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Caveat lector

10 August 2000

Our current howler (part II): Sometimes they distort and we're forced to chide...

Synopsis: According to Fox, they report, we decide. Last night, that process got sidetracked.

Commentary by Pat D'Avico, Loretta Sagers, Bill O'Reilly
The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News Channel, 8/9/00

Commentary by Bill O'Reilly, Nancy Skinner
The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News Channel, 8/8/00

Commentary by Charles LaBella, Alan Colmes
Hannity & Colmes, Fox News Channel, 6/27/00

Commentary by Charles LaBella, Robert Litt
This Week, ABC, 6/11/00

Pat D'Avico of St. Petersburg, Florida wasn't happy with Nancy Skinner's performance Tuesday night. He wrote O'Reilly, praising Bill for keeping Skinner right in her place. O'Reilly read D'Avico's epistle in his program's letters segment last night:

D'AVICO: Bill, how could you sit still and listen to the liberal talk show host from Chicago spin?

And Loretta Sagers of Baton Rouge, Louisiana was also troubled by the hopeless dissembler:

SAGERS: Right on, O'Reilly. You did not let Ms. Skinner spin untruths!

Responding to D'Avico, O'Reilly played gracious host. "So what am I supposed to do, Mr. D'Avico? Jump out of my chair and chase her down the block? She was roundly challenged."

There's only one problem with what the two viewers wrote—Nancy Skinner had been right on the mark in her (friendly) dispute with O'Reilly (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/9/00). Charles LaBella, former head of the Justice fund-raising probe, had made several TV appearances in June. LaBella had said that he knew of no evidence that Gore had been aware of Maria Hsiah's misconduct at the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple. "The fact is, when I was [at the Justice Department], there was no evidence that I was aware of that Vice President Gore was aware of any of the conduit contributions that went on at the temple," LaBella said, referring to Hsiah's money-laundering on the day after Gore visited the temple. He and Robert Litt both said, on ABC's This Week, that their calls for an independent counsel were a "process issue" (Litt), "about process" (LaBella). On This Week, Litt said: "You have to remember that this is not a question really of whether the vice president committed a crime or whether he ought to be prosecuted. As the memo you put up on the screen a moment ago said, nobody really thought that was the case." One of the people to whom Litt referred was LaBella, who was sitting right there as Litt spoke. LaBella disputed nothing Litt said, and made a similar statement himself. And this is part of LaBella's exchange with Alan Colmes on June 27:

COLMES: ...[T]here's no credible evidence Al Gore knew what happened at the Buddhist temple was a fund-raiser. Money was not solicited at the Buddhist temple, there were no signs around there, that's not what happened when he was there during a five-minute speech that he gave, right?

LABELLA: This is a great cross-examination, I gotta tell you, you guys are terrific. The fact is, when I was there, there was no evidence that I was aware of that Vice President Gore was aware of any of the conduit contributions that went on at the temple.

LaBella disputed no part of Colmes' characterization. That's right, folks. When Skinner appeared with O'Reilly Tuesday night, she accurately described LaBella's statements:

SKINNER: Charles LaBella himself has stated several times that the reason he suggested a probe be undertaken was because more of a process issue, in his words, and that there is no direct evidence that Gore knew anything other than what he was told [by his aides].

Alas! As we saw yesterday, Skinner's accurate comment was interrupted and contradicted by O'Reilly. "[LaBella] never said there was no evidence connecting the vice president," O'Reilly said. And O'Reilly said this when Skinner persisted: "Look, if I'm wrong, I'll apologize tomorrow."

Well, O'Reilly was wrong, and while no apology was needed, his viewers did need information. O'Reilly should have read, on the air, the things Charles LaBella has said. On Wednesday morning, we wrote to O'Reilly, urging him to correct the record. But there was no clarification on his program last night, just two letters from viewers accusing Skinner of spin. We're sorry, but Bill O'Reilly misled his viewers, in a process as old as this campaign itself.

Why did O'Reilly's two upset viewers think that Skinner was trying to deceive them? Among other reasons, they think that because of the disinformation which has been pumped out by cable talk hosts. Does it matter if viewers are told the truth? Only if democracy matters. O'Reilly misled his viewers Tuesday night. He extended the process last night.

We have chronicled the press corps' dissembling and spinning since campaign coverage began in March 1999. Last night, we saw it in action. O'Reilly's channel often proclaims that they report and we decide. But last night, he refused to report basic facts. Sic semper this celebrity press corps.

Visit our incomparable archives: Tim Russert was "selective" in his presentation of LaBella's views. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/27/00.

How far will talk hosts go to spin Hsi Lai? For a quotation by Hardball's grotesque Chris Matthews, see our "Howlings" column at, 7/31/00.


The Daily update (8/10/00)

Cohen breaks the ice: Whatever got into the Post's Richard Cohen? We don't have a clue about that, but we strongly suggest that you read his column in this morning's paper. (You know what to do. Just click here.) Cohen the Late-Comer breaks the ice on press coverage of Despised Gore:

COHEN: [P]oor Al Gore has not been able to make a single exaggeration or the slightest fib without the hall monitors of the press issuing multiple demerits. In fact, even Bush got in on the act. In Philadelphia he poked fun at Gore's purported claim to have invented the Internet.

Trouble is, Gore made no such claim. Instead, he spoke as a legislator who really had been among the first to grasp the importance of the Internet: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." He did. You can look it up.

Similarly, Gore did not say he had discovered the Love Canal toxic waste debacle, nor did he claim that the character in Erich Segal's "Love Story" was based entirely on him. Yet for these and other supposed statements—some, I grant you, sloppily worded—a brace of commentators has called Gore a liar.

We can't help being a bit less than gracious. "You can look it up," Cohen says. And we did. We looked it up in March 1999, when the slander campaign which Cohen describes first began in earnest. "Even Bush got into the act?" Bush calls Gore a liar virtually every day. For some reason, by the crackpot rules of this year's campaign, that doesn't count as a "negative" statement. In fact, Bush often says that Gore "will do and say anything" as part of a plea for greater civility on the campaign trail! It's an oddball trope which has been gently chided by the Post's Terry Neal—and few others.

Whatever. Cohen's column is hopelessly late, but it makes him a pioneer among his timorous peer group. We'll discuss his column's themes on from LA next week.