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Friday, June 05, 2009

Dancing on the Line Between Free Speech and Crime

Bill O'Reilly admires himself in a mirror
I wasn't going to comment on Bill O'Reilly's reaction to the murder of Dr. George Tiller. Keith Olbermann is right to call him "Bill-O the Clown." O'Reilly's just a self-important blowhard idiot with a tremendous ego, a braying ass who freaks out over made-up non-issues like his childish "War on Christmas," where saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" is just the worst possible insult to the Christian faith. He's impossible to take seriously. Sure, he's got a top-rated cable news talk show, but that's a case of being big fish in a very small pond. In terms of market share, O'Reilly probably gets his ass kicked nightly by reruns of Everyone Loves Raymond on TBS. Why anyone takes him seriously is beyond me.

But someone does, obviously. Otherwise he wouldn't have that top-rated cable news talk show. Apparently, there's no shortage of idiots out there who believe that an invented "War on Christmas" is the worst thing ever, rather than the ridiculous annual ratings-grab it obviously is.

So, as I said, I wasn't going to comment on Bill O'Reilly and George Tiller. There's no shortage of blogs out there doing the same thing and no reason to jump on that bandwagon. For the most part, I save O'Reilly stories for the roundups, because the only thing he deserves is ridicule.

But then I came across a story at the Southern Poverty Law Center's blog, Hatewatch. It turns out there's a line that broadcasters can't cross.

On Wednesday, veteran neo-Nazi threatmeister Hal Turner, who Hatewatch reported in 2008 may have been on the FBI payroll, was taken into custody by police in his hometown of North Bergen, N.J. According to Turner’s blog, the police tricked him into coming to the station by telling him about a possible death threat against him. Turner is scheduled to appear in court today to face extradition to Connecticut, where police reportedly intend to charge him with inciting injury to persons or property.

The charges stem from a posting on Turner's blog that asked his readers to "take up arms" against two Connecticut state officials, Sen. Andrew McDonald and Rep. Michael Lawlor. The Connecticut State Capitol Police Chief, Michael Fallon, said Turner's comments went "above and beyond the threshold of free speech." "He is inciting others through his website to commit acts of violence and has created fear and alarm," said Fallon.

Turner's racist rants and violent threats are legendary. Railing against President Bush in 2007, he told his audience that, "a well-placed bullet can solve a lot of problems." He has written that "we need to start SHOOTING AND KILLING Mexicans as they cross the border" and argued that killing certain federal judges "may be illegal, but it wouldn’t be wrong."

There is a line you cannot cross, even in a nation that values free speech. Forget the "yelling 'fire' in a theater" cliche, you can't run up to an angry mob and say, "hey kids! Let's put on a riot!" -- that's a crime with the self-explanatory name "incitement to riot." Luckily for O'Reilly, that line you cannot cross is so bright and so clear that even a useless blowhard moron like him can see it easily. And Bill O'Reilly doesn't just tip-toe up to that line, he dances on it.

He's called Tiller "Tiller the Killer," compared him to Nazi death camp criminal Dr. Joseph Mengela, and once said, "[I]f I could get my hands on Tiller -- well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech."

"O'Reilly is being incredibly disingenuous when he claims that he bears no responsibility for others' actions in the killing of Dr. George Tiller on Sunday," wrote Mary Alice Carr, vice president of communications for NARAL Pro-Choice New York, in the Washington Post. "When you tell an audience of millions over and over again that someone is an executioner, you cannot feign surprise when someone executes that person." Carr, a frequent O'Reilly guest, says she'll no longer appear on his show.

And O'Reilly didn't just feign surprise, he pretended (or maybe believed) he was being attacked unfairly by people pointing out his hate speech. "Now it is clear that the far left is exploiting the death of the doctor," Bill-O said in response to Tiller's murder. "Those vicious individuals want to stifle any criticism of people like Tiller. That and hating FOX News is the real agenda here."

That's right, a man was shot dead in church -- in front of his family -- but Bill O'Reilly and FOX News are the real victims here. Because people are being mean to them. Bill then moved on to what he considers the "real" news -- a story about comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and rapper Eminem. Bill's US Magazine-level intellect has never been so apparent.

You're not Hal Turner, Bill. You're really not. Apparently, there's someone out there who's even more stupid and irresponsible than you are and who can't see that line you do your highwire act on. But you aren't Edward R. Murrow, either -- as much as you obviously believe you are. You're just a melon-headed fool who's been lucky enough to find an audience of idiots more simpleminded than even you.


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