Analysis of Bill O’Reilly and The View controversy

I’m sure you’ve all seen the clip of Bill O’Reilly’s appearance on “The View” that sparked the walkout by Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar. O’Reilly’s controversial statement was that Muslims killing America on 9/11, so it is insensitive for a mosque to be built near the World Trade Center Site. If you haven’t, you can watch a  clip on his website or practically anywhere on the web–instant ratings and buzz for “The View”. Here is also the View’s response to the heated debate afterwards.

One day after his appearance on “The View,” Bill O’Reilly said, among other things, the following on his show in response to the incident:

“Now, this is a classic liberal vs. traditional situation. I believe there is a problem in the Muslim world. If you look at the polls taken over there, most Muslims have a poor opinion of America. Therefore, many of them are inclined to sympathize with people giving Americans a hard time. In some cases, that includes violent terrorists.

Right now, the United States is fighting Muslims in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Pakistan, and we could be fighting Muslims in Iran if they don’t stop causing trouble in that country.

In addition, the whole world fears Muslim terrorists will murder people in their respective countries. The entire world is concerned about that.

So while Ms. Goldberg and Ms. Behar may be offended that I did not use the words “Muslim terrorists” in describing the 9/11 attack, the truth is there is bitter conflict between the Muslim world and the West.

“Why? Why do liberals want to sever the connection between terrorism and Islam?

Part of the reason, I think is, that far-left people have always believed it is partially America’s fault that some Muslims hate us, that we have exploited the world and we are getting what we deserve. That’s the Rev. Wright-Ward Churchill point of view.

There comes a time when the truth must be told and if people don’t like it, that’s the way it goes. Anyone watching this program knows I am not anti-Muslim. But you also know that I deplore the continuing terror acts committed under the banner of Islam.

Again, if moderate Muslims would ally with the USA, the jihad could not exist. But that obviously has not happened.”

In another discussion with Laura Ingraham on his show about “The View” appearance, O’Reilly said:

“But you can’t say – you must say Muslim extremists. I submit to you and everybody watching tonight that after 10 years, we got it. We know the difference between peace-abiding Muslims and people who make war under the banner of Islam. We know that, but wait, here is the question.”

“As I mentioned in the “Talking Points Memo.” Did we say in World War II we were attacked by Japanese extremists or German extremists? Did we do that? No.”

“We said we were attacked by Japanese. We were attacked by Muslims. That’s who attacked us.”

“She sees it — sincerely sees it that if you say Muslims attacked America on 9/11 you are somehow denigrating an entire people. I don’t see it that way.”

This is a very interesting example of how news media still have problems handling political correctness as well as sensitive labeling terms and how vastly different opinions are held, like for example that of Goldberg and Behar versus O’Reilly and Ingraham. This problem comes up numerous times as journalists and reporters seek to find the perfect word whether it’s fundamentalists, Islamists, Islamic terrorists, Muslim terrorists, Muslim extremists etc. And then there is the rush to clarifiy and seem more culturally sensitive and unbiased by adamantly saying that not all Muslims are extremists (although that is usually pathetically followed by some people- but all extremists are Muslim.)

The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics says the duties of journalists are to:

  • Seek Truth and Report It
  • Minimize Harm
  • Act Independently
  • Be Accountable

Now, O’Reilly’s not a journalist, so he is not required to follow this, but it seems from his point of view he is following the code by saying “Muslims attacked us on 9/11.” He believes he is saying a truthful statement,  independent of political correctness and the “liberal” media, and is not “anti-Muslim” and not trying to accuse peaceful Muslims of being terrorists. There’s nothing wrong with that.

So what is there to be legitimately challenged or questioned in his position?

– Are conservatives, not liberals, the only ones concerned with the problems in the Muslim world? Are American Muslims and non-American Muslims not concerned as well?

-What polls is O’Reilly citing? What about those that show that countries that used to have unfavorable views of America now have a more positive one? Do polls really reflect everyone in Muslim countries? How accurate or defining are those polls?

-Is it just America fighting Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Aren’t Muslims in those countries working together with American forces as well to fight terrorism?

– The whole world involves Muslims, so if the whole world is concerned about Muslim terrorists, does it make sense to exclude Muslims from “those who are concerned” and transplant them in the category of “those we need to be concerned about?”

– What exactly is the bitter conflict between the Muslim world and the West? What is the “Muslim world” and the “West”? Every Muslim country is clearly not against the West. The only ones he mentioned are Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There isn’t a single country that doesn’t have Muslims in it, so what world are we talking about?

