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

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

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/07/art.rstiller0607.cnn.jpg caption=" 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. ross berg- Buffalo, NY

    One would hope that O'rielly has learned something from this murder,but evidently not. His strident language is at best provocative and at worst inciteful.

    Until fairly recently I was a regular viewer of his . This incident has persuaded me to stay away for good!!

    What a shame!!

    June 7, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  2. Amanda

    God bless you Dr. Tiller. The ignorant, murderous fanatics in this country will NOT prevail. Pro-life = pro death.

    June 7, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  3. Samuel

    You reap what you sow and in the end Tiller received the same ending of the innocent babies he had been killing for years. Even though Tiller's actions were legal that does'nt make them right.

    June 7, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  4. alebiglio

    The problem my dear Mrs. Parker is that the murderer IS the face of the conservative pro-life republican party (just read some of your conservative pro-life republican blogs to see where the most sympathies go......simply disgusting!)

    June 7, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  5. malabar

    keith olbermann incites murder every day on air so spare me the self righteos b.s.– murder, wether it's a baby in the womb or tiller is still wrong.

    June 7, 2009 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  6. Dawn in Pa

    To incite terror in anyone you are just as guilty as the person who pulled the trigger. I'm pro-choice, everyone has the right to their own opinion. One thing I do read on this blog is that we have too much Government in our lives, well to any women who is pro-choice, and the Government says you cannot have an abortion, wel isn't the Government in our business.
    Please post this CNN, Abortion and Gun control right now is the too hottest tickets this year.

    June 7, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
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