Bill O'Reilly: You're a Terrorist if You Hang Out with Terrorists
Reported by Marie Therese - June 7, 2005
Sunday night (6/5/05) Bill O'Reilly appeared as a guest on At Large with Geraldo Rivera. Sami Al-Arian's lawyer, Williams Moffitt, also appeared on the show and sparred verbally with Rivera's third guest, self-proclaimed "terror expert" Steve Emerson.
For the past few weeks, as the trial of alleged terror supporter Sami al-Arian has drawn nearer, Bill O'Reilly has been bragging almost daily that it was his show that first exposed al-Arian, a computer engineering professor at South Florida University, as a member of an illegal terrorist organization.
The al-Arian trial began yesterday, June 6th, in Tampa, Florida. Given O'Reilly's connection to it, we can expect a deluge of "FOX News Alerts" and special cross-promotions on other FOX shows ballyhooing the O'Reilly tie-in. Since Bill claims to be such an important link in the investigation, we might also expect that he will be called as a witness for the prosecution. Now, THAT would be an interesting piece of Court TV viewing!
Here's my transcript of the interview (with commentary). It seemed to me that during this interview Rivera questioned O'Reilly more like a lawyer than a TV host and colleague. In the past when I've watched the two of them on The Factor, they've been more relaxed and engaged in lively banter. That camraderie was largely missing from this segment. If you would like to read a transcript of the original O'Reilly-al-Arian Interview, go to Transcript: O'Reilly Interviews Al-Arian in September 2001.
O'REILLY: ... All of these allegations had followed him wherever he had gone. He came in with a very reasonable point of view at first, but then we started to shake him. What about this, what about that, what about this and then he falls back on the racist card. Whenever somebody does that - it's all racist - you know [indecipherable] it. Race has nothin' to do with this. The local paper - St. Petersburg Times - is in the tank for this guy, OK. He was protected by that paper. And the South Florida ...
RIVERA: That's a very serious allegation.
O'REILLY: And I can back it up. They've been sympathetic to him from day one.
RIVERA: That's what you mean, that they are generally sympathetic.
O'REILLY: Sympathetic to this guy. They gave me a hard time when I confronted him because at the end of the interview I said: Look, if I'm the CIA, I'm followin' you 24 hours a day. I said that on the air because this guy - Look. We all know that if you're hangin' with these kinds of people, that you know stuff about 'em because they don't actually call you up and say: Do you want to have dinner? Terrorists don't have dinner with non-terrorists. They hang together - it's like the Mafia, alright - they hang together. So it's one of those "guilt by associations" and [indecipherable, but he may have said "only looked more and more at this guy"] - and the University of South Florida the president was outraged that we would actually question him in this manner and then when the FBI popped him, as you said, a year and a half later all of those people headed for the hills. So, it's the usual, you know - about and I have done this a long time. You go out, you make a statement, you're attacked personally. The St. Petersburg Times to this day does that to me.
[COMMENT: The Bloviating Billster wraps himself in the mantle of "Mr. Bill" the persecuted puppet!]
RIVERA: But did you feel a sense of vindication when the indictment finally came down?
O'REILLY: You know, I don't look at it that way. I'm just tryin' to tell "the folks" the truth. I don't have anything against Sami al-Arian. I don't know him, OK. I know what the government says he did. I believe he's guilty, alright, based upon our separate research. I believe he is a terrorist-enabler. I believe he's raised money for terrible people under the guise of charity. That's how the game is played. Give to this Muslim charity. Help the poor Muslim kids and all of a sudden Al-Qaeda's got it.
[COMMENT: By O'Reilly's reasoning, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of Bandar bin Sultan - more commonly known as Bandar "Bush" because of his close friendship with the President's family - should be indicted and extradited to face trial on the same charges, since she donated a large amount of money that directly reached two of the 9-11 hijackers. As O'Reilly says "They hang together - it's like the Mafia, alright - they hang together."]
RIVERA: And you really think it was his arrogance that allowed him to come and sit in front of you ...
RIVERA: ... two weeks after 9-11, let me ...
O'REILLY: He had gotten away with this for years. And he was a professor and, you know, he'd gotten away with it. He was even at the Bush White House. Alright? So he said: I can handle this O'Reilly guy. And then - boo-boom.
