By: Cliff Kincaid
Accuracy in Media
Bill O’Reilly objects to “bloviating,” which I think means giving opinions not based on fact. So what should we make of his claim that “I believe there is overwhelming evidence that the Syrian tyrant Assad did gas civilians, including children.” Where is the “overwhelming evidence?”
One day earlier, O’Reilly had claimed, “The evidence is strong that Assad violated the Geneva Convention by using poison gas to kill civilians.”
So in the course of one day the evidence had gone from “strong” to “overwhelming.” On what basis did this occur? O’Reilly doesn’t say.
I submit that O’Reilly is engaged in bloviating.
O’Reilly, who is about to begin celebrating his 18th year on the air as the host of the most popular Fox News program, is doing tremendous damage to the notion that he can be relied upon for “fair and balanced” coverage of the major issues of the day.
This is far more serious than an error O’Reilly made when he came under fire for falsely claiming that no Republicans were invited to the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington. “The mistake? Entirely on me,” O’Reilly said.
In the case of going to war, a far more serious matter than talking about invitations to a civil rights event, O’Reilly makes claims that parrot Obama’s talking points, but he offers no evidence to substantiate them.
On this issue, O’Reilly should rename his “Talking Points Memo” the “Obama Talking Points Memo.” He is one of the best allies that Obama has going for him as he attempts to persuade conservatives in the House to vote for war.
Let us recall that the Obama Administration, in its 4-page document that is the basis for war in Syria, claims to have “high confidence” that chemicals were used. It says the evidence “indicates” chemicals were used.
O’Reilly goes further than that, calling it “overwhelming.”
Beyond these unsubstantiated claims, there are suggestions of an intercepted communication which somehow proves that the Assad regime carried out the attack. But investigative journalist Kenneth Timmerman reports in The Daily Caller that “the original communication” shows “just the opposite” of what is being claimed—that the regime was surprised by the attack and acted to make sure its troops did not use the weapons. Not only has the Obama Administration “selectively used intelligence to justify military strikes on Syria,” but the report pointing to the Assad regime as being the source of the chemical attack has been “doctored,” said Timmerman.
Although The Daily Caller is a conservative publication and Timmerman is a conservative journalist, liberal Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, brought this report to the attention of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during the House hearing on the war resolution.
“There’s been a report in the media that the administration has mischaracterized post-attack Syrian military communications and that these communications actually express surprise about the attack,” Grayson said. “This is a very serious charge. Can you please release the original transcripts so that the American people can make their own judgment about that important issue?”
Hagel said the transcripts were “probably classified” and couldn’t be released.
Asked about these transcripts, Grayson told the left-wing Democracy Now! radio and TV show: “…in fact, as far as I can tell, not a single member of Congress has actually seen the underlying document. What’s been provided to us so far is a 4-page unclassified document and, if we bother to go down to the bowels of the congressional facility here, a 12-page classified document. But that classified document cites 300 underlying intelligence reports, none of which have been released to any member of Congress, despite the fact that we all have classified clearance…”
However, Bill O’Reilly insists that “…we now have many conservative people willing to give Assad a pass because they don’t trust President Obama.”
But even members of Obama’s liberal base have their doubts.
O’Reilly’s comments are a classic case of bloviating that borders on deliberate misinformation. Conservatives are not willing to give Assad a pass; they are simply demanding to see the evidence before giving Obama the authority to go to war.
To use another example, the same 4-page document for war is quite specific on the number of people who died from the chemical attack—1,429. “Over 1,400 people were gassed,” Obama said at his Friday news conference. But where did this number come from?
Once again, my adversaries at the Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) group have stepped up to the plate, noting that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organization that monitors war casualties, said it has confirmed 502 deaths. Quoting from an Associated Press account, Peter Hart of FAIR reports that Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the organization, said he was not contacted by U.S. officials about his efforts to collect information about the death toll and that the U.S. figure could be “propaganda.”
It is clear in this case that FAIR represents the opinions of liberals who are not prepared to roll over for Obama and do what the White House dictates.
The media are also starting to wake up. McClatchy news service points out that death tolls released by Britain (more than 350) and France (281) were far lower than that offered by Obama.
On Saturday, in Washington, D.C. outside the White House, various Christian organizations are protesting Obama’s proposed war on Syria in part because they don’t think the evidence is conclusive. “While the loss of life due to the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria is mourned, there are conflicting reports as to whether rebel groups or the Assad regime used them,” they point out.
The coalition of groups behind the rally includes the Coptic Solidarity International, the World Maronite Union, and the Middle East Christian Committee, as well as several Middle East Christian organizations. They “unequivocally oppose a U.S. military intervention in Syria without a strategy to crumble the regime and defeat the Jihadists at the same time.”
One purpose of Obama’s proposed military intervention is to deter chemical attacks. Of course, it will take much more than missile strikes to actually locate and remove those chemical weapons. A British paper, The Daily Mail, reports that a secret Pentagon report says 75,000 troops are needed to secure them.
During the Senate hearings on going to war, Secretary of State John Kerry did not rule out troops in Syria for that purpose, although he said he was just “thinking out loud.”
O’Reilly seems to be thinking out loud as well, without regard to the facts of the case. For some reason, perhaps to curry favor with the Obama White House and demonstrate his independence from conservatives, he has abandoned critical thinking about this war policy.
Although “The O’Reilly Factor” has been the highest-rated cable news show on television, his bloviating on the road to war in Syria can only further undermine his credibility. Those who want “fair and balanced,” and accurate information, should turn elsewhere.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism and can be contacted at [email protected].