June 7th, 2009
01:45 PM ET
9 years ago

Reliable Sources: The media aftermath of Dr. Tiller's murder

 Kathleen Parker and Bill Press discussed the murder of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller on Sunday's Reliable Sources.

Kathleen Parker and Bill Press discussed the murder of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller on Sunday's Reliable Sources.

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."

Filed under: Abortion • State of the Union
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Emma, San Jose

    What a tragic commentary for our country that our coveted freedom of speech becomes argumentative and demeaning to those who do not agree with far right thinking.

    June 7, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  2. Crazy Cat Lady

    Sorry, but one can't cry "Fire!" in a crowded theater, then disavow any responsibility for the ensuing stampede.

    June 7, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  3. Had It

    Ms. Parker, the killer is what he is.

    Right-wing religious bigot – Preaching hate and then killing another human.

    June 7, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  4. Dave from Jacksonville

    O'Reilly... the Tiller killer...

    June 7, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  5. Joanna

    See what Hate speech does? The rush's, hannity's, Becks ect need to Re evaluate the things that they say. People die because of them and there hate breeding. Shall we Waterboard these American Terrorist to get info? Should we round up all suspects and hold them indefinitely?By the GOPs reasoning, we should. This is a full circle moment. I really worry for this world. This isn't just about abortion, but with all the false statements about our president as well. Rush says Al queda better hurry cause Obama is beating them to destroy our country. Please just stop. Please.

    June 7, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  6. catmom

    As they say now, words do matter. Journalist, talking heads and the media should be held accountable for what they say. People like Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck and the like have huge followings who hang on to their every word. Their constant barrage of hate speech and negativity is bound to be taken seriously by some who already have issues. If you feel like you can say the type of things people like O'Reilly, Limbaugh say then stand by your words and when they come back to you accept responsibility for them, don't wimp out.

    June 7, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  7. Jeff

    Tiller's killer is a terrorist. Plain and simple. People like O'reilly and the sort are working it to keep the money flowing to their pockets and that is not going to stop as long as there are uneducated people that still get all worked up about his hate-mongering.
    Now the killer is saying there are more acts of violence planned. When is Cheney going to call for him to be water boarded so "thousands of lives can be saved"? The hypocrisy is incredible. This guy is the face of "operation rescue" and it should be considered a terrorist organization and dealt with just as any other group that supports terrorist acts against US citizens.

    June 7, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  8. Former Republican Supporting Obama from Tennessee

    I support Olbermann's call to boycott Fox News Channel, especially the O'Reilly Factor. I have been boycotting Fox News for roughly three years now by simply deleting the Fox News channel from my television sets at home and blocking the FoxNews.com website from my computer. Fox News is not news, it is hate and fear, plain and simple. I know that CNN and MSNBC are not perfect, but at least both media outlets have some informed pundits and journalist on TV. I personally am a fan of Olbermann and believe that his commentary is sincere, intelligent, witty, and extremely informed.

    O'Reilly is a stupid person and appeals to only stupid people. His commentary is totally uninformed and hate-filled and I believed his hateful and angry words did in fact contribute to the murder of Dr. Tiller, even though the accused murderer is ultimately responsible for his own actions.

    Olbermann should continue to present his passionate and intelligent analysis of the tops news stories of the day.

    June 7, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  9. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    The man was gunned down on the church steps by a lunatic with a long history of harassing the clinic where Tiller worked.... Other lunatics even picketed his funeral. Talk about the lunatic fringe of the GOP!

    June 7, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  10. Joanna

    And to add, When the right wing extremist stop crying over government assistance to people that really can not afford children but have them anyway, than have to battle for help with food, housing, health care, education and child care. You protect children in the womb but not after. Does that make sense?
    And abortion is not an easy choice. Late term abortion is not made lightly. I am not for late term abortion, unless the mother will die or the fetus is severely damaged. I am sure NO women would elect to have a late term abortion for fun. That is up to her and her doctor.
    Another point, the right wingnuts are anti government EXCEPT for Policing womens reproduction and other restrictive issues. WE ARE NOT AND NEVER HAVE BEEN A CHRISTIAN NATION! We have just been high jacked by them.

    June 7, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  11. Sue, OH

    the hannitys and oreillys of the cable world need to take responsibility for the hate they spread

    June 7, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  12. InlandEmperor

    O'Reilly...guilty as charged.

    June 7, 2009 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  13. Yellow Dog

    O'Reilly and Limbaugh push freedom of speech right to the edge - maybe over the edge in this case. Aiding and abetting a crime can consist of "encouraging." Then, too, there is the matter of one's conscience.

