WASHINGTON (CNN) - After any tragedy, it's not uncommon for finger-pointing to occur, and the aftermath of Dr. George Tiller's killing was no exception. Tiller, a doctor in Kansas who performed late-term abortions, was shot to death in his church last week. Prior to the incident, Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly harshly criticized Tiller's practice dozens of times. O'Reilly called the doctor "Tiller the baby killer" and said that he "has blood on his hands."
Within 24 hours of Tiller's death, a heated debate broke out over whether O'Reilly's words could have incited the violence. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann urged viewers to turn away from O’Reilly and Fox News Channel saying the network will, “never restrain itself from incitement to murder and terrorism.”
At the same time, O'Reilly did denounce the violence on his program and claimed the killing would be a launching pad for his critics. "When I heard about Tiller's murder I knew pro-abortion zealots and Fox News haters would attempt to blame us for the crime." O’Reilly also defended his previous commentary about Tiller. "Every single thing we said about Tiller was true."
What responsibility do prominent media personalities have in this context? Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz discussed the issue with two well-known commentators: Bill Press, a longtime radio talk show host on Sirius Satellite Radio, and Kathleen Parker, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post Writers' Group.
Kurtz thought there was something missing from O'Reilly's response to the tragedy. "I think it's unfair to demonize O'Reilly in this matter, but at the same time, I wish he had denounced the murder of Tiller more forcefully. He certainly condemned it but not as forcefully."
Bill Press disagreed with his liberal colleagues, particularly Olbermann, with regard to Bill O'Reilly. "At the risk of alienating a lot of my liberal friends, I do not hold Bill O'Reilly responsible for George Tiller's murder…It was wrong to call Bill O'Reilly a murderer."
However, Press didn't completely let O'Reilly and the rest of the media off the hook. "I think it's wrong for O'Reilly to call George Tiller a murderer, as well," Press said. "But you have to accept the fact that words do have consequences. Violent words can lead to violent actions. And I think that everybody in the media, myself included, who's got the microphone, has a responsibility to weigh their words very carefully."
Kathleen Parker also said that it is unfair to hold O'Reilly responsible for Tiller's murder, but said that it is important for all members of the media to learn a lesson from this. "I would love the outcome to be O'Reilly, and all these talking heads, who have become so completely over the top to say, 'Look, this is a teaching moment, we're not going to do this anymore. We're going to make our cases strongly. We're going to be passionate, but we're going to tone down the rhetoric.'"
Parker said she is concerned about the way the media characterized the man who was arrested for the murder. "The media stepped in and characterized this killer as a Christian, somebody who's part of this more right-wing Operation Rescue organization. Pretty soon the person, the murderer, becomes sort of the face of the conservative pro-life Republican party, which is I think wrong."