Fox News is lying to itself: Its violent rhetoric really is putting lives at risk

O'Reilly & Co. can rail against Black Lives Matter all they want, but they're the ones actually inciting attacks

Published December 3, 2015 10:15AM (EST)

Bill O'Reilly (Credit: Fox News)
Bill O'Reilly (Credit: Fox News)

This article originally appeared on Media Matters.

Risking severe whiplash injuries, Fox News and the rest of the conservative media have tried to execute a sudden about-face following the Planned Parenthood terror attack in Colorado Springs last week. Scrambling for political cover in the wake of the gun rampage and news that alleged shooter Robert Dear likely targeted Planned Parenthood for political purposes, conservative commentators quickly rewrote their long-held talking points about inciting violence.

Here's the spin that the conservative press, along with the Republican Party, is now desperately trying to push: When you call people "baby killers" and "murderers" and claim organizations sell "baby parts" for profit, you're in no way promoting violence. And you're in no way responsible if a like-minded person takes matters into his own hands, opens fire on a Planned Parenthood facility, shoots eleven people, murders three, and then reportedly makes reference to "no more baby parts" when the carnage is over.

There is no connection between acts of political violence and extremist rhetoric. It's simply "unfair." Or so goes the Fox News mantra this week.

Why the whiplash injuries? Because for the last year Fox and its allies have been warning that rhetoric kills. And specifically, rhetoric from Black Lives Matter activists gets police officers killed. (There's no evidence to support that claim.) And for that, Democrats, including President Obama, are to blame for the so-called "war on cops."

So in a matter of just a few days (i.e. pre-Colorado Springs vs. post-Colorado Springs), Fox News has thrown away its established playbook and quickly written a new one where everyone should just chill about incendiary political taunts that are seen as being violent and potentially deadly. (Going one step further: "So what" if far-right rhetoric inspires killings?)

Amidst the Fox News flip-flop, which brand of activist rhetoric is actually producing bouts of targeted violence today? As 2015 unfolds against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter protests, note that the number of officers shot and killed in the line of the duty has gone down this year.

By contrast, Planned Parenthood has experienced a spike in attacks on its facilities and employees this year, most likely the result of a coordinated smear campaign against the organization in the form of duplicitous videos, which kicked off last summer and have been heavily promoted by Fox News and other conservative media.

In fact, rather than producing violence as Fox suggests, Black Lives Matter protesters last week in Minneapolis were the target of gun violence. Four men have been charged in the shooting of five black protesters. Three of the arrested were reportedly fascinated "with guns, video games, the Confederacy and right-wing militia groups."

The truth is Fox News has denounced Black Lives Matter as a "'murder' movement" and compared it to the Ku Klux Klan. It has also blamed the group for inciting violence.

In May, after NYPD officer Brian Moore was killed, Fox host Eric Bolling responded by suggesting liberals and their "war on cops" was at fault. According to Bolling, "The 'anti-cop left' in America seems to be ... fueling some of this hatred and, you know, murderous streak that's going on against cops."

As mentioned, there is no "murderous streak" against cops in this country. And as Vox recently noted, "The goals and message of Black Lives Matter have nothing to do with harming police officers in any way. The movement is explicitly concerned with reducing the racial disparities found in the criminal justice system."

In December 2014, following the killings of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, Fox News could not wait to blame the killings on rhetoric. The coverage of the New York killings leaned heavily on assigning a larger cultural, collective blame for activists who protested police misconduct, and Democrats who expressed support for the Black Lives Matter cause.

Today's media contrast is startling. Following the Planned Parenthood attack, Fox News contributor and National Review editor Rich Lowry insisted that a "broad-based movement shouldn't be tarred by the crimes of one individual."

You mean a broad-based movement like Black Lives Matter?

National Review's Andrew McCarthy previously disagreed. Twelve months ago he wrote, "Cop killing is thus a foreseeable, if not inexorable, consequence of tolerating the movement as a well-intentioned display of our commitment to free speech."

Cop killing was a foreseeable consequence of "violent rhetoric," McCarthy stressed, insisting the New York City cop killer last year was "patently inspired by" police protesters.

Tragically, a policeman was among the victims last week in Colorado Springs. (A total of five officers were shot.) So what has McCarthy written about the anti-abortion "enablers" and the Planned Parenthood shooter being "patently inspired" by protesters? What's McCarthy's take on the dangerous, "foreseeable" connection between violent rhetoric and cop killing in the wake of the Planned Parenthood terror attack?

The answer is, nothing. McCarthy hasn't bothered to address the issue at National Review. And that's where the conservative media denial comes in.

Keep in mind that Robert Dear's former wife described him as "extremely evangelistic." He was previously seen handing out anti-Obama pamphlets. He reportedly mentioned "no more body parts" after he was arrested. He made "anti-abortion" and "anti-government" comments to investigators. And he arrived at Planned Parenthood with a duffel bag full of guns and ammunition.

Also, this from the New York Times' reporting [emphasis added]:

One person who spoke with him extensively about his religious views said Mr. Dear, who is 57, had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing "God's work." In 2009, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for the privacy of the family, Mr. Dear described as "heroes" members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.

Partisans on the right can pretend the motivation for the killing spree will remain an eternal mystery. But a plausible link obviously exists. As does a plausible link between blood-soaked verbal attacks against Planned Parenthood and the possibility they inspire people to commit violent, and even deadly, acts.

"When Bill O'Reilly compares Planned Parenthood to Nazis," wrote Michelle Goldberg at Slate, "we shouldn't be surprised that some people conclude that taking up arms against it is permissible."

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

MORE FROM Eric Boehlert

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Black Lives Matter Fox News Media Matters