Fox News Network


November 16, 2004

SECTION: News; Domestic

HEADLINE: Unresolved Problem

GUESTS: Paul Levinson, Mark Bowden

BYLINE: Bill O'Reilly

SPEC: Politics; Media;

Title: Unresolved Problems: Interview With Fordham University Professor Paul Levinson, "The Atlantic Monthly"'s Mark Bowden


O'REILLY: Thanks for staying with us. I'm Bill O'Reilly.

In the "Unresolved Problems" Segment tonight, helping the terrorists.

As we have opined, the TV network Al Jazeera helps al Qaeda and other killers by broadcasting their executions propaganda. Today, that network received a tape where care worker Margaret Hassan is executed inside Iraq, if you can believe it. I mean, it's just brutal, these people. But, for once, Al Jazeera says it will not air the grisly footage.

With us now, Paul Levinson, who teaches communications at Fordham University and is author of The Soft Edge: The Natural History and Future of Information Revolution, and from Wilmington, Delaware, bestselling author Mark Bowden of Black Hawk Down fame. Mr. Bowden's latest book is called Road Work. Now you have some problems with not only Al Jazeera, but the American media showing these pictures put forth by the terrorists. Why don't you define it for us?

MARK BOWDEN, THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY: Well, the way I see it, Bill, is that American TV producers and newspaper editors are making too much of a story out of these kidnapping incidents where you have individuals who are kidnapped who are put on videotape before a group of masked terrorists who make their demands. Then a week later or so, as the deadline for execution approaches, you have the captive tearfully pleading for his or her life.

And then, of course, comes the grisly murder.

I think that while these things are terribly tragic on an individual level, they only get such play on TV and newspapers in this country because they're so horribly dramatic and sensational, and I think that newspaper editors and TV producers need to do a better job of weighing the actual importance of these events and also considering the public interests because...

O'REILLY: So you think it encourages the terrorists if they have a platform and a forum to show their terrible deeds?

BOWDEN: I absolutely do. I think that's the reason they do these things. These are political snuff films. They're being very carefully staged and acted out...

O'REILLY: Yes, nobody saw...

BOWDEN: ... precisely because...

O'REILLY: They might -- they may still do it, but, if nobody saw them, the incentive would be less.

Two more questions. Then we'll get to Professor Levinson.

Abu Ghraib. I didn't use the pictures. As we said in the "Talking Points" memo at the top of the program, I was the only one who didn't use them. So I did feel that, you know, using those pictures when I could describe what happened would inflame more hatred toward U.S. troops.

But I did use the footage last night of the Marine, the combat footage where he shot a prone man, and -- but we explained that we felt this was a legitimate shooting.

Would you have used the Abu Ghraib and this footage we're seeing now?

BOWDEN: Yes, I would have. I think those are both legitimate news stories and important things for people to see.

O'REILLY: All right.

Professor, how do you see all this?

PAUL LEVINSON, PROFESSOR, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: I agree partially with Mr. Bowden. I do think that sometimes the American media become tools for our adversaries and are playing Al Jazeera's game.

But, on the other hand, I think there is a benefit, however tragic it is, in seeing the depravity of our adversaries, and...

O'REILLY: But how many times do we have to see it? I mean, if you don't get the depravity now after 9/11 and one of these beheadings, how many times do you have to see it?

LEVINSON: Well, sometimes people don't get it the first time, and, you know, it's not exactly something that everyone tunes in and watches.

And you mentioned about the programming last night. I think the networks and Fox was -- were right to show that footage, but, actually, they didn't go far enough. There was a part that was blacked out.

O'REILLY: Yes. Why do you have to see somebody get their head blown off?

LEVINSON: Because it -- we're involved in a war there, and everyone in our democracy has to decide whether we should be there or not.

O'REILLY: Yes, but I disagree. I mean...

LEVINSON: Well -- but the point is we can't...

O'REILLY: There's no way.

LEVINSON: We can't make decisions when we're ignorant of what's happening.

O'REILLY: Why? You saw what happened. We blacked it out. You heard the gunshot. I told you what happened. The guy is dead. You don't need to see his brain splattering all over the wall here, Professor.

LEVINSON: It's not a question of needing to. It's a question of seeing with your own eyes. This isn't a pleasurable thing.

O'REILLY: Why? Why they have to see that?

LEVINSON: Because that's what news is about. It's people seeing for themselves.

O'REILLY: No, it's not. You've got to use some restraints.


O'REILLY: Well, what do you think, Mr. Bowden? Do you think we should have shown the brains being splattered all over the wall?

