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Last year on a special broadcast, “O’Reilly versus Hollywood” (Fox News Special, 6/7/02), Bill O’Reilly purported to “take-on” the “phoniness” of entertainers who are politically active. Of particular pique to O’Reilly was a comment from actor Alec Baldwin on a March episode of the now-defunct Politically Incorrect. Responding to the idea that a President Gore would have been less steadfast in his response to terrorism than President Bush, Baldwin said: “If you watched Fox [News] and all those other fascists over there, that’s exactly what they would have had you believe.” O’Reilly complained to entertainment journalist Jeanne Wolf (The O’Reilly Factor, 6/7/02) that “if you’re going to point fingers at people, and call them names like Alec Baldwin said the Fox News Channel are fascists, . . . you’ve got to back it up.”
Two years ago, O’Reilly first offered his definition of “fascism.” “Clinton angered a lot of people out West with these executive orders that took away a lot of land that people wanted to develop . . . and put it under the federal system. Now, to me, that strikes-that’s a little fascist, because . . . here is a big monolith from Washington coming in, told the local folks. . . . You can’t go on this property and use it for any kind of concern, because we’re going to take it” (The O’Reilly Factor, 1/22/01).
Earlier this month, O’Reilly gave an example of a “fascist” organization–the American Civil Liberties Union. Interesting here are not his accusations off the ACLU defending unpopular clients; this is an oft-repeated charge. Being that the ACLU’s mission is to defend principles regardless of the group whose rights are being violated, O’Reilly’s accusation is hardly original. What does stand out is his further definition of “fascism”: “In Newton County, Georgia, the ACLU threatened a school board with litigation if it didn’t remove the words ‘Christmas holiday’ from the school calendar. The county caved and removed the words because it couldn’t afford to defend the lawsuit. This, ladies and gentlemen, is fascism, that is, using the threat of terror, which a lawsuit is, to promote policy” (The O’Reilly Factor, 1/2/03). If lawsuits, then, are terror, and “using the threat of terror” is fascism, then, by O’Reilly’s logic, the use of lawsuits is fascism.
The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures that, “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.” “Suits at common law” are otherwise known as “lawsuits.” This is more colloquially referred to as one’s “right to his or her day in court.” This bedrock of American contract law–the ability to seek redress in the judiciary for injury–is also one of the foundations of capitalism. If individuals did not have the opportunity to settle their grievances through the rule of law, the only option left would be violent force. Arguably, “might makes right” comes closer to most people’s definition of fascism. Thus, we can deduce from O’Reilly’s “logic” that “fascism” encompasses both the rule of law and the rule of force, a Hobson’s choice between two kinds of terrorism in Bill O’Reilly’s estimation
If the federal government administering federal lands can be considered “a little fascist,” or the ACLU enforcing First Amendment protections against state-sponsored religion is “fascism” and the “use of terror,” then O’Reilly’s comments after the September 11 attacks surely must qualify for this rubric as well: “We should not target civilians. But if [the Afghans] don’t rise up against this criminal government [the Taliban], they starve, period,” and, “What we can do is . . . say to those people, ‘Look, we don’t want to do this. But either you get rid of this guy yourself, or you’re just going to have to starve to death because we’re not going to let anybody in there'” (The O’Reilly Factor, 9/17/01).
The 1948 Genocide Convention (specifically, Article II(c): “Deliberately inflicting on [a national] group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” and Article III(c): “Direct and public incitement to commit genocide”) was enacted in response to the unambiguously fascist crimes of the Nazis. (Read the full text of the Convention at http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/p_genoci.htm. Note that there is no exception to this law; even if you do not like the government in a certain country, or if you believe that the country “harbors terrorists,” genocide is still strictly forbidden.) Considering the United States is a signatory to the Genocide Convention, and that Article VI of the US Constitution makes all treaties entered into by the United States the “supreme law of the land,” O’Reilly’s call for starving the people of Afghanistan certainly seems to be a “direct and public incitement to commit genocide.”
Thus it would appear that Alec Baldwin’s characterization seems quite accurate, if not for all of Fox News, then certainly for Bill O’Reilly.
TOM GORMAN is a writer and activist living in Glendale, California. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.