Moyers on O'Reilly by Bill Moyers

Original source:

12-4-2002 -- In a recent column and broadcast Bill O'Reilly makes a number of assertions about me, in matters large and small, that are both undocumented and false. It's time to set the record straight.

First, on a rather trivial level, Mr. O'Reilly asserted that I refused to come to the phone when he called. He's not telling the truth. One of his staff called my assistant to ask if I would appear on Mr. O'Reilly's show, but I declined. I would never refuse a call from Mr. O'Reilly, although my ears are not quite tuned to his decibel level.

Mr. O'Reilly says I called him a warmonger. He is not telling the truth. Here's what happened: In the aftermath of 9/11 Mr. O'Reilly, from his battle station at Fox, was calling for the United States "to bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble, the airport, the power plants, the water facilities, the roads." He went on to describe Afghanistan as "a very primitive country" and to say "taking out their ability to exist day-to-day will not be hard. Remember the people of any country are ultimately responsible for the government they have. The Germans were responsible for Hitler, the Afghans are responsible for the Taliban. We should not target civilians but if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period."


Here are the exact quotes from Bill O'Reilly:

Quote from o'reilly - 9-17-01 -

If the Afghan government does not extradite Osama bin Laden to the U.S., "the U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble-- the airport, the power plants, their water facilities, and the roads." We should not target civilians. But if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period.

9-19-01 -

A few nights later (9/19/01), O'Reilly recommended bombing Afghanistan "in strategic ways and hope that the people themselves would rise up and throw the Taliban out." Acknowledging that Afghanis "are starving as it is," O'Reilly recommended that the U.S. intensify civilian suffering by knocking out "what little infrastructure they have" and blowing up "every truck you see" to make sure that "there's not going to be anything to eat."

Quote from the Geneva Convention, maybe O'Reilly should read this:

The Geneva Conventions (Protocol 1, Part IV, Chapter III, Article 54) are very clear that "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited." They specify that "objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population," including water and food supplies, are not legal military targets. Violating these strictures, which are legally binding on the U.S., would constitute a war crime, and might be considered a crime against humanity.


I puzzled over Mr. O'Reilly's glib wish to make people endure "yet another round of intense pain" when the incredible suffering they were already enduring came from a totalitarian regime that kept them subjugated with terror and torture. It would be like punishing the inmates of Auschwitz and Buchenwald with further starvation and humiliation because they did not rise up against their Nazi guards. In the coming fight against terrorists, such a cruel disposition to visit pain on helpless people would make us like them and create sympathy and allies for their cause. In a speech soon thereafter I pointed out that "Afghanistan is a wasted land, full more of widows than warriors and that the people there have been so beaten down and run over and oppressed and exploited by the Taliban" that they couldn't possibly rise up against the theocratic thugs ruling them, as Mr. O'Reilly said they must or be savaged once again, this time by Americans. His passion, I noted, is equaled "only by his stubborn, ignorant denial of complexity." As the transcript of the speech shows, I did not call Mr. O'Reilly a warmonger. It didn't occur to me.

Mr. O'Reilly went on to inform the readers of his column that I own the videos to my programs which are funded by public television and that "[Moyers] sells the videocassettes, keeping the proceeds." Once again he is not telling the truth. Public television rarely funds my work - I raise the money myself, from independent sources-but when it does, as with the case of my weekly series NOW with Bill Moyers (Friday nights at 9 p.m. on Channel 13), PBS owns the distribution rights, the proceeds remain with public television, and my share is miniscule.

True to form, Mr. O'Reilly is also failing to tell the truth when he alleges that I received the duPont-Columbia Gold Baton Award in 2000 for my documentary on South Africa because the Schumann Foundation, which I head, "had been giving the Columbia Journalism Review big donation money." If Mr. O'Reilly had any interest in the facts, he could easily have ascertained that the Columbia Journalism Review doesn't select recipients of the duPont-Columbia Awards, and that the Schumann grant had been made four years earlier when the magazine faced a serious financial crisis and might well have disappeared. The Columbia Journalism Review's editor and dean when the grant was given were no longer around at the time of the Gold Baton Award. A little research would also have revealed that my work had received eight duPont-Columbia Awards before my association with the Schumann Foundation and before any Schumann grant to the Columbia Journalism Review. The magazine, I am pleased to report, survived the financial crisis and will no doubt survive Mr. O'Reilly's attacks.

As I say, Mr. O'Reilly could have ascertained all of this with just a little homework, but the facts would have cramped his style and the truth seems hardly his intent. He is not even original as a prevaricator. Most of his column is lifted from the work of another David Brock wannabe, Stephen Hayes, who poured out his spleen on me some months ago in that other bastion of Rupert Murdoch's journalistic ethics, The Weekly Standard. Although I refuted the lies and errors in that tirade, Mr. O'Reilly recycles Mr. Hayes' lies but not my refutation. And what's more, Mr. O'Reilly ignores what's on the record. The dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Tom Goldstein, and the publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, David Laventhol, wrote The Weekly Standard to debunk "Stephen Hayes' ludicrous attempt to link the Columbia Journalism Review's praise of Bill Moyers to a grant from the Schumann Foundation." Employing his usual journalistic standards, Mr. O'Reilly never mentioned the letter.

What to make of this?

I report. You decide.

Bill Moyers