Saturday, October 28, 2006

David Letterman Takes On Bill O'Reilly.

Once again, David Letterman takes on bill O’Reilly on his Late Show. There is of course some great joy in seeing Bill O'Reilly cornered but there's more to it.
First, it is clear that David Letterman has the great ability to sum up in simple terms what most Americans feel about things and in this case how they have felt about invading Iraq:
We felt like we wanted to do something, because something terrible had been done to us. We did not understand exactly why, all we knew was something terrible, something heinous, something obscene had been done to us. So while it didn't necessarily make sense to go into Iraq as it did perhaps to go into Afghanistan, I like most everybody else felt like yes, we needed to do something. And as the weeks turned into months, years and one death became a dozen deaths and hundred deaths and a thousand deaths - then we began to realize you know what? Maybe we're causing more trouble over there than the whole effort has been worth.

Letterman was also good at dodging O’Reilly’s attempts at reframing reality. In fact, O’Reilly used three techniques that the right conservatives cherish.

  • First, put things in simplistic binary (yes/no) terms and by alluding to the fact that the other part is weak for not responding:

O'Reilly: Possible, but do you right now? Do you want the Untied States to win in Iraq?

Letterman: First of all, I don't -

O'Reilly: It's an easy question, If you don't want the United States to win –

To which Letterman answered skilfully:

Letterman: It's not easy for me because I'm thoughtful.

Which was followed by applause of course, to the joy of Lettermen:

Letterman: How 'bout that? That was a good one.

  • The second technique consists in reframing reality by putting words in people’s mouth:

Letterman: Let me ask you a question — was there more heinous, more dangerous violence taking place before in Iraq, or is there more heinous, dangerous violence taking place now in Iraq?

O'Reilly: Oh, stop it. Saddam Hussein slaughtered 300,000 to 400,000 people, all right, so knock it off… It isn't so black and white, Dave — it isn't, 'We're a bad country. Bush is an evil liar.' That's not true.

Letterman: I didn't say he was an evil liar. You're putting words in my mouth, just the way you put artificial facts in your head!

  • The third technique, consist in misrepresents reality by giving incomplete facts, using true elements while omitting others Unfortunately, Letterman is more of an entertainer than a journalist and to his own admission knows nothing about the subject.

So when O’Reilly says

O'Reilly: You know what Ansar-al-Islam, do you know what that is? You don't. And I'm not saying this in a condescending way, I'm really not. Okay? I'm not going to call you a bonehead or a pinhead?

Letterman was obviously clueless (which made his audience laugh).

[laughter]

O'Reilly: Ansar-al-Islam was the al Qaeda affiliate in Northern Iraq who tried to poison the British water supply with Ricin. They operated with Saddam Hussein's okay. Again, complicated, but it isn't so black and white, Dave. It isn't we're a bad country, Bush is an evil liar.

But as Crooks-and-Liars reported on their blog,

The Senate Intelligence Committee writes on pages 71-72 that Saddam had virtually no control over the northern Kurdistan region of Iraq, that there were flaws that "undermined confidence in the reporting" of such a relationship and that Ansar al-Islam that was not "a branch of al Qaeda." Furthermore, Saddam's regime had no contact with the group other than to possibly infiltrate it to gather intelligence. The report concludes on page 110: "Postwar information reveals that Baghdad viewed Ansar al-Islam as a threat to the regime and that the IIS attempted to collect intelligence on the group."

And Saddam Hussein distrusted al Qaeda so greatly that he even tried to capture Zarqawi.

But at least Letterman knows he doesn’t know when O’Reilly wants us to believe that he does know. Either he is as ignorant as Joe Schmuk or he knows and distorts reality to promote his ideological agenda:

Letterman: Uh ... Oh gosh, where has the time gone? You know I appreciate you coming over her and indulging me because you know once again I'll just end up saying I have no idea what I'm talking about but I don't think you do either.

And Letterman is better than O'Reilly in one: he is funny (most of the time anyway)

[see video here via Crooks and Liars, and the full transcript of the show here]

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