MEDIA | OPINION
The Accuracy Factor
KIDS ARE AMERICANS TOO
By Bill O'Reilly with Charles Flowers
Morrow. 160 pp. $24.95
So now Bill O'Reilly is teaching kids about their rights as Americans. In Kids Are Americans Too, the right-wing television bloviator rails against his usual targets: activist courts, the ACLU, big government and federal intrusion on states' rights. He tells American kids -- many of whom, in his view, are "complete morons" -- that "Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the guys" who "got together in Philadelphia in 1787" to write our Constitution "believed that a lot of laws -- a lot of rights -- should be decided by the individual state, or even the individual county or city." Never mind that Jefferson was in France when the Constitution was being drafted and ratified.
And never mind, too, that the first court decision used by O'Reilly to illustrate his screed says precisely the opposite of what he tells the kids it says. O'Reilly begins by describing a case in which the ACLU allegedly persuaded the Supreme Court of the state of Washington that the "constitutional rights" of a girl named Lacey had been violated when her mother surreptitiously listened in on a phone call between Lacey and her boyfriend, during which the boyfriend admitted to a purse snatching.
Although O'Reilly doesn't provide readers with a citation so they can check the case themselves, I was able to find it. Washington v. Christensen, 102 P.3d 789 (2004), had nothing to do with "constitutional rights." It involved a state statute that reflected "Washington's long-standing tradition of affording great protection to individual privacy." The court went out of its way to emphasize that "it is, of course, within the province of the legislature to shift these statutory balances should it decide the residents of this state require less privacy protection." So it wasn't the big, bad federal government or activist courts that barred parents from listening in on phone calls, after all. It was the state legislature -- precisely the institution that O'Reilly contends should make these kinds of decisions.
Moreover, the case was not about Lacey's right to privacy. The court explicitly said that it was "Christensen's [the boyfriend's] expectation of privacy with which we are concerned." O'Reilly simply got it wrong. A kid will not be "way ahead of the pack," as O'Reilly claims, "just by reading this book." Instead, the kid will be misinformed.
O'Reilly also purports to teach about morality and responsibility. He complains about secret legal settlements "in which no one admits any 'wrongdoing' in the matter." You mean, like the one he entered into with Andrea Mackris, one of his former Fox News producers, after she filed a lawsuit accusing him of harassing her with sexually explicit phone calls and of threatening that she would be "destroyed" if she "ever breathed a word" about it? This is the same Bill O'Reilly who tells kids that "any kind of bullying is a bad thing." O'Reilly bought Mackris's silence with a confidential settlement in which no one admitted any wrongdoing and in which the tape of his alleged telephonic harassments and threats was suppressed.
The author of this book also preaches to kids about their right to express themselves freely. Contrast that author with the talk show host of the same name, who said in a June 20, 2005, radio broadcast:
"Dissent, fine: undermining, you're a traitor. Got it? So, all of those clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately. . . . Send over the FBI and just put them in chains, because they, you know, they're undermining everything."
When newspapers and blogs reported this fall on O'Reilly's bizarre comments about visiting an African American restaurant in Harlem -- he expressed astonishment that none of the diners was "screaming" obscenities, there wasn't "any craziness," and it was "exactly the same" as any "Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb" -- he went into a rant against the media for portraying him as racist:
"These people aren't getting away with this. I'm going to go right where they live. Every corrupt media person in this country is on notice, right now. I'm coming after you. . . . I'm going to hunt you down. . . . I'm coming to your house. You'll have a camera up your nose."
O'Reilly the author rails against secularists to whom the sanctity of the church means nothing, while O'Reilly the powerful media mogul bragged to his Fox News producer, according to her legal complaint, that "he was going to Italy to meet the Pope, that his pregnant wife was staying at home with his daughter, and implied he was looking forward to some extra-marital dalliances with the 'hot' Italian women."
And the contradictions go on. O'Reilly the author praises juries and tells kids we must accept the law even if we disagree, otherwise we have "anarchy." O'Reilly the talk show host had this to say about the jurors who voted not to convict Phil Spector: "They're idiots and they should be put in jail for letting this guy get off."
This book is so riddled with errors, inconsistencies, bad advice and hypocrisy that by O'Reilly's own standards -- we must not "leave children exposed to harm" -- it should be placed in the adults-only section of the bookstore. Or better yet, with the joke books. *
Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz's latest book is "Finding Jefferson: A Lost Letter, a Remarkable Discovery, and the First Amendment in an Age of Terrorism."