O’Reilly O’Reilly’ed

No, no one on Bill O’Reilly’s site called for burning down the Capital.

One of the many disgusting things about Bill O’Reilly &#8212 the list is long &#8212 is his habit of what Orwell called “abusive misrepresentation”: attacking an opponent by deliberately misinterpreting his words to make it seem that he advocates something terrible.

For example, if someone on a liberal website were to suggest that the Bush Administration was capable of burning down the Capitol to create a political crisis, O’Reilly would have a headline “Lefty advocates burning down the Capitol” and from then on refer to that website as a “terrorist-supporting hate site.” That would be wrong.

Of course, it’s a completely different matter when O’Reilly is the victim rather than the perpetrator of abusive misrepresentation. Then it’s just good, clean fun. Right?

Here’s how it went down. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a former Nation of Islam member and the first Muslim in Congress, opened his big, flapping yap and stuck his foot in it up to the hip. For a warm-up, he called the Administration’s stonewalling of Congressional investigations “the very definition of totalitarianism, authoritarianism and dictatorship,” as if those were three identical concepts. Then he said of the 9/11 attacks:

“It’s almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that,” Mr Ellison said. “After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it, and it put the leader [Hitler] of that country in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted.”

To applause from his audience of 300 members of Atheists for Human Rights, Mr Ellison said he would not accuse the Bush administration of planning 9/11 because “you know, that’s how they put you in the nut-ball box – dismiss you.”

So he only refrains from making a lunatic accusation because he’s afraid of being called a lunatic? I suppose that makes sense.

Naturally, the right was all over Ellison like a cheap suit. One of the commenters on BillOreilly.com posted the following note, obviously in the spirit of snark:

Maybe it’s time to burn down the capitol building like Hitler did with the Reichstag building? Anyone who compares Bush to Hitler has no idea what real Nazis were like in the ’30s. Ellison is an idiot!

Get it? Since Bush doesn’t in fact plan to burn down the Capitol, the comparison with Hitler is far-fetched. Not really hard to decode, was it?

But John Aravosis apparently has problems either with reading comprehension or with veracity. Spotting a stick with which to beat O’Reilly, AmericaBlog picked up the item, and reposted it with this headline:

BillOReilly.com suggests terrorist attack against US Capitol building

Aravosis continues:

And how do jetBlue and Home Depot, big supporters of O’Reilly, feel about launching a terrorist attack against the US Capitol that would assassinate all 535 members of the US Congress?

Atrios, doing his best Glenn Reynolds imitation, linked to AmericaBlog, with this item:

BillOreilly.com Suggests Burning Down Capitol

Truly a terrorist supporting hate site.

See how it’s done?

It’s hard to sympathize with O’Reilly, who’s just getting a taste of his own medicine. But, for the same reason I regard torture by Americans as more worth getting upset about than torture by our enemies in Iraq, I find lying by my political allies more disturbing than lying by my political adversaries. Can’t we leave the Orwellian tactics to the wingnuts?

Footnote Contrary to the assertions of both the O’Reilly poster and the Telegraph, there doesn’t seem to be any real evidence that the Nazis burned down the Reichstag, as opposed to cynically seizing on the resulting panic to ram through a grant of dictatorial powers to Hitler. If Ellison had merely said that Bush had used 9/11 the way Hitler used the Reichstag fire, it would be hard to disagree.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com