STEPHEN SMITH: Bilious Bill: Fox's O'Reilly Needs to Get His Facts Straight
The last time I wrote a column about Fox News, I got a bunch of very serious e-mails from very serious readers who wanted to know if I was seriously serious about liking the "fair and balanced" cable news network.
Let me say it again: I love Fox News! Seriously, I do! With the exception of Comedy Central with its "Daily Show" and "Colbert Report," Fox is the most entertaining of the TV news outlets.
Luckily, I find hypocrisy amusing, and when it comes to saying one thing and doing the exact opposite, Fox News is the all-time champ. Fair and balanced, yeah, right. Even better, they're doing their version of the news for straight, which is flat-out hilarious.
I think of Fox News as a troublesome molar that aches just enough to let you know it's always there. You sure don't want your dentist to pull the darn thing out; you'd have nothing to do with your spare time.
Last week, Fox News outdid itself. I was grooving on Bill O'Reilly -- you know, the-spin-stops-here-don't-be-a-popinjay-finger-in-your-face O'Reilly -- when he lit into a Maryland Circuit Court judge.
O'Reilly was on one of his tirades about judges who don't give child molesters stiff enough jail sentences. When he mentioned Judge Joseph Manch, I sat bolt upright and snorted. Joe Manch and I went to high school together, and although I've talked with him only a couple of times in the years since graduation, I consider Joe a friend of long standing.
Before you whip out your poison pen, read the following paragraph: Of all the crimes that sleaze-ball criminals commit, child molestation is the absolute worst. They deserve everything the courts can throw at them and probably more. I agree with O'Reilly on that. But I know Joe Manch, and unless he's undergone a personality and/or brain transplant, he's an intelligent, fair-minded man.
The day after O'Reilly's harangue, "The Capital," my hometown newspaper, came out with the entire story surrounding the trial of the child molester and Manch's light sentence of four months in prison and eight months on house arrest.
The county prosecutor -- who, by the way, was never contacted by Fox News -- is quoted as saying that O'Reilly got the facts wrong. The case didn't qualify for a mandatory minimum sentence.
The crime involved fondling and was not a violent act, so the perp was not subject to the minimum sentence prescribed by Maryland lawmakers.
Moreover, it was reported that the Fox News reporter, who stuck his foot in the judge's front door and demanded a statement, wouldn't accept the explanation that judges are ethically forbidden to comment on cases that might come before them again. Since the accused would eventually be on probation, there exists the possibility that Manch might have to rule on the case a second time.
The judge did say that the offender's family was being supervised by the Department of Social Services and that the child molester was getting professional help and could be rehabilitated.
O'Reilly mentioned none of this. On the Web site for "The Factor," he's quoted as saying, "You have a guy who molests his daughter for seven years, then this despicable judge gives him four months in jail. This could not happen under Jessica's Law. This guy would be away for 25 years."
Despicable? Come on, now.
So, yeah, O'Reilly omitted some of the facts. But I imagine that's standard operating procedure. "The Factor" focuses on a particular judge, and then O'Reilly launches into a diatribe demanding the judge be removed from the bench. I love it when he pretends to be the fourth branch of government.
Since the war in Iraq went south, O'Reilly, a vocal Bush supporter who nightly characterized opponents of the war as being disloyal, has had to shift his focus to judges and child molesters.
It is, after all, a certainty that the majority of Americans have no problem being against child molestation.
Recently, journalism professor Nicholas Lemann wrote in The New Yorker that "The Factor" was not so much a conservative show as it is "O'Reilly's special victims unit -- devoted particularly to sex offenders."
OK, I agree, child sex offenders should be put away. But if O'Reilly is going to lambaste judges, he should give his audience the entire story and let go of the self-serving spin.
Stephen Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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