    June 7, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  14. Clay

    It is absolutely absurd to place blame on O'Reily. I personally feel he is extremely biased and ignorant, but he is is no way responsible for Dr. Tiller's murder. That being said, Dr. Tiller was no murderer, it was absolutely absurd for O'Reily to call him one. Dr. Tiller was no more a murderer than people who carry out lethal injections (which people like O'Reily support). It is sad that the issue has reached such a high level of rhetoric and polarization that people would kill their fellow americans over it. But to place the blame for Dr. Tiller's death on O'Reily is just as wrong and ignorant as O'Reily calling Dr. Tiller a murderer.

    June 7, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  15. David

    FOX News should be sued by the family of Tiller along with being sanctioned by the FCC. Promoting hate crimes and murder on national television on a consistent basis makes them an accessory to the murder. This is just one of the more obvious side effects of having religious/political extremists spreading fear and hate here in the US, which is no different than the religious/political extremist throughout the world.

    June 7, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  16. WIlly Brown

    Bill O'Reilly number 1 for over a 100 months in the cable news rating . Smear and keep on smearing CNN & MSNBC that should get you new viewers, NOT! The truth hurts, huh...

    June 7, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  17. Jenn, Philadelphia

    I am one of those people who is against abortion, but pro-choice. These are decisions that should be made by a woman and her doctor, only. I don't believe there is a woman in the world who has a late-term abortion because she woke up one day and no longer wanted be pregnant, that is a ridiculous insinuation. However, to blame Dr. Tiller's murder on pro-life groups or media "talking-heads" is wrong. There is one person responsible for the murder, the man who committed it. We live in a world where people use whatever reason they can to excuse their behavior and when we buy into that argument, we justify that belief. Even if Bill O'Reilly or any other person actually said "kill Dr. Tiller", it was still his murderer's choice to do it and his guilt.

    June 7, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  18. Ennis, LA

    Yeah, Olbermann's longtime envy of O'Reilly comes alive with this
    criminal act. If Olbermann wants better ratings, he should act less
    strident. Oh...by the way, Keith. Where is your outrage when the
    soldier in Little Rock was murdered by a terrorist? Why isn't this
    criminal act just as bad? Can you blame William Long's killing
    on Bill, too? For that matter, where is the outrage of Commander-in-
    Chief Obama for a soldier killed on American soil? Why the silence
    from liberals from a killing just as criminal as Tiller's?

    June 7, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  19. Obatala-Edmonton

    O'Reilly had nothing to do with the late-term abortion doctor's death. Afterall, the man had been attacked several times in the past.
    The liberal media will always spin any situation to advance their movement. I personally feel the doctor should have been jailed for the abortions but not murdered.

    June 7, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  20. SHIRLEY "60"

    To O'Reilly, (or any of those other media of hate ranters), it is so stupid to hear or see that any of you don't blame yourselves after having made such spiteful remarks that have prompted those who follow you to kill someone who has not personally threatened them, goes beyond the pale. Like Jim Jones, you and those like you who control or encourage the worst parts of people's minds, are just as guilty of murder and should take the blame for your parts in these crimes, silently if you wont do so vocally. However, you show no human remorse, but in this instance O'Reilly, you and others were the gun that took a human life. May the Lord have mercy on your souls.

    June 7, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  21. JR

    The lesson learned from this is to stop acknowledging Fox as a legitimate news source. The cut-and-paste dishonest reporting by commentators like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly is shameful. They expound on the lie to support their rants of hate, including those against the President, which in turn ignites rage over false causes in their already angry audience. It's a cycle that will more than likely end in more violence unless the rest of the media starts to expose Fox for what they are – a sorry excuse for a fair and balanced network that should be classed as poor entertainment rather than news.

    June 7, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  22. Helen

    If it is true that comments such as those made by O'Reilly could be construed as "inciting" someone to shoot someone else in real life, then all the people who make violent computer games and movies have more than lost their last excuse to say that these things incite people to similar violence in real life.

    June 7, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  23. Pat in IL

    "Pro abortion zealots" don't exist. Thoughtful Pro Choice people do. I don't think anyone is actually "pro abortion". People who actually think about this question, rather than just making hateful sound bites, understand the difference. The zealots are the anit-abortionists who think it is okay to break the law in so many ways.

    June 7, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  24. Maggie

    Mr.O'Reilly is right.

    June 7, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
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