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O'Reilly Ambushes His Latest Critic

Do Fox hosts have special training to behave this way?

SOURCE: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
25 March 2009
This was not the first time O'Reilly's show has used such tactics--and not the first time he's violated his own professed standards.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly (O'Reilly Factor, 3/23/08) recently aired the results of his latest ambush-style interview, which targeted Think Progress blog editor Amanda Terkel. Terkel had dared to point out that O'Reilly, who was invited to speak at a fundraiser for a foundation for rape survivors, had previously suggested that a "moronic" rape/murder victim had invited assault by her drinking and the way she was dressed.

O'Reilly had commented (Radio Factor, 8/2/06) on the death of an 18-year-old New Jersey woman:

These two girls come in from the suburbs and they get bombed, and their car is towed because they're moronic girls and, you know, they don't have a car. So they're standing there in the middle of the night with no car. And then they separate because they're drunk. They separate, which you never do. All right.

Now Moore, Jennifer Moore, 18, on her way to college. She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning. She's walking by herself on the West Side Highway, and she gets picked up by a thug. All right. Now she's out of her mind, drunk. And the thug takes her over to New Jersey in the cab and kills her and rapes her and does all these terrible things to her.

Terkel quoted from these remarks (Think Progress, 3/1/09) in the context of O'Reilly speaking at a fundraiser for the Alexa Foundation, which advocates for rape survivors, merely noting that these were "controversial comments."

The next day (3/2/09), MSNBC's Keith Olbermann picked up the story, citing O'Reilly in his "worst person in the world" segment for "expos[ing] this group to his bitter hypocrisy." (Olbermann also made reference to O'Reilly's suggestion that an 11-year-old boy who had been kidnapped and then repeatedly molested over a four-year period had not escaped his captor because the child was having "a lot more fun than what he had under his old parents"--FAIR Blog, 3/24/09.) Olbermann repeatedly referred to the controversy over the next several days.

After O'Reilly spoke at the fundraiser on March 19--more than two weeks after Terkel's blog post--he sent his producer Jesse Watters to confront Terkel in one of the ambush-style interviews that he specializes in (Raw Story, 3/23/09). Watters apparently stalked Terkel for two hours as she headed out of town on a short vacation, accosting her upon her arrival and accusing her of attacking the Alexa Foundation and bringing "a lot of pain and suffering to this group."

"O'Reilly never asked me for a statement nor invited me on his show before sending Watters to harass me," Terkel recounted (3/23/09)--despite O'Reilly's claim (O'Reilly Factor, 8/24/07) that before his show ambushes people, "We always ask them on the program first, or to issue a clear statement explaining their actions." O'Reilly also explained that the ambushes are "a vital tool in holding public servants accountable for their actions, and we do not go after people lightly."

In the March 23 segment, O'Reilly called Terkel a "villain," accused her of being part of a conspiracy masterminded by "elements at NBC News" and red-baited her as an employee of a "far-left" organization. (The Center for American Progress, which publishes the Think Progress blog, was founded by John Podesta, White House chief of staff during President Bill Clinton's second term.)

In the portion of Watters' confrontation with Terkel that O'Reilly aired, the producer badgered Terkel to explain "the Mel Gibson component to Bill's analysis." In the segment concerning Moore, O'Reilly had also gone after Gibson, blaming the actor's alcohol consumption for his anti-Semitic tirade, and explaining that Moore's rape and murder were similarly caused by her drinking. It's hard to fathom how this would exonerate O'Reilly.

This was not the first time O'Reilly's show has used such tactics--and not the first time he's violated his own professed standards. Earlier this year, O'Reilly's team ambushed Columbia Journalism Review executive editor Mike Hoyt at his local New Jersey bus stop at 7 a.m. after CJR had run a piece by contributing editor Michael Massing about right-wing media attacks on Barack Obama. According to Hoyt (, 2/3/09), the Fox employee aggressively questioned why he would hire a writer from the "radical far-left" magazine the Nation to attack O'Reilly, even following Hoyt onto his bus to pursue that line of questioning.

And as Jon Stewart pointed out on Comedy Central's Daily Show (2/9/09), O'Reilly had previously ambushed other journalists who had displeased him, like the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg (, 12/5/08) and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cynthia Tucker (, 9/6/08).

Is this what passes as ethical journalism at Fox News?

Action: Please ask Fox News executive vice president John Moody if the O'Reilly show's tactics meet Fox's ethical standards.

Fox News Channel
Executive Vice President, News Editorial
John Moody

Please share your letters to Moody by posting them in the comments section of the FAIR Blog:

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This story was published on March 26, 2009.