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Conservative Pundits Wage War Of Words And Finger-Pointing


Over the past 10 days, a couple of prominent journalists have swapped highly-charged accusations on the Fox News channel. That kind of disputation is common on Fox, but the contenders might surprise you - Fox's top-rated host Bill O'Reilly and the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will, who is also a colleague on that network. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the animosity continues.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Boy, even as cable news fights go, this is bare-knuckled stuff.

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: I had never seen anything so angry.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of the conservative news outlet Newsmax and its channel, Newsmax TV.

RUDDY: An analyst was not only accusing the lead host - in this case Bill O'Reilly - of errors and inaccuracies in his recent book, he was also accusing him of basically being a liar. And generally, the criticism went well beyond just disagreements over a position or take in a book.

FOLKENFLIK: Indeed, the argument centers around O'Reilly's new best-selling book "Killing Reagan." In it, O'Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard, authors that the assassination attempt on President Reagan early in his first year in office in 1981 damaged his mental capacity well before the effects of Alzheimer's surfaced. Late last week, O'Reilly promoted his book on the show, as he often does.


O'REILLY: Very interesting thing happened today on the book front. George Will wrote a column entitled "Bill O'Reilly Slanders Ronald Reagan." But it is his column that is a libel, Will's column.

FOLKENFLIK: Will called the book preposterous, saying the two writers falsely painted the Republican hero as incompetent. O'Reilly told viewers that Reagan loyalists just want to deify his presidency and questioned Will's loyalty to a Fox teammate.


O'REILLY: Will never called me, even though it's not direct dial. I mean, he can just punch up a little extension and there I am 'cause he works for Fox News.

FOLKENFLIK: And then O'Reilly invited will - or dared him, take your pick - to come on the show. The next day, Will did just that.


O'REILLY: So you write that my book is a no-facts zone. Let's talk about the facts.

FOLKENFLIK: Will pointed to a memo written by an aide to a former senator who is about to become Reagan's chief of staff in 1987. That memo questioned Reagan's competence.


GEORGE WILL: It's a memo that you have never seen. It's a memo that you didn't even ask to try to see from the Reagan library until after the book was in print.

FOLKENFLIK: The two men exchanged tough words. The first voice here belongs to O'Reilly.


O'REILLY: That was not the end of it.

WILL: Any influence the memo...

O'REILLY: You're not telling the truth. You are actively misleading the American people. You are lying.

WILL: You are something of an expert on actively misleading.

O'REILLY: You are lying.

FOLKENFLIK: Both of the authors failed to check their premise with key White House officials who knew Reagan best. Then O'Reilly said that was by choice.


O'REILLY: We don't talk to people when we're writing our books.

WILL: You mean they - they have knowledge of the game.

O'REILLY: They have skin in the game, emotion in the game, spin in the game.

FOLKENFLIK: Most credible historians and journalists would dispute that approach. O'Reilly insisted his book was laudatory of Reagan but got at the truth.


O'REILLY: Here's the deal - that memo was written; that meeting took place; all of what we write in "Killing Reagan" is true. You're a hack.

FOLKENFLIK: For his next column, published earlier this week, Will returned to the subject. Will started this way, quote, "were the lungs the seat of wisdom, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly would be wise. But they are not, and he is not. Newsmax's Chris Ruddy wrote a column saying that if Will felt so strongly about the most important host on Fox, he should resign. And on Thursday, O'Reilly appeared on Ruddy's much smaller rival to unload again. O'Reilly noted Will is a close friend of Nancy Reagan and that Will's wife worked in the Reagan White House, and then O'Reilly promised more to come.


O'REILLY: We are going to break a story on Monday that shows George Will's associations with certain people and his motivation for running down the book.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox News executives have been to date silent about their outspoken stars. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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