The Wars Most Unusual Casualty

Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly and the editorial crew over at The Orange County Registeroften delight their conservative audiences with savage attacks on Democrats while rationalizing or ignoring Republican Party shenanigans. Take, for example, California's recent power crisis. O'Reilly and the Register angrily blamed Democrats and environmentalists for the state's pathetic electric-regulatory system. Never mind the system was designed by Republican power-company lobbyists in league with Republican manufacturing executives and approved in 1996 when Pete Wilson, a Republican, was governor; when Curt Pringle, a Republican, was speaker of the Assembly; and when Republicans controlled the California Public Utilities Commission.

It wasn't just bias for the profit-loaded utility monopolies that bonded O'Reilly and the Register. Together, they've hated a lengthy list that includes civil-rights advocates, illegal Mexican immigrants, women's rights, pollution laws, academia, unions, homosexuality, affirmative action and, of course, Bill Clinton. Like good profit-hungry conservatives, they even formed an unofficial marketing relationship. The Register published O'Reilly's columns; O'Reilly mentioned the paper during his broadcasts and invited its reporters to promote their stories on the air. The newspaper's executives so adored the commentator that they named a regular Sunday column in his honor: “UnSpin.”

But the romance is over and under bitter—actually, hilarious—circumstances. During a March 19 broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor, the feisty Fox talk-show host appeared wounded. “The Orange County Register dropped my column because I was in favor of the war,” said O'Reilly. “I thought that was a good example of a paper that, you know, really fears freedom of speech.”

Those who don't read the Register might be shocked to learn that the paper's editorial writers—usually lockstep defenders of anything Republican—have bravely opposed the war in Iraq. Steven Greenhut, for example, has described the U.S. invasion as “nuts,” bashed President George W. Bush for “treating the war in such a simplistic way,” and fired back at fellow right-wingers—O'Reilly included—who say it's un-American to speak against the war.

“Criticism of the war, while bombs are flying and coalition troops are under fire, makes me a 'bad' American, according to a certain blow-hard commentator whose idea of tough journalism is badgering guests with comments such as, 'Come on, Mr. So and So, you really don't believe blah, blah, blah,'” Greenhut wrote in a March 30 column.

The Fox commentator's Orange County fans were not pleased.

“As you might expect, the O'Reilly people are irrational,” Greenhut told the Weekly. “Their phone calls and e-mail tirades accuse me of being un-American and [tell me] to shut up.”

O'Reilly may have been more discreet in attacking Greenhut. In his April 5 column, he blasted “ideologues masquerading as news people.”

But the funniest part of the whole affair is the questions O'Reilly raised inadvertently. If the Register was really against publishing pro-war opinions, why has it repeatedly done so? Can a man who has a national television show, a national radio show, a national syndicated column, a best-selling book, a newsletter and a website honestly charge that his First Amendment rights have been shortchanged?

While O'Reilly—who skipped military service during the Vietnam War; like Bill Clinton, he was attending school in the U.K.—ridiculously poses as a victim of Register discrimination, we're left with Cathy Taylor, editorial director at the paper, to tell us what really happened. In a March 30 column, Taylor explained that she initially pursued O'Reilly as a columnist in October 2001 because of “his porcupine-offense style.” But she dumped him last year—eight months before the war started—simply because his columns sucked.

“We published a number of his columns throughout the fall and into the spring,” said Taylor. “Then we started to notice something. The columns were more and more about Bill O'Reilly and Bill O'Reilly's television show and what happened to Bill O'Reilly on Bill O'Reilly's television show.”

Orange County Republican mouthpiece Hugh Hewitt is upset with the Los Angeles Times again. In the online Daily Standardof March 31, Hewitt claimed the Times had been “anti-Bush” because on March 30 it published such articles as “Suicide Blast Kills Four GIs at Checkpoint,” “War Takes Some Nasty Turns on City Streets” and “The 101st Feels a Rush of Anxiety, Relief After First Taste of Combat.” All of the stories Hewitt cites are excellent by any reasonable journalistic measure, but the former aide to Richard Nixon (post-White House) sees a conspiracy against George W. Bush. He complains the Times isn't “a paper endorsing victory” in Iraq. “If actual control of the paper were handed over to [House minority leader, Democrat] Nancy Pelosi, I doubt she could have come up with a more anti-Bush, pro-war-critic set of headlines,” Hewitt wrote. “I am unsure what to brand this practice, but whatever it is, it sure isn't journalism.”

The Irvine attorney who has his own low-watt daily radio show cites the vociferously pro-Bush, pro-war New York Daily News as his own standard for journalistic integrity and independence.


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