-If O’Reilly says he is not “anti-Muslim,” then why would he want to be able to use the word “Muslim” when referring to terrorists? Wouldn’t that then mean he is not “anti-terrorist”?

– What  does O’Reilly expect out of “moderate Muslims” in stopping jihad and how does he define “stopping jihad”? If “moderate Muslims” are not the same as “Muslims” but different than “terrorists,” why are they being held responsible? Is there proof that ordinary Muslims are the most qualified and effective in fighting terrorism over government counterterrorist, intelligence and military strategists?

-Is he being completely truthful in saying moderate Muslims are not helping stop terrorism? What about the Muslims fighting in American and other countries’ armies, working in the government, intelligence departments and political offices, writing fatwas against terrorism, stopping the the Times Square bomber, holding peace marches, interfaith activities and more? Why is there no coverage and discussion about these actions in the mainstream media?

-The reason we said during WWII that we were fighting the Japanese and Germans and not the Japanese extremists and German extremists is because those were countries declared official war against us and we to them. A religion is not the same as a country;no country has the right to speak on behalf of the global Muslim community, so any action a designated Muslim country declares will always fail to represent the opinions of the Muslim population. It will only represent that Muslim country alone. Terrorists do not act in the name of their governments. They are acting on their own accord, being vigilantes for what they believe is self-defense in response to oppression of Muslims at the hand of their own designated enemies. Obviously, these terrorists are not defending all Muslims, acting in their name or benefiting them regardless of what they say. You can equate this to how people dispute whether the Tea Party or Obama reflect the wants of the American-they each have their own constituency and will claim they do speak for the true Americans but that cannot be proven, because America is made of individuals.

-The term Japanese referred specifically to the country of Japan and there is no behavior that is the “norm” for Japanese so there is no “extreme” for Japanese. However, there is a behavior that is the “norm” for Muslim, so there is an “extreme” for Muslim, which is why that is specified. This is why the analogy is faulty. If we are to follow what former President Bush said, “We are not at war with Islam,” then we cannot rightfully say that we are fighting Muslims, because all Muslims fall under the realm of Islam.  Obviously, the terrorism we are opposed to is not confined to a country or religion (well in this situation it is.) We are not fighting a Muslim country or the entire Muslim population which pledges allegiance to nearly every country in the world, including Western countries.

There is obviously a growing need of more of what O’Reilly calls “moderate Muslims” to speak publicly and be more active in addressing the concerns that we all have–Muslim and non-Muslim– in stopping the “jihad against the US.”  But what O’Reilly fails to see is that he has crafted and approached the debate through a rigid political lens–conservative versus liberal–and not in broader common sense, real world perspective.

He is effectively shutting down dialogue about the core of this issue by simply writing it off as a partisan one, which you see by O’Reilly inviting a liberal to comment on the incident after Ingraham’s appearance. Why not invite ordinary Muslims in America and around the world, government officials who work in Homeland Security or Defense, and other leaders about the meaning and connotations of linking terrorism to Islam by just calling the terrorists by the faith the profess to? Why not involve the actual people who are affected by the terminology and not just dismiss this as an ideological front?

In conclusion, the real problem with O’Reilly’s statement is not about being offensive, although that can be argued, it’s that no one is realizing it is the very solution to why O’Reilly thinks “moderate Muslims” are not helping to stop the jihad: because they are not being acknowledged in the media as simply being “Muslim.”

It is the very reason why more people don’t know about Muslim involvement in counterterrorism efforts–the framework is misleading. This causes an absence of fair and balanced coverage of Muslim participation in the fight against terrorism, because the spotlight is always being cast on the extreme behavior and not the norm. Instead of Muslims themselves taking hold of the conversation, political commentators, reporters and other figures are judging the standard of behavior and the requirements of sufficient activism which will then allow the Muslims to be defined as “moderate” versus “extreme.”

I also want to put in that when you invite guests on your show, you should hear them out. Everyone deserves a right to voice their opinion and there is no forum for that, then no further analysis will take place. We all need to work on using respect and decorum when covering tough and sensitive matters.

To O’Reilly, these terms may seem like silly political correctness, but words have power. They have connotations, subliminal messaging, intonations and critically shape news consumers, even when you have the best intentions to tell the truth without bias or bigotry. He may not admit it, but many of the people who do agree with O’Reilly are biased and bigoted against Muslims, and he doesn’t seem to be differentiating himself from those opinions in the manner he presents his arguments and prepares interviews.

It’s a lack of diverse outreach that causes these kinds of controversies and vicious cycle of superficial and unuseful back and forth critique of the liberal or conservative bias of the mainstream media and prevents meaningful discussion of news.

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