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How to Beat a Bully on His Home Turf

O’Reilly and the Law of the Jungle

by FRANCIS BOYLE

On the morning of 13 September 2001, that is 48 hours after the terrible tragedies in New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11th, I received a telephone call from a producer at Fox Television Network News in New York City. He asked me to go onto The O’Reilly Factor TV program live that evening in order to debate Bill O’Reilly on the question of war versus peace. O’Reilly would argue for the United States going to war in reaction to the terrorist attacks on 11 September, and I would argue for a peaceful resolution of this matter.

Up until then I had deliberately declined numerous requests for interviews about the terrible events of September 11 and what should be done about them because it was not clear to me precisely what was going on. But unfortunately The O’Reilly Factor had the Number One ranking in TV viewership for any news media talk program in America. I felt very strongly as a matter of principle that at least one person from the American Peace Movement had to go onto that program and argue the case directly to the American people that the United States of America must not go to war despite the terrible tragedy that had been inflicted upon us all.

I had debated O’Reilly before so I was fully aware of the type of abuse to expect from him. So for the next few hours I negotiated with O’Reilly through his producer as to the terms and conditions of my appearance and our debate, which they agreed to. At the time I did not realize that O’Reilly was setting me up to be fired as he would next successfully do to Professor Sami Al-Arian soon after debating me.

After our debate had concluded, I returned from the campus television studio to my office in order to shut the computer down, and then go home for what little remained of the evening. When I arrived in my office, I found that my voice mail message system had been flooded with mean, nasty, vicious complaints and threats. The same was true for my e-mail in-box. I deleted all these messages as best I could, and then finally went home to watch the rest of O’Reilly’s 9/11 coverage that evening on Fox with my wife. By then he was replaying selected segments of our debate and asking for hostile commentaries from Newt Gingrich and Jeane Kirkpatrick. We turned off the TV in disgust when O’Reilly publicly accused me of being an Al Qaeda supporter. My understanding was that Fox then continued to rebroadcast a tape of this outright character assassination upon me for the rest of the night.

When I returned to my office the next day, so many complaints had been filed and accumulated with numerous university officials that the then Dean of my law school issued a public statement repudiating me and then placing it on the law school’s web-site. Obviously the then Dean of my law school believed that a Law Professor should advocate the Law of the Jungle instead of the Rule of Law. He is now "deaning" elsewhere, just like a previous Dean who had tried to get rid of me because of my fervid belief in the Rule of Law and public activities in support thereof.

On the positive side, however, my besting of O’Reilly in the debate led to my being inundated by requests for interviews from mainstream and progressive news media sources all over the world. This plethora of interviews have continued apace until today during the course of all the terrible events that have transpired in the world since September 11: the war against Afghanistan; the global war on terrorism; massive assaults on international law, human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and the United States Constitution; the war against Iraq; Guantanamo; kangaroo courts; the Bush Jr. torture scandal, etc.

I have done the best I can to oppose this Bush Jr. juggernaut of nihilism. Ultimately it will be up to the American people to decide the future direction of the United States of America and thus indirectly, because of America’s preponderant power, unfairly for the rest of the world.

The present danger still remains Machiavellian power politics. The only known antidote is international law, international organizations, human rights, and the United States Constitution. In our thermonuclear age, humankind’s existential choice is that stark, ominous, and compelling. As Americans, we must not hesitate to apply this imperative regimen immediately before it becomes too late for the continuation of our human species itself.

Francis A. Boyle, Professor of Law, University of Illinois, is author of Foundations of World Order, Duke University Press, The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence, and Palestine, Palestinians and International Law, by Clarity Press. He can be reached at: FBOYLE@LAW.UIUC.EDU