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“Hundreds Of Thousands Of Bad People”: Fact-Checking Bill O’Reilly’s Dumb, Hateful Lies; Fox News Propaganda Breaks New Ground

When Bill O’Reilly got his start on Fox News, he was charmingly irreverent, a moderating factor on a right-leaning news network; and I liked him for it.  I was 14 years old, and would go on, in my teen years, to read one of O’Reilly’s early books, along with Christopher Hitchens’ “Letters to a Young Contrarian,” and eventually Dinesh D’Souza’s “Letters to a Young Conservative” and Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil.”  I was hashing out a political identity into my 20s, and, as this awkward reading list suggests, it was complicated.  It’s perhaps a shame that today’s O’Reilly is not complicated.

In the segment where O’Reilly calls Salon a “hate site,” and his program ambushes a handful of San Francisco civil servants, I was struck more by the “talking points memo” working in conjunction with O’Reilly’s monologue than with the breach of decorum or even the comparison of Salon to white-supremacist outlet Stormfront.  The real danger of that O’Reilly segment isn’t so much the ambush tactics or the sensationalism as the sloppy thinking O’Reilly performs for his viewers, which gives the appearance of justifying that sensationalism.

For this reason I’ve decided to work through that O’Reilly segment, which Salon’s Scott Eric Kaufman has reported on, paying close attention to those moments when O’Reilly uses both rhetorical tricks and logical fallacies to convey a provocatively hateful message about undocumented immigrants, a message that, ironically, comes a lot closer to hate speech than the simple act of advocating on either a conservative or progressive media outlet like National Review Online or Salon.

O’Reilly kicks off the segment by addressing the “evil” of the coldblooded murder of Kate Steinle before airing a clip of an interview with Steinle’s parents, who speak of the “battle of evil and goodness.”  I mentioned Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” above because it’s a powerful critique of Manichaeism, the belief in a dualistic moral struggle of good versus evil.  Manichaeism makes it easy to oversimplify conflicts and tragedies by defining actors as pure good and pure evil.  This is exactly what O’Reilly will go on to do in his “talking points.” He writes, “Every sane person knows that gunning down a 32-year old woman in the street is an act of pure evil.”  The memo goes on: “There are many Americans who will not act to prevent that kind of evil from taking place.”

Here we can see two important rhetorical moves designed to bring audiences to the conclusion that, despite the culpability of the evil man who murdered Steinle, we are to identify that murderous evil both with undocumented immigrants and with people who don’t agree with O’Reilly’s hard-line immigration views.  O’Reilly first sets up the scenario as though it’s as simple as good people versus evil people (as opposed to, for example, a more complicated policy nexus of immigration and gun control issues).  Then he swiftly aligns “the Americans who will not move to act to prevent that kind of evil from taking place” with the evil itself.  In these steps O’Reilly effectively conflates the evil of coldblooded murder with the evil of some Americans who will fail to act on some measure that O’Reilly will assign as a cure for that evil.

What, then, is that measure?  O’Reilly begins by blaming the media, which “does not oppose sanctuary cities,” “sanctuary city” being a term with no legal meaning that refers generally to cities that don’t spend city funds and resources to enforce certain federal immigration policies.  O’Reilly claims that the “sanctuary city policy” (it’s not a coherent policy at all) “is supported by people who believe that poor illegal immigrants should not be held accountable for violating immigration law,” “folks cloaking themselves in compassion, thinking they’re being humane to the poor who want better lives.”  Crucially, however, O’Reilly goes on to re-label these people “hundreds of thousands of bad people.”

Here we can see, again, O’Reilly invoking the Manichaean framework with which he started, only this time, the “evil” one isn’t simply the individual who murdered Kate Steinle, but the “hundreds of thousands” of undocumented immigrants, whom O’Reilly lumps together as “bad people.”  This is the point of O’Reilly’s slippage from the evil of murder to the evil of being an undocumented immigrant, to use a negative example of one to stand in for the whole.  O’Reilly completes the slippage by claiming that “it is insulting when pro-sanctuary city people equate poor immigrants with violent criminals,” going on to further conflate all undocumented immigrants with violent criminals with one phrase: he calls them “brutal undocumented people.”

From this point, O’Reilly moves onto San Francisco city supervisors, holding them up as an example of the next link in a tenuously constructed chain of evil that begins with a murderer, who, by his undocumented status, becomes a stand-in for all undocumented immigrants, and ends with the civil servants of San Francisco and the broader left, presumably the kind of people who “will not move to act to prevent that kind of evil from taking place.” O’Reilly states unequivocally that Kate Steinle “is dead because of policies that endanger the public,” conflating once again the act of murder with the refusal to support O’Reilly’s specific vision of border security.  O’Reilly’s closing judgment is that “it’s a damn shame that all Americans cannot support a policy that would protect people like Kate Steinle … if you saw the heartbreaking interview with her parents last night, how could you not support tough measures against criminal illegal aliens?”

In all of this we should note three tactics of distortion.  First, by framing the entire issue of Steinle’s murder as a Manichaean problem of good versus evil, O’Reilly is able to pretend for his viewers that there can only be one problem (lax immigration law), which is itself a manifestation of evil.  Both gun control and wider issues of how to distribute limited city funds and resources (O’Reilly isn’t exactly a fan of higher taxes) are as significant factors in this tragedy as immigration law.

Second, O’Reilly’s entire argument relies on the fallacy of composition, which presumes that if something is true of a part of a whole, it must then be true of the whole.  This is why, because an undocumented immigrant is alleged to have committed a murder, O’Reilly goes on to call all undocumented immigrants things like “bad people,” “brutal undocumented people,” “violent criminals” and “criminal illegal aliens.”

