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June 9, 2009

For Once, Defending Bill O’Reilly: Tiller’s Blood is Not on His Hands

In the wake of the murder last week of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, a very unsettling debate has begun to unwind about whom, exactly, has "blood on their hands" as a result of the killing. As with most cases like this, my answer begins and ends with the person who did the actual killing.

Some background: Tiller, of Wichita, one of the few doctors in America who still performed late-term abortions, often found himself under fire from anti-abortion groups, media personalities and even government officials who tried on multiple, unsuccessful occasions to prosecute him.

On May 31, Tiller was shot dead in cold blood while he stood in church with his wife looking on from the church's choir. The shooter, Scott Roeder, who was captured a few hours later, was an anti-abortion activist who had been associated with some radical groups and made violent and apocalyptic Internet postings.

The anti-abortion movement, to its credit, unequivocally condemned the killing, with the exception of the extremist Operation Rescue, which equivocated somewhat. But starting the day of the murder, an awkward but very familiar dance began on the cable news airwaves: MSNBC blamed Fox News – specifically Bill O'Reilly, who had frequently targeted Tiller – while O'Reilly returned fire by playing the victim card.

For once, I'll defend O'Reilly. He does not have "blood on his hands," for the simple reason that he never came close to suggesting that someone should kill Dr. Tiller. Not to mention, we don't know for a fact that the shooter has even seen O'Reilly's show. Blaming O'Reilly for this makes about as much sense as blaming video game developers for the Columbine and Virginia Tech attacks.

(Incidentally, according to a Huffington Post report Monday, Roeder's lawyers are supposedly considering using the "O'Reilly Defense" – essentially, that O'Reilly made him do it – at trial. Good luck with that. If the killer was part of some organized group, that must be investigated – and supposedly, that's happening right now. But blaming the host of a TV show?)

Yes, O'Reilly is guilty of hyperbole, especially in the way he regularly calls people – not just Tiller, but people such as blog commenters – “nazis." O'Reilly's definition of "nazi" appears to be “anyone I don't like." I also don't believe that the "far left's exploitation" of this to blame O'Reilly is either a bigger story or a bigger outrage than the fact that a man was shot dead. But no, he's not to blame for Tiller's death.

Tiller provided a medical procedure that, for all its wedge-issue political tarring, is in many cases a necessary and life-saving surgery – one that fewer and fewer doctors are now willing to perform. Andrew Sullivan, on his site, has been posting heart-wrenching stories from readers who have been through medical complications during pregnancy and needed late-term procedures – and this from a blogger who has said that he's opposed to late-term abortion.

The abortion issue is heart- and gut-wrenching for everyone. See Tony Kaye's incredible documentary Lake of Fire for more on that. But all reasonable people should be able to agree that killing doctors is wrong, and that blaming such killings on TV personalities isn't right, either.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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