[COMMENT: During this, FOX aired a photo of al-Arian with George Bush. According to BushWatch: "A former university professor indicted this week as a terrorist leader attended a 2001 group meeting in the White House complex with President Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove, administration officials said yesterday. Sami Al-Arian, a former computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida, had been under investigation by the FBI for at least six years at the time of the June 2001 briefing for a Muslim organization. Numerous news accounts also had said federal agents suspected Al-Arian of links to terrorism. Al-Arian and his family also were photographed with Bush during a March 2000 campaign stop near Al-Arian's suburban Tampa home.... Al-Arian posed with Bush and his wife, Laura, at the Florida Strawberry Festival on March 12, 2000, a moment captured in an Al-Arian family photo. Nahla Al-Arian said Bush noticed her traditional headscarf and asked to meet her family. "The Muslim people support you," she recalled telling him. The family said that Bush gave their lanky son, Abdullah, the nickname "Big Dude."...And Bush sent a letter of apology to the suspect's wife after the Secret Service ejected their son -- who was then a congressional intern -- from the White House complex during a separate June 2001 meeting of Muslims interested in the president's faith-based initiative.Al-Arian's appearance at the White House came six days earlier, also as part of the administration's outreach to Muslims, officials said.... Al-Arian has told The Post that he and wife Nahla campaigned for Bush in Florida mosques and elsewhere because they thought him the candidate most likely to fight discrimination against Arab Americans."]
RIVERA: What about the free speech argument, that he's a professor, that he's allowed to say whatever he feels, that he's protected by the First Amendment, etc.?
O'REILLY: He can say whatever he feels, but he can't raise money and give it terrorists. That is the crux of the government's case, that he was funneling money to people who were killing other people.
RIVERA: In the context of the post-9-11 world, do we have to tread lightly when it comes to our Arab brothers because of the danger of stereotyping and guilt by association?
O'REILLY: I mean, I think you have to be sensitive to the fact that you can't go on and demonize someone without very hard evidence, because it's easy to do that. You can throw up Abdullah someplace - half the audience is gonna condemn him just because his name is Abdullah. So, you've gotta be fair. We don't go after anybody. Anybody. Nine years we have never had to retract a story on The Factor. Not one, unless we have it - we have it rock solid.
[COMMENT: Yes, it's easy to make mistakes. Witness Bill's recent apology to Jane Fonda for believing something based on his "research" only to find out it was false. And what about Ward Churchill? O'Reilly crucified him because of things he wrote. The same could be said about Florida Judge Harry Rapkin, Georgia D. A. Paul Howard, Florida State Attorney Brad King, New York Judge Alvin Hellerstein, Iowa D.A. Bill Davis, Colorado University's former Chancellor Elizabeth Hoffman, Florida Judge Walter Heinrich, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Jack Miller, etc. - the list of people that Bill O'Reilly has maligned is truly staggering.]
RIVERA: What about the disconnect between the administration at the University at South Florida and the people who were watching that particular broadcast that night. I know the next day they were shocked to receive hundreds of ...
O'REILLY: Oh, they got murdered there.
RIVERA: ... very negative phone calls, even hate mail, even some threatening physical violence, if they didn't get the guy out of there.
RIVERA: What- what did you see that the administrators of that University did not?
O'REILLY: Well, I mean, the reason that South Florida got pounded was because al-Arian couldn't answer the questions and he fell back on: Well, you're a racist for even askin' me that. And the audience said: Well, wait a minute, now, hold it, this is serious - who is this guy and what is he doing? Now, there are people who will threaten. You know, I get threats every day. I'm sure you get 'em, too.
O'REILLY: And we didn't want any of that. That hurts us, if that happens. But the University of South Florida basically did what everybody does. They banded together and they started to attack the messenger - the messenger was me - instead of sayin': Yeah, maybe we got a problem with this guy.
RIVERA: Well, I have no problem with the interview. I think you did a great job.
O'REILLY: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
RIVERA: Thanks for bein' on. When we come back, we'll hear from Sami al-Arian's lawyer ...
RIVERA: I'm joined from Washington by terror expert Steve Emerson, who first accused the former professor of terrorism back in 1994.
[COMMENT: Emerson, a two-bit hack and dyed-in-the-wool fear merchant - who makes a better income if people are scared - fans the flames of hatred through rhetoric. His book is entitled "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us." He started out as a journalist, but has since morphed into a terror expert - surely a very lucrative profession in today's overheated environment. Emerson apparently already had a reputation as a less than credible reporter. Click here for more about Emerson's tarnished credibility.]
