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5 February 1999

Our current howler (part II): Give that man a decaf!

Synopsis: Overwrought Bill O’Reilly was howlingly wrong about testimony by Vernon Jordan.

Commentary by Bill O’Reilly
The O’Reilly Factor, Fox, 2/3/99

Lewinsky Expresses Certainty Currie Called Her to Pick Up Gifts
Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post, 2/5/99

It was a miserable night, this past Wednesday night, for the folks at the Fox News Network. Fred, Brit and Mara were howlingly wrong about Sidney Blumenthal on Special Report (see today’s DAILY HOWLER, part I). And the very next hour, on The O’Reilly Factor, the host was badly in need of some decaf. Bill O’Reilly delivered a blistering screed, baldly misstating Vernon Jordan’s past testimony. Another meltdown would come later, on Hannity and Colmes (see below). The network could do only wrong.

With Jeff Birnbaum cast as befuddled guest, O’Reilly shot fast from the gate:

O’REILLY: Now for the top story. Vernon Jordan’s testimony. It is the subject of vicious spin. The pro-Clinton media says Mr. Jordan said little of importance. The anti-Clinton media says he has changed his story on two key issues.

For the record, at no point in the segment did O’Reilly name any such report from any “anti-Clinton media.” He did eventually suggest his information was coming from Carl Cameron of Fox--a network which goes to a great deal of trouble to assert that it presents no such spin.

But the two-fisted talker was pulling no punches. The problem with Jordan’s testimony:

O’REILLY: First he said that Betty Currie asked him to get Monica Lewinsky a job. Now he admits Mr. Clinton was behind that.

O’Reilly quoted USA Today, in its Wednesday edition:

O’REILLY: The importance of this is Jordan’s grand jury testimony, Now, I want to throw up on the screen, Jeff, what USA Today said in the issue just out. Jordan “repeated his grand jury testimony that Clinton wanted him to help Lewinsky find a job.” Now, in Mr. Vernon Jordan’s testimony it was Betty Currie who asked him to find a job, in the grand jury. Why did USA Today mislead its readers?

Birnbaum politely suggested that the paper had “used a little bit too much of a shorthand.” But he also opined that, in the original testimony, Jordan had said it was clear that Currie was “asking at the behest of the president.” The bare-knuckled host wasn’t buyin’:

O’REILLY: That’s not true. That is not true. The first time he testified he didn’t mention President Clinton at all and he said it was flat-out Betty Currie who asked him to find a job. The second time he testified in March, which was the testimony we just used, he again said Betty Currie. [Our emphasis]

Again for the record: it was completely unclear what O’Reilly meant in referring to “the testimony we just used.” Nowhere, in the course of the segment, did he ever cite specific statements by Jordan.

But for all the vagueness in his exposition, O’Reilly was sure what was happenin’:

O’REIILY: Now. This is perjury. This is nonsense. The press knows it’s nonsense. USA Today knows it’s nonsense, prints it anyway. I’m steamed. You angry?

We’re not kidding, that’s what the man said. Birnbaum seemed bewildered too:

BIRNBAUM: Ahh, I, [clears throat], I’m not as angry as you are--

O’REILLY: And why is that, Jeff?...You know as well as I do what’s going on here, Jeff.

It was easy to see where O’Reilly stood; he repeatedly accused Jordan of perjury. (“I don’t believe a word the man says and I think he should be charged.”) One problem: the brawling host was hopelessly wrong on the facts. O’Reilly’s premise had been stated early on; Jordan “didn’t mention President Clinton at all” when he testified to the grand jury in March. The statement is totally false.

Jordan’s first testimony to the grand jury had occurred on March 3, 1998. In his lengthy appearance, he stated that he first heard of Monica Lewinsky when Betty Currie called and asked him to help find her a job. But in detailed testimony, he told the grand jury that he discussed the matter with Clinton sometime after December 11, and at frequent intervals in the weeks that followed that first discussion:

JORDAN: I am certain after the 11th I had a conversation with the president and as a part of that conversation I said to him that Betty Currie had called me about Monica Lewinsky. And the conversation was that he knew about her situation, which was that she was pushed out of the White House, that she wanted to go to New York, and he thanked me for helping her.

Let’s recall the Wednesday night colloquy:

BIRNBAUM: I think that Vernon Jordan, even in his grand jury testimony, said it was obvious to him that Betty Currie was asking at the behest of the president...

O’REILLY: That’s not true. That is not true. The first time he testified he didn’t mention President Clinton at all and he said it was flat-out Betty Currie who asked him to find a job... [Our emphasis]

Anyone who wants to can go through the record and see Jordan testify, page after page, about his various interactions with President Clinton concerning the Lewinsky job search. He was asked in great detail about these matters, on March 3 and again in his follow-up appearance March 5. The het-up host was completely wrong in his characterization of what Jordan had said. That didn’t stop him from repeatedly calling for Jordan’s indictment; accusing a newspaper of lying to its readers; and even suggesting that Birnbaum himself was inexplicably fudging the facts.

We’re steamed about this. You angry?

Coming next (Smile-a-while): On Hannity and Colmes (also Wednesday night), Sean Hannity discussed Richard Morris.

Et tu, Ruthie? We don’t know who’s shoveling the disinfo this week, but they even got the Post’s Ruth Marcus. Here she is, in this morning’s paper, repeating the “anti-Clinton” spin:

MARCUS: In his testimony [this week], Jordan was more definitive than previously in stating that his extensive efforts to get Lewinsky a job were motivated by his belief that the job search was instigated by Clinton. “There is no question but that through Betty Currie I was acting on behalf of the president to get Ms. Lewinsky a job.” During his initial grand jury appearance last March, Jordan said he had no clue that Clinton even knew the former intern. [Our emphasis]

The final statement is groaningly false. From previous writing, we know Ruth Marcus has examined the record. How did this howler get into print?