Third, O’Reilly avails himself of the fallacy of false equivalence in two ways.  He equates the culpability for murder with the politically mainstream disagreement between San Francisco city officials and O’Reilly on immigration policy; and he equates sites like Salon and MediaMatters with the self-proclaimed white-supremacist outlet Stormfront, confusing yet again mainstream, partisan media outlets with neo-Nazis.  A simple test to reveal the fallaciousness of the comparison would be to ask yourself how long a site like Salon or MediaMatters would exist, drawing articles from prominent policymakers, politicians, artists, academics and journalists, if any of these sites regularly proclaimed white supremacy as its reason for being.

Though it’s a little laborious to go through talking points like O’Reilly’s in this manner, it’s important to reverse-engineer them from time to time to expose what lies at the heart of the machine.  In this case we find that the source of hatred isn’t a side of a mainstream political debate about immigration policy, but a desire to paint all undocumented immigrants as murderous villains, “bad people,” “brutal undocumented people” on the side of evil who threaten to put out the white light of America.

 

By: Aaron R. Hanlon, Salon, July 17, 2015

July 19, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Immigrants | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Clear And Present Danger”: The Biggest Threat To Americans? Other Americans With Guns

What do you think a mother would say is the greater threat to her child: Russia or guns?

I couldn’t help but ask myself that question on Friday when I heard the testimony of General Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. When Dunford was asked what was the greatest threat to the United States, he responded by ranking them in this order: Russia, China, North Korea, and ISIS.

Now, Dunford is undoubtedly correct when it comes to the global threats facing us, and those are the threats it’s his job to assess. But from a day-to-day perspective, our greatest threat, and I’d submit the more pressing one, is our fellow Americans. We kill far more of each other on a daily basis than any foreign actor has come close to doing in recent years.

Here are some numbers for you to consider:

1. Gun Violence: Every day 30-plus Americans are murdered with guns. We are talking over 10,000 Americans killed each year by gun violence. And every single day, including today, five children or teens are murdered by someone using guns; that is 11 times more often than children are killed by gun violence in other “high income” nations.

In fact, far more Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone (33,636) than all the Americans killed on U.S. soil by terrorists in the last 14 years, and that’s including 9/11. (2,977 Americans were killed on 9/11 and only 48 have been killed since by terrorism on U.S. soil.)

2. Other Gun-Related Deaths: Apart from gun violence, another 20,000 Americans use guns to commit suicide each year. (Suicides involving firearms are fatal 85 percent of the time in contrast to about a 3 percent fatality rate when using pills.) When you combine the above numbers with the 560 people accidentally killed by guns on an annual basis, that comes out to more than 32,000 Americans who die each year by firearms. These numbers really brought it home for me: Between 2000 and 2010, 335,609 people died from guns in our country; that’s more than the entire population of St. Louis, Missouri. (318,000.)

3. Driving Under the Influence: Each day nearly 30 people are killed in auto accidents that involved an alcohol-impaired driver. In 2013 alone, 200 children 14 and younger were killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers.

4. Domestic violence: Each day, three women are killed by their husband, boyfriend, or a person with whom they had been in a relationship. In fact, a study found that alarmingly, at least one-third of all women murdered in the United States in recent years were killed by their current or past male partners.

These killers of Americans are all distinct. There’s no one remedy that will reduce the deaths in all these cases. But there is one killer that truly jumps out as the greatest existential threat to Americans: Deaths involving guns.

Now I know that many on the right are preparing to regurgitate their tired talking point that this is a push to grab their guns. They are wrong. I fully support that the Second Amendment guarantees them the personal right to own firearms as recognized in the seminal 2008 Supreme Court case of District of Columbia v. Heller. (Amazing how many on the right applaud the Supreme Court when it renders decisions they like such as Heller but literally want to abolish the Supreme Court as we know it after the recent gay marriage ruling)

But how can we sit idly by as so many of our fellow Americans are killed by guns? It is as if we have collectively decided that these deaths are acceptable loses. Even after mass shootings nothing seems to change, generally due to political considerations.

And we see politics at play again over the heartbreaking shooting death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco last week by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a man who was not in the country legally. Many on the right, like Donald Trump, refuse to talk about the gun aspect of this crime and solely want focus on Sanchez’s immigration status because it plays to their political base. (I doubt Trump would ever mention that 70 percent of the guns recovered by the ATF in the Mexican drug war between 2007 and 2011 originated in the United States. Talk about exporting dangerous things to another country.)

So while we are confirming a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to protect us from global threats, isn’t it time to create a federal level “Department to prevent gun deaths” to protect us from this domestic threat?

The federal government’s current gun-related tasks would be unified and integrated into this new department in an effort to increase effectiveness, much the same way we saw the Department of Homeland Security bring together the responsibilities of 22 different agencies under its auspices.

For starters this new agency can ensure that the federal law barring federally licensed gun dealers from selling firearms to people convicted of crimes or with mental illnesses is fully functioning.  As we learned just last week, the Charleston shooter Dylann Roof should not have been able to legally purchase a gun as he did because of his criminal record. However, a background check flaw allowed that to happen.

This new agency can also be charged with investigating gun trafficking across state lines, formulating comprehensive programs to reduce suicides by guns, and cracking down on federally licensed gun dealers that consistently sell guns used in crimes. Astoundingly, 1 percent of gun dealers account for nearly 60 percent of the guns used in crimes.

We have numerous federal agencies dedicated to keeping us safe from global threats. Isn’t it time we had a federal agency dedicated to protecting us from the clear and present danger posed right here in our nation by guns?

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, July 13, 2015

July 14, 2015 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Gun Violence, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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