When Bill O'Reilly stepped up to receive his Media Courage Award from Family Research Council Action on Friday night, he had no intention of facing the media. In fact, as I reported, he shut us out.
Perhaps the host of FOX NewsChannel's "The O'Reilly Factor" didn't what to be seen accepting that award from FRCA's Tony Perkins, given the latter's sketchy background on matters of race. (Perkins spoke before the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens in 2001, and I saw him deliver a racially charged speech to the 2007 Reclaiming America for Christ conference in Coral Gables, Fla.)
It's more likely, however, that he wanted to deprive his arch-rival, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, of a video clip that would have been great fodder for Olbermann's ongoing war on all things O'Reilly.
Despair not, reader. Thanks to the generosity of my friend and colleague Angelia Wilson (who, as an academic and not a member of the media, had purchased a conference registration), we can glean the gist of O'Reilly's remarks from her copious notes.
Leaders of FRC Action, according to the organization's press release, chose to honor O'Reilly "for being a voice of virtue in a culture of death." O'Reilly's virtue, it seems, was his relentless hammering of Dr. George Tiller, who, until his murder by an anti-abortion extremist in June, was one of the few physicians in the country performing late-term abortions.
O'Reilly told the audience that when he checked out investigations of Tiller, to whom he repeatedly referred on the air as "Tiller the baby-killer," the TV host found much worthy of reporting. [UPDATE: Angelia Wilson tells me that O'Reilly contended that he never called Tiller a baby-killer, but simply reported that others had. The non-partisan group Politifact begs to differ.] O'Reilly was apparently referring to the targeting of Tiller's clinic by Phill Kline, former attorney general of Kansas and anti-abortion activists. As I wrote for The Public Eye earlier this year:
Kline made big news when, as Kansas attorney general, he subpoenaed the medical records of hundreds of Kansas women who obtained medical services in a Planned Parenthood clinic, as well as a private clinic directed by Dr. George Tiller, where Kline asserted that illegal late-term abortions were being performed. Kline’s case against Tiller was dismissed in 2006, a month after voters turned Kline out of office.
Tiller, O'Reilly told his audience, "was hiding behind privacy law."
At that point in the speech, blogger Mike Stark, semi-famous for his dogging of O'Reilly, began shouting. My friend couldn't quite make out all of Stark's words, but she did catch the phrase "while his first wife was pregnant." Whether or not Stark was referring directly to O'Reilly remains unclear.
I was standing on the other side of the ballroom doors with a dozen or so glum journalists, when suddenly the doors burst open and two burly men in uniforms dragged Stark, still shouting, through the exit doors and into a stairwell. That was the last I saw of him.
"Obviously," O'Reilly told the audience, "that must be an MSNBC host."
O'Reilly continued to defend his coverage of Dr. Tiller, calling the late doctor's clinic "a racket."
However, after Tiller was murdered "by this zealot," O'Reilly said, "I was the first one to say this shouldn't happen to any American."
But that didn't stop the media, who "went after me," O'Reilly complained. "They just want to attack you personally."
In fact, O'Reilly said, for a journalist to defend him would endanger that journalist's career. "If they went into a newsroom and said, 'O'Reilly got it right,' they would freeze you out," the told the audience.
He turned his focus to the injustice faced by aborted fetuses, comparing their fate to that faced by the captives held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, saying that Guantanamo was a "nice island; you can walk around." Making the leap that all held at Guantanamo are terrorists -- never mind his conceit that the lives of fetuses (which he called "babies") parallel the lives of grown men -- O'Reilly said, "Do babies have to blow something up before they get human rights?"
"Some guy can drill a hole in their heads for no reason whatsoever," he said. "They have no rights."
O'Reilly focused the remainder of his remarks on the presidency of Barack Obama, saying that while he believes that Obama is doing the right thing on terrorism, he "sounds wishy-washy."
He was less forgiving on matters of domestic policy. "When Obama and his people came in, they thought, 'We can take the country fast to the left.'"
In the media, O'Reilly said, "80 percent love him. They anointed him. He can do no wrong."
During the campaign, O'Reilly said, Obama sounded great, "sounded like a leader." But now, he continued, "he's shaky."
One of his gravest concerns about Obama, the FOX News host said, was the people with whom he surrounds himself, including Jimmy Carter and Nancy Pelosi -- neither of whom are known to be particularly close to Obama.
O'Reilly was proud to take credit for the right's vilification of ACORN, and happy to ally himself with a colleague who had accused the president of having a "deep-seated hatred for white people."
"This ACORN thing," he said, "this was entirely driven by Glenn Beck and I."
Obama, he asserted, has an "association problem," an "image problem."
"Those people who disapprove of him really disapprove him, " O'Reilly said, and the crowd erupted in applause.
Characterizing himself as a political "independent," O'Reilly said he would be "happy to interview" Obama. "But I'm not gonna take any guff from him," O'Reilly brayed. "I'm not afraid of him."
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.