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The Un-American Factor
February 4, 2003
By Mike McArdle

Bill O’Reilly once made his living on one of those celebrity-worship shows that provide America with much-needed coverage of the cleavage that adorns the red carpet at awards shows. But Bill apparently felt that he had more important things to give to America than reporting on low cut gowns and which celebrities had hit the police blotter.

So O’Reilly enrolled in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government where he got a Masters degree in Public Policy. While in Cambridge he came up with idea for the "O’Reilly Factor," a talk-show show devoted to having Bill spout right-wing views and then crudely shouting down anyone who dares to disagree with him. This stunning innovation prompted Roger Ailes to make O’Reilly a feature on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Network.

So the right-wing-thug-with-a-microphone concept migrated from AM radio to a TV news channel in the person of Mr. O. who regularly uses his show to viciously berate immigrants, academics or politicians who don’t agree with him and even the same celebrities that made him a nice living when he hosted "Inside Edition."

Times of war (even unprovoked, unnecessary war) tend to turn the O’Reillys of the world into the patriotism police. So last week with predictable arrogance O’Reilly turned on Susan Sarandon and others in Hollywood and academia who object to the coming war on Iraq.

Goons like O’Reilly, of course, have to pay lip service to the concept of free speech and the American tradition of allowing dissent before launching a full scale assault on those who have the nerve to exercise those rights. So while he intones that “Dissent is always welcome on 'The Factor'” he then goes on to say that the group “Not in Our Name” is un-American because they mention the death and destruction of September 11 in the context of the similar carnage of Vietnam and Gulf War I and the Panama invasion.

O’Reilly says that this “propaganda is insulting to the families who lost loved ones to the terrorists and damaging to the war on terror itself.” But, of course, that notion is ridiculous. The families of the tragic victims of the September 11 attacks cannot be insulted by mentioning that there have also been tragic victims of American military activities. “Not in Our Name” does not claim that the 9/11 attack was justified or America was somehow responsible. It does question restrictions on civil rights that have occurred in the aftermath and the endless war without clearly defined goals that seems to have become national policy.

O’Reilly went on to say that “The ad states that America has no moral right to remove terrorists, because we ourselves our terrorists. This is dishonest, disgusting and un-American, period.”

But “Not in Our Name” never says this. That is totally O’Reilly’s interpretation and a completely false one at that . The ad points out, correctly, that no connection between Iraq and 9/11 or Al Qaeda has ever been established so that an attack on Iraq cannot be considered an attempt to “remove terrorists”.

O’Reilly doesn’t seem to understand that it isn’t un-American or anti-American to want your country to do the right thing. It isn’t un-American to recognize that when you go to war for spheres of influence or oil resources or just because you want to redraw the map of the Middle East that there is a staggering human price to be paid. And it isn’t the Saddam Husseins and George W. Bushes who start those wars that wind up paying it. It’s foot soldiers and the ordinary citizens and the children and the elderly who are devastated by the power of modern weaponry who suffer for the machinations of morally bankrupt world leaders.

It isn’t un-American to recognize that America’s wars have not always been fought for the best of reasons and that some were simply fought for conquest and colonialism.

It isn’t un-American to be skeptical of a leader whose reason for going to war seems to change every week and has yet to provide any evidence of a threat that doesn’t involve hypothetical speculation.

On the other hand it’s unspeakably un-American to advocate (as Bill O’Reilly did a few days after 9/11) that America should use its military power to cut off food and water access to countries that have leadership that we disapprove of. In the O’Reilly vision of the world the impoverished citizens of such countries would then be forced to overthrow their leadership or die of starvation. But the murder of civilians for a political goal is exactly what happened on 9/11, wasn’t it ? And what makes America a great country is that we strive through our principles and our institutions to be better than that. We don’t always succeed but if America is to remain great we have to rise above the level of unprovoked wars and thuggish attempts to enforce a narrow version of patriotism by people like O’Reilly.

Susan Sarandon apparently understands that but then she’s a lot better American than Bill O’Reilly is.

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