June 1, 2009

The media and conservatives are going to be falling all over themselves today to claim that Sunday's murder of Dr. George Tiller was an "isolated incident."

Never mind, of course, that the killer -- one Scott Roeder -- was formerly a Freemen who was arrested in the 1990s for possessing bomb parts. Never mind that he was someone who had been filling his head with far-right propaganda for decades.

And never mind that Dr. Tiller was made into a national cause celebre, accused of "executing babies" by none other than Bill O'Reilly and the crew of far-right transmitters at Fox News.

No connection there, folks! Move along, move along.

Three years ago, O'Reilly and his ambush-crew specialist, Jesse Watters, went hard after Tiller, accusing him of wantonly murdering babies because he performs late-term abortions:

Bill summarized in a heartfelt Talking Points Memo on Friday, November 10th: "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.

O'Reilly later attacked Kathleen Sebelius for her refusal to prosecute Tiller. And he kept it up. As recently as this spring he again spent a segment excoriating Tiller as a murderer.

Priscilla at Newshounds ran through the file in March:

O’Reilly claimed, on his show (11/6/06), that he had medical records which showed that Dr. Tiller was “executing babies.” Without any basis, O’Reilly claimed that Tiller and another abortion provider were breaking a law and stated “George Tiller, “will execute babies for $5,000 if the mother is depressed.” (Comment: This goes beyond just “hurting” people as it was defamation based on Bill O’Reilly conjecture. Wonder what attorney Wendy Murphy thought about that!). On November 10th, O’Reilly made this incendiary statement, “If we allow Dr. George Tiller and his acolytes to continue, we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody. What Tiller is doing is that bad.” On 12/13/07 he interviewed a woman who claimed to have been deeply traumatized by a late term abortion at Tiller’s clinic. Bill then made his crusader call, in January 06, when he urged a massive protest at Tiller’s clinic; "There should be thousands of people protesting outside Tiller’s abortion clinic in Wichita," (Comment: Isn’t this nice. Bill urging rabid anti abortion protestors to scream at women, going into and inside Tiller’s clinic, who have made a very difficult decision. But then, Bill, like his Operation Rescue pals, is all about punishing those evil women who are “killing” their babies) Operation Rescue picked this up and put out the call. (Operation Rescue, who carry O’Reilly’s articles in their newspaper, has had numerous criminal charges against them) In February, Bill sent out his stalker, Porter Barry, to stalk Tiller who immediately called 9-11. Operation Rescue reported that “O’Reilly’s staff used the Tiller Report II, produced by Operation Rescue, to learn more about the infamous late term abortionist.” (Comment: Talk about partisan journalism – using anti abortion information from a rabid anti abortion group to support a nationally televised attack on Tiller by a rabid anti abortion “journalist” on a “fair and balanced” network.”) It should be noted that because of the type of incendiary rhetoric, articulated by O’Reilly, Dr. Tiller has required police protection from homicidal “pro-lifers.”

In May of 2007, O’Reilly interviewed Kansas State Rep. Ben Hodge and went after the woman who will be our next Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius (then governor of Kansas): “I didn't see any outcry by the people of Kansas for this governor basically saying, hey Tiller you kill as many fetuses as you want for whatever reason you want. That's what the governor is saying” (No, Bill, that’s not what the governor said; but your misrepresentation probably got a lot of fellow pro-lifers “locked and loaded.”.) As noted by News Hounds, O’Reilly used “flaming” language to describe Tiller such as “killer, murder, murderer, barbarian, barabaric procedure, disgrace.” In June, O’Reilly recommended activism.” He said that “if the state of Kansas doesn't stop this man, then anybody who prevents that from happening has blood on their hands as the governor does right now, Governor Sebelius. All Americans, no matter if you're pro-choice, pro-life, whatever, should be getting in touch with Governor Sebelius' office and saying enough, because this is just a disgrace.”

O'Reilly no doubt will vociferously deny that he's to blame for Tiller's murder -- just as he similarly denied any culpability for the murders committed by Jim David Adkisson last summer when he walked into that Unitarian church in Knoxville and began blasting away. That was another "isolated incident" -- even though authorities later found O'Reilly's books in Adkisson's home, and his anti-liberal manifesto read like it was ripped straight from one of O'Reilly's "Talking Points Memos."

Indeed, O'Reilly was so incensed at being connected to those murders that he sent out ambush crews to attack a couple of Newsday journalists who in fact pointed out the connection.

No doubt he'll be in a full-on ragefest today, attacking anyone who points out how he helped inspire this killing. Someone should just call the Waaaaaaaaahmbulance now and get it over with. But no matter how much he rages and shouts and spits and sends out ambush crews, the public is starting to get the picture about just how grotesquely irresponsible a media figure O'Reilly really is.

This is one of the major themes of my book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right: That violent and hateful rhetoric has a real effect on its listeners -- essentially giving them permission to act out violently.

No one wants to take away O'Reilly free-speech rights. But members of the media in particular have an important burden to also use their speech responsibly. And Bill O'Reilly is one of the most irresponsible talkers in the mainstream media.

As I explained previously:

No one here has said anything about silencing their voices -- we just want them to face up to the consequences of their irresponsible rhetoric. It's called culpability: They obviously are not criminally culpable, nor likely even civilly culpable. But they are morally and ethically culpable.

... We strongly believe that there's a clear, common-sense connection between the paranoiac fearmongering that has passed for right-wing rhetoric since well before Obama's election (and has become acute since) and violence like that in Pittsburgh, or in Knoxville: horrifying tragedies, in which the sources of the criminal's unambiguous motives are that very same hysterical fearmongering -- whether it's about the evil socialists, stinking immigrants, or conspiring gun-grabbers who've taken over the country since Election Day.

... The point is not to silence the people saying these things, but to point out how grotesquely irresponsible they are -- in the hopes that they will cease doing so, and start acting responsibly. It's their choice to use irresponsible rhetoric. It's not just our choice but our duty, as responsible citizens, to stand up and speak out about it.

And make no mistake: Rhetoric that whips up irrational fears among the public, that demonizes and dehumanizes and scapegoats -- that's irresponsible rhetoric. And we are calling the American Right on it.

... And what we know from experience about volatile, unstable actors like [Scott Roeder] is that they can be readily induced into violent action by hateful rhetoric that demonizes and dehumanizes other people. And thanks to human nature and those same freedoms, we will certainly always have fearmongering demagogues among us. But the purveyors of such profoundly irresponsible rhetoric need to be called on it -- especially when they hold the nation's media megaphones.

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