BOWDEN: No, I don't. I think -- especially -- I mean, people who want to see that kind of thing nowadays can go find it on the Internet.

Television -- mainstream television and media in this country is kind of like America's public square, and I think freedom of the press involves the freedom of being able to show what you want.

But it also, I think, comes with a certain responsibility of good taste and good judgment, and I don't think showing...

O'REILLY: But you would have used the Abu Ghraib. I'm -- I thought - - and both of you would have used it.

LEVINSON: Yes. Can I say something? I don't think it's good taste.

News is not about good taste. News is about the truth.

O'REILLY: But sometimes you have to be an editor.


O'REILLY: Sometimes you have to...

LEVINSON: Well, you shouldn't present something that's untrue.

O'REILLY: Look, the truth is that we told everybody what happened, OK, but we didn't have to show it happen. They know what happened.

Look, Abu Ghraib -- I'm not putting those guys in more jeopardy. I told you what happened. You got it, all right. You saw the pictures of stills. I don't have to show it again!

LEVINSON: Well, it's not a question of putting people in jeopardy.


O'REILLY: Sure it is!

LEVINSON: Well, you shouldn't show things that jeopardize people's lives, but...

O'REILLY: Well, we -- but you don't think that Abu Ghraib...


O'REILLY: Come on.

LEVINSON: Yes. There were parts of Abu Ghraib where the people were masked and nobody could see who they were.

O'REILLY: And every nut in the Middle East went out and wants to kill an American.

LEVINSON: They felt that way to begin with.

O'REILLY: Not...

LEVINSON: That certainly doesn't -- it doesn't help to make things secret. When something bad happens, the American people need to see it for better or worse so they can make a judgment.

O'REILLY: All right. Mr. Bowden, why would have -- why would you have used Abu Ghraib and not some of the Al Jazeera stuff?

BOWDEN: Well, Abu Ghraib was not an incident staged deliberately for propaganda, and I do think that we have a very important role, American citizens, in deciding how we should be treating these thousands of people who we've captured in the war on terror who are being held in prisons all over the world. In some places, we don't even know where these prisons are. So I think this is an important public debate right now in our country.

O'REILLY: So I was wrong? You think I was wrong for not showing those pictures?

BOWDEN: I do, yes.

O'REILLY: How about you? Do you think I was wrong?

LEVINSON: Yes, I do. The point is America functions best on maximum information. You were complaining before about Canada not allowing Fox News into their country. You're right because Canada is a democracy, and, if it deprives its citizens of the maximum amount of information, they're doing them a disservice.

O'REILLY: Well, I'm going to defend myself and say I was right because I got the story across. People knew what happened at Abu Ghraib, if they listened to THE FACTOR. But I didn't want to...

And, Mr. Bowden, maybe you could appreciate this. I didn't want to give propaganda footage because we're on all over the world now. I mean, this broadcast is being seen everywhere. I didn't want to give that footage to the enemy. To the enemy.

LEVINSON: Yes. Well, that -- I think that's something different here going on, Bill. That was a decision that you made, and it's a defensible position. What I'm talking about in these political snuff films are -- is theater, grotesque theater deliberately staged by terrorists precisely in order to get it in people's homes in America and in the western world.

O'REILLY: Sure. Scare us, intimidate us.

LEVINSON: Show us how terrible the enemy is. Why don't you just look at it as...

O'REILLY: We already know! I don't understand -- We already know that!

LEVINSON: Because words and descriptions are not the same as literal images. I'm not saying this is something we should welcome, but it's not something...

O'REILLY: Listen, if you don't get it by now, then it's -- you know what I feel? It's tough. If you don't get it, you don't know it, too bad.

You're a moron.

So I'm not -- I'm with -- I think we have to exercise tremendous restraint in this war on terror as responsible press people. We have to give the information, but we have to give the information in a way that doesn't hurt our soldiers or other Americans.

Mr. Bowden, I'm going to give you the last word. Go.

BOWDEN: Well, I think more importantly, we need to, as editors, as journalists, weigh the actual importance of these events. I heard a woman in one of the presidential debates ask one of the candidates for president if they could envision a time when Americans would really be safe.

Well, that's ridiculous. We lived through the Cold war, which is one of the most dangerous periods in world history. Compared to that, we live in a veritable Eden today.

O'REILLY: All right. Gentlemen, thanks very much. Very interesting discussion. Professor. Mr. Bowden.

In a moment, the values debate. Both Republicans and Democrats are telling us they are the party of values. What's the real story? Ahead.


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