RIVERA: Steve, what brought Sami al-Arian to your attention?
EMERSON: It was clear, based on publications that he had been issuing, on conferences that he sponsored, statements emanating from his own address in Tampa, that he was operating the Palestine Islamic Jihad plus there were people in the government who said: Look at this, because this is pretty brazen and we can't do anything about this because our hands are tied.
RIVERA: Was it that he was operating it or he was a fellow traveler, someone sympathetic with the Palestinian cause?
EMERSON: No, it was clear he was more than a fellow traveler. He was actually one of the leaders of the Palestine Islamic Jihad. He was receiving communiques informing him of suicide bombings. He was actually managing the go - the organization's financing, even arranging loans from Iran. He was also involved in writing the constitution and the charter of the Palestine Islamic Jihad. He WAS the Palestine Islamic Jihad terrorist group.
RIVERA: Joining us on the telephone - William Moffitt, the fine attorney who is representing Sami al-Arian - will be in court tomorrow with the case. Bill, you're up against a lot, it seems, if what Steve and what Bill O'Reilly say is true, your client has dirtied his hands with an association with a terrorist group
MOFFITT (laughs): Well, we'll see. That's what the trial is about.
RIVERA: Do you think, Bill, that in these times in the midst of the war on terror as we find ourselves, your client can get a fair trial?
MOFFITT: Well, I guess that's one of the questions that's gonna be answered here. I - you know - if, if, if, if I live in the America that my 87-year-old mother taught me about when I was a child, then I'm real confident that he's gonna get a fair trial. If, if, if other things have happenend that won't allow him to get a fair trial, then not only is Sami al-Arian in danger, then we all are.
RIVERA: Steve Emerson, is there a danger that we overstate, given the - the attitude people have toward members of any of these groups that we - we can get engaged in an exaggerated kind of a hyper-tense climate that makes for bad judgment?
EMERSON: Absolutely not. The fact of the matter is the case rests on the evidence that the government has already introduced into court and will be continuing to introduce. It's not based on any type of stereotype. Either he is and was and has been a member of the Islamic Jihad leadership, the Shura Council. Was he involved in actually funding operations? Was he involved in actually bringing terrorists into the United States? Those are clear answers that are gonna be provided and I think demonstrably so. The fact that people are saying that somehow there's gonna be stereotyping or profiling and that's going to lead to exaggerated conclusions, I think, is the basic solution for the problems of Islamic militants who have no other case other than to say there's profiling. That's the flip side of what bin Laden says, that there's a war against Islam. They want to say there's a war against Islam in the U.S. There isn't. There's war against Islamic terrorism.
MOFFITT: Well, you never heard me say anything about profiling or anything, have you?
EMERSON: I didn't say you. But your - but defenders of Mr. al-Arian have deliberately said that - they've already said this over and over again since his indictment.
MOFFITT: Well, you haven't heard me say anything so I think you probably should hold your powder until you hear what I have to say, OK?
EMERSON: But the fact of the matter is your supporters and the supporters of Mr. al-Arian have consistently stated that he is the subject of some type of racial profiling, stereotyping ...
MOFFITT: I don't have ....
EMERSON: ... that he is innocent.
MOFFITT: I don't have ....
EMERSON: Oh, come now. You gonna disavow it?
MOFFITT (struggling to get a word in): I don't - I don't have - I don't have any supporters. I'm an - I'm an attorney
EMERSON (belligerently): Oh, no. You have - somebody pays you. Who pays you?
MOFFITT: None of your damned business.
EMERSON: Well, I - some of your supporters may be the same ones that support him.
MOFFIT (angry): I mean, you don't ....
RIVERA (shutting it down really fast): Alright, gentlemen. On that note, before we get into an ad hominem kind of mutual attack, let's just call a time out. We'll watch with great interest, Bill Moffitt, as you make your opening statement tomorrow. Steve Emerson,as always, a pleasure.
For a report on yesterday's opening statements, go to: Miami-Herald (registration required).
For more background on O'Reilly and Sami al-Arian, go to:
Factor Follow Up: Sami al-Arian - Interview with Roy Weatherford, President, U. of South Florida
Loftus on O'Reilly Factor March 21, 2002 - Interview With John Loftus and Robert Mckee