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Dave Kopel's thorough and reasoned response to O'Reilly misrepresentations about Boulder High sex panel

Reported by Chrish - June 15, 2007 -

Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute appeared on the O'Reilly Factor June 4th. The father of a Boulder High School student, Kopel, was concerned about the inflammatory and misleading coverage O'Reilly had been airing on the Factor about the now famous STD (Sex, Teens and Drugs) assembly at BHS. If you'll recall, O'Reilly told Kopel that if he wasn't an "S-P", then he (O'Reilly) was Donald Duck.

Quack quack.

Kopel has issued a study from the Independence Institute entitled Media Errors in Coverage of Boulder High School: Falsehoods, Distortions, and Omissions by Bill O'Reilly and "Caplis & Silverman". In it he lays out, point by point, the outright falsehoods and misrepresentations perpetrated by Bill O'Reilly (and "Caplis and Silverman", on whom I won't focus.)

The introduction:

By Jon Caldara, President, Independence Institute

This is not an easy report for us to release.

As I have said repeatedly, I agree with Bill O’Reilly that everyone should be outraged by the panel on sex, teens and drugs at Boulder High School. The panel was unbalanced and in direct violation of Boulder Valley School District policy. And parents and all concerned citizens should make their voices heard. But outrage is no excuse for O’Reilly and others broadcasting erroneous information that greatly misrepresents the story.

In some cases, quotes were taken out of context in order to sensationalize the story and some statements were just false including two of the following claims:

O’Reilly stated that all students were required to attend the panel. That is false. A few teachers—not all—brought their students to the panel, which was in direct violation of district policy. Those teachers have been reprimanded.

O’Reilly stated that the “same people” have been invited back next year. This is simply false.

What’s more, the district responded. It has now changed the policy so every family has an opportunity—in advance—to opt out from any Conference on World Affairs panel.

The panel itself was in violation of district policy because it did not have a broad variety of views, for which the district has admitted error and apologized.

These are only some of O’Reilly’s errors and omissions.

Even more troubling was O’Reilly’s use of ambush journalism I would expect from the likes of Michael Moore, including having a reporter follow a school board member into her garage, cameras rolling, even after she requested he leave her private property.

The Caplis & Silverman coverage, while better, has still been far below their normal high standards. Just as we have taken on the liberal media for their bias and sloppy reporting, we must do so with our friends on the right, or else we will lose credibility.

We have invited Bill O’Reilly and Caplis & Silverman to write a response to our Issue Paper, of whatever length they choose, which we will post on our website. Dan Caplis has already agreed to take advantage of our offer. We hope Bill O’Reilly will do the same.

The Executive Summary:
This Issue Paper examines media coverage of a controversy involving a panel which was held at Boulder High on April 10, 2007. In particular, the Paper examines coverage by Bill O’Reilly, a national television and radio host on the Fox Network, and by the Caplis & Silverman Show, a weekday afternoon talk radio program in Denver.

• The presentation of the panel at Boulder High School was wrong for many reasons. A factually accurate approach to the panel could be a good starting point for a more comprehensive look at parental rights in the context of public school health education.

• Unfortunately, sensational media coverage has omitted critical facts, and has substantially misled the public.

• Audio clips or quotations from those clips have been used in a manner which falsifies some speakers’ messages.

• O’Reilly employees have violated the criminal laws of the state of Colorado, perpetrating a felony home invasion by illegally entering and remaining in the attached home garage of a woman.

• In all respects, the O’Reilly coverage has been egregiously worse than the Caplis & Silverman coverage.

• O’Reilly’s outrage is inconsistent with his own bad advice to middle and high school students: “As for me, I’m not going to tell you to avoid sex, because in the end you’re going to do what you want anyway.” His book The O’Reilly Factor for Kids recommends sex on the basis of “sincere affection.”

• Among the falsehoods are:

o Both shows claiming that a speaker told people not to use condoms when in fact he told them to always use condoms

o Both shows claiming that a speaker said that 12-year-olds should have sex when in fact he said that there was never any good reason why a 12-yearold might do so.

o O’Reilly’s gross untruth that the speakers have been invited back to Boulder High School next year.

o Both shows claiming that a speaker promoted teenage homosexual experimentation, when he actually described such experimentation as “a mistake” and “a bad situation.”

Media analysis of the Boulder panel could have begun a public discussion of what place, if any, “safe sex” education should play in public schools, or whether public schools should even have panels or curricula on non-academic subjects such as sex, drugs, or alcohol. Unfortunately, much of the media coverage has been so false and so
inflammatory (e.g., that 12-year-olds were encouraged to have sex without condoms) that it has impeded a constructive public dialogue.

The coverage appears to have been responsible for violent threats that have been directed at the Boulder High principal, at School Board members, and at school district employees.

It would be wonderful for the media to lead a public inquiry about the management failures in the school district that led to the presentation of a panel which so greatly violated the School Board’s own official policies. Such an inquiry is hindered, not helped, by an atmosphere in which irresponsible media coverage leads to students attending school while the principal in the same building must receive police protection from violent criminals.

This Issue Paper does not allege that either Bill O’Reilly or Caplis & Silverman told listeners to perpetrate crimes. (A threat is itself a felony in Colorado. However, the threats were a reasonably foreseeable consequence of O’Reilly’s incendiary and recklessly false coverage.

Reasonable people can disagree about the policy questions in the Boulder High controversy. People cannot make reasonable decisions when they are misinformed by the media.

It would be good for Colorado to have a debate about “safe sex” education and similar programs, which are present in many public schools throughout Colorado. Such a debate should certainly include discussion of ways to better inform parents about the content of such curricula, and to increase the ability of families to opt out.

It is impossible to have a constructive discussion about schools telling students that they should always use condoms when the media falsely claim that a particular school told students not to use condoms.

Boulder High students finished the school year under an atmosphere of violent threats that resulted from extremely irresponsible media coverage.

There were many aspects of the panel that are subjects of legitimate criticism and debate. Unfortunately, O’Reilly (in much of his coverage) and C&S (sometimes) have gone beyond the bounds of factually-accurate criticism. Derelictions from basic standards of journalism have included selective quotation which has altered the meaning of speakers, a negligent (or worse) approach to accuracy and completeness, and the felony invasion of a woman’s home.

It will be a great day when the Caplis & Silverman Show returns to its normally high standards. We hope that the show in future will more accurately and completely describe what really took place on April 10.

We look forward to publishing the response to this Issue Paper that C&S have already agreed to write, and we hope that Mr. O’Reilly or his staff will also take up the Independence Institute’s invitation to write a response._

I strongly urge you to read the entire document, which lays out in excrutiatingly documented and footnoted detail the breadth and depth of the distortions and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Mr. Kopel is anything but an "S-P."

That O'Reilly distorts and lies to boost outrage and ratings is not news to us. His claim to be "looking out for you" in the "no-spin zone" has never been exposed so irrefutably to be an empty slogan.

This is Mr. Kopel's first experience with O'Reilly's tactics. We applaud him and his Institute for taking a painful, principled stand against such shoddy, harmful "journalism."

We too look forward to O'Reilly's response.