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What Bill O’Reilly’s apology means

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A fully cornered Bill O’Reilly last night issued a bold and full-throated apology for a rather consequential error from his Wednesday night broadcast. In a chat with pundit James Carville, O’Reilly stated that Republicans and conservatives hadn’t been invited to speak at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Not so. Here’s the text of the correction in full:

Last night during my discussion with James Carville about the Martin Luther King commemoration I said there were no Republican speakers invited. Wrong. It was wrong. Some Republicans were asked to speak. They declined. And that was a mistake. They should have spoken. Now, the mistake, entirely on me. I simply assumed that since all the speakers were liberal Democrats, Republicans were excluded. So, here’s the “Tip of the Day” — always check out the facts before you make a definitive statement. And, when you make a mistake, admit it.
By the way, I’m sorry I made that mistake. It’s very annoying because I know you guys watch “The Factor” for accuracy.

That’s a first-class apology. The millions of “Factor” viewers, given the host’s clear regrets, will have little trouble forgiving the breach of precision.

That said, take a second look at the segment in which O’Reilly commits the mistake:

This was no casual, off-the-cuff remark that just happened to have been wrong. It was a rallying cry for O’Reilly. Here’s the relevant transcript:

O’REILLY:But wasn’t it a little strange, we didn’t have one black conservative or one black Republican? I mean do they — the invitations get lost in the mail, or what?
CARVILLE: Well first of all, I’ll be honest with you, I try to — I don’t know who put it on, or who invited who –
O’REILLY: NAACP put it on with in association with some other liberal groups.
CARVILLE: Yes you know the former presidents speaking I think was appropriate I’m sure –
O’REILLY: Isn’t … George W. Bush a former president?
CARVILLE: Well he issued a statement. I do not know that he wasn’t invited.
O’REILLY: He wasn’t. No Republicans and no conservatives were invited.

Definitive, and definitively flawed, polemics. As O’Reilly moves forward with utter conviction, Carville stumbles, even bumbles — restrained by his concern with the particulars. It’s all proof that it’s so much easier to run over your cable-news guest if you ignore the facts.