his listeners on his radio show before backing away:
And if I could get my hands on Tiller -- well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech.
O'Reilly's reportage on Tiller, in the meantime, was riddled with falsehoods, gross distortions and major inaccuracies, all with the purpose of further demonizing the man. And O'Reilly did not merely "report" on Tiller -- he repeatedly attacked him in his commentary:
"If we as a society allow an undefined mental health exception in late-term abortions, then babies can be killed for almost any reason... This is the kind of stuff that happened in Mao's China and Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union... If we allow this, America will no longer be a noble nation... If we allow Dr. George Tiller and his acolytes to continue, we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody."
Including, evidently, murderous extremists. And, as you can see in the video above (from 2006), O'Reilly similarly accused anyone who refused to buy into his accusation of coddling killers:
I don’t care what you think. We have incontrovertible evidence that this man is executing babies about to be born because the woman is depressed…if you don’t believe me, I don’t care…You are OK with Dr. Tiller executing babies about to be born because the mother says she’s depressed.
So O'Reilly made clear at the outset that this would be a "No Spin" segment in which flagrant lying would be encouraged. And sure enough, Perkins took him up on it:
PERKINS: But let me say, I believe that the Southern Poverty Law Center is responsible for creating the environment that led to this. And the same thing that you referred to just a few minutes ago. This calling, saying you are -- you were using hate speech. Well, the Southern Poverty Law Center because they disagree with our positions on marriage and certain religious issues have labeled us a hate group. And that gives license to lunatics like -- like this to come in with a gun and shoot innocent people.
This is, of course, simply a blatant and malicious lie: The SPLC, as Potok explained, listed the FRC as a hate group not because of its policies or its positions, but "because has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people".
Moreover, this point is particularly noteworthy:
The FRC and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence.
Indeed, as we observed yesterday:
It's important to remember that calling out organizations and people for their hatemongering is not itself hatemongering. It is its antithesis. And yesterday's horror notwithstanding, it must remain that way.
Unless Bill O'Reilly and Tony Perkins have their way.