Instead of debating a group of Vermont high school students who criticized an O’Reilly Factor hit piece on their town, Bill O’Reilly had hatchet man Jesse Watters double down on the smears – and then jabbed at the students for taking the insults too seriously.
As I’ve previously written, a group of Bennington, Vermont students took exception to a Watters World segment that set out to denigrate the town because, as The Factor reported, Vermont is tied with Hawaii as the most liberal state in the country. The Mount Anthony Union High School students produced a thoughtful, fact-driven video rebutting the segment via a “professional integrity audit” based on the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists. The students concluded their audit (which found so many ethics violations that “we lost count”) by hoping that Fox News would learn from their project and asking them to “commit to raising the bar by sticking to high standards and the code of ethics of journalism.”
Sadly, that’s too much to ask. Even on the show that purports to be the “no spin zone.”
Rather than take personal responsibility for the segment that he undoubtedly approved - if not directly ordered – O’Reilly let producer Jesse Watters take all the heat – and do some more deriding. Erik Wemple aptly described Watters’ response:
True to his smart-aleck reputation, Watters took several swipes at the students, replaying their objections to his work and then refuting their refutations. Some were in good fun. For instance, the students objected to his characterizing Vermont as harboring “ski bums,” saying that this was an outdated cultural reference. Watters responded by showing a Vermont license plate: “SKI-BUM.” And Watters pointed to Gallup research attesting to Vermont’s liberal bent.
The lowlight, however, comes when Watters showcases two female Mount Anthony Union students disputing the sampling of interviewees in his July piece. They alleged that Watters had interviewed just six sources, all of them between 17 and 24 years old. “Have you ever heard of the phrase accurate demographic representation?” asked one of the girls in the video. As opposed to addressing that objection; as opposed to defending his sourcing; as opposed to debating the merits, Watters elected to demean these girls. And he did that by cutting to the scene from the 1993 film “Dazed and Confused” in which Matthew McConaughey (as David Wooderson) says, “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”
After playing back another objection from the Mount Anthony Union video, Watters asked, “Did your nutty professor write this script for you?”
At the end of the interview, O’Reilly tried to distance himself from his own segment. “What a wise guy you are, beatin’ up those high school kids!" O'Reilly said to Watters. "How did I get dragged into this?” As if O’Reilly were just a lowly employee of the show.
O’Reilly took his own poke at the kids, saying, “I don’t know if they and their instructors quite understand the satiric element that you bring, see.” Then, as if to say the whole thing was just a big joke (on them, of course), O’Reilly continued, “And I’m addressing my comments now to the Bennington high school kids. Watters doesn’t really have a world. He just made it up.”
Near the end of the segment, O’Reilly and Watters agreed the kids showed “spunk.” O’Reilly claimed, “I’m glad those kids did that.” He later added, “If you think that Watters was unfair, you let him have it. We don’t care. We’re not defending anything.”
On every show, O’Reilly says, “We’re looking out for you.” Apparently, he does not mean Vermonters. Or, at least not Vermont's Mount Anthony Union High School students. Or anyone else Watters smears.
Watch it below, from last night’s The O’Reilly Factor. I’m including the Vermont students’ “integrity audit” underneath it.
They keep this smear of that school up, though, and that school might take a page out of the books of Lohan and Paris and see them in court.
Politicians have to take it; it’s career suicide to take people to court for defamation in politics, and Fox knows it. But the average joes are sick of it, and the door to the courtroom is open. We’re gonna see how much that “right to lie” ruling helps them…
The proper thing for O’Reilly to have done would have been to have the students on the show, with their teacher, and with Watters, and go through the complaints. That would have been a teachable moment for everyone. Instead, O’Reilly decided it was a joke and let Watters throw in a few more cheap shots just for fun.