By Aaron Epple
You’ve undoubtedly heard by now that Bill O’Reilly took some heat for incorrectly stating that NBC has “never mentioned” President Obama’s drone program because NBC was “in bed with the President.” Critics instantly pounced, pointing out that it was NBC who injected new life into the drone debate in the first place, by scooping the memo outlining the White House rationale to kill Americans who become members of terrorist organizations.
Not surprisingly, O’Reilly quickly countered, claiming he was simply pointing out the hypocrisy of the mainstream media, which criticized George W. Bush heavily over the use of waterboarding, yet have largely failed to similarly condemn the unmanned drone program that, unlike waterboarding, actually kills people (as opposed to just pretend-killing them). The critics riposted right back, saying O’Reilly never said anything about opinion in the original segment, that he was factually incorrect when he said NBC had never covered Obama’s drone program, and that he should own up to the mistake.
On the surface, it looks like a pretty trivial catfight, yet it provides a good lesson on the importance of context. Reading the transcripts of the back-and-forth, it appears that O’Reilly screwed up. Yet anyone watching the actual, original segment can see that O’Reilly’s point clearly has to do with opinion trends, even if he never mentioned the word or failed to make a clear distinction between analysis and objective reporting.
However, because of the obsession with semantics, nobody ever got around to O’Reilly’s larger point, as in there’s a significant hypocrisy in O’Reilly’s charge of hypocrisy. O’Reilly never mentions that there’s a flip side to the waterboarding vs. drones coin. If liberals are guilty of playing partisan games with extrajudicial justice, conservatives are equally so, just from the reverse angle.
During most of the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, the message from the right was that anyone who opposed the torture of terrorists was a naive pansy-ass. Anyone who pointed out that Middle Easterners were people entitled to basic human rights was treated as a mild, perhaps treasonous, irritation.
Flash forward to Obama’s first term, when he used more drone attacks to kill al-Quada operatives in his first eight months than George W. Bush did in his entire two terms. Yet over the ensuing four years, whenever the topic turned to Obama’s foreign policy record, what have we heard from the right? Endless whining about bowing to foreign leaders (because basic courtesy is lost on some people), the chaos in Egypt (even though we had nothing to do with the revolution there), the Libyan civil war (where Obama did what Bush attempted to do in Iraq in only five months and without putting troops on the ground), and Benghazi (they weren’t this angry about 9/11).
And the killing of Osama bin Laden? The conservative response was something that would make a great classroom exercise: How do you praise a specific event without once mentioning the name of the person who made it happen? When names were mentioned, full credit was conferred onto George W. “I Don’t Think About Bin Laden Much” Bush, who by that time had been out of office for two years.
Despite his employer and his judicious use of the phrase, “loony left,” Bill O’Reilly has always claimed to be a political independent. However, it has only been relatively recently that he’s shown any evidence of that. If he’s really serious about being a straight shooter devoted to keeping everyone honest, then he needs to ask the right why bombing brown people stopped being cool in 2008.