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Comedy or Tragedy: Did Will Ferrell's Profane Comedy Bit Hurt a Little Girl?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," June 5, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST: "The Factor" follow up segment tonight. Did actor-comedian Will Ferrell damage a two-year-old girl by putting her into an Internet comedy bit? That exposition has been seen by millions. Here's part of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pay the rent.

WILL FERRELL: You don't have to raise your voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You pay the rent.

FERRELL: I can give you half.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You pay now, bitch.

FERRELL: You need to relax.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (BLEEP). I want my money, bitch.

FERRELL: Don't call me bitch I'm grown man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bitch, bitch, bitch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'REILLY: Now last Friday, Geraldo and I disagreed about this. I said the child was exploited. He said there was nothing wrong with it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GERALDO RIVERA: You know, my daughter is the same age.

O'REILLY: Your daughter says that stuff?

RIVERA: There are too much - she doesn't, but she doesn't remember - if you say, "Say Jack." She's going to say, "Jack." She's not going to remember Jack 15 seconds later.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'REILLY: But is that true? Joining us now from Houston, Dr. Gail Gross, a child psychologist.

You know, the mail that we got on the Geraldo segment last Friday ran about three to one against Geraldo. But there were 25 percent of people writing in who said, “Look O'Reilly, you don't have any sense of humor. You're an idiot. This was just for fun. This little kid isn't going to be damaged, and we really liked this.” You, as an expert in child psychology, when you're seeing this tape on the Internet, what's going on through your mind?

GAIL GROSS, CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST: Well I'm family and child development specialist. I know right off the bat that not everything is a joke. It's really wrong to teach children to verbally be abusive and hurt someone's feelings. And parents have a moral responsibility, an obligation to protect their child's innocence.

This two-year-old, let's look at Pearl. This is such a critical stage of development that in 45 minutes, if you are to believe the outtakes, little Pearl learned a script, a dialogue, and her behavior that was appropriate to that script. So she's very precocious.

But you know, children at this stage of development are developing morally their emotions, and mentally. And so it's so important for us to teach them social codes to prepare them for life and for school, how to get along with others peacefully. Not to be aggressive.

Children follow their parents’ lead. Let's take, for example, if Pearl had been with her parents at a party and people were using aggressive language, cursing, and perhaps fighting, parents would say, I'm sure, wait a minute, wait a minute, there's a child here don't act that way.

So now we have Pearl. And we know that language has a lot of energy. We know that — look at Imus. He lost his job over language. That language can be hurtful. If someone you love says, “I hate you,” you feel that.

So we have Pearl here who has been taught for 45 minutes those little neuro pathways are just crackling all this behavior. What happens now with what we've taught Pearl?

O'REILLY: OK.

GROSS: And what happens — Pearl is probably in preschool right now in some kind of a nursery environment.

O'REILLY: I - you know.

GROSS: And he's not.

O'REILLY: I don't want to speculate about the child, but I will say that the child's father, Adam McKay, is a partner with Will Ferrell in this website. And that's why they did it.

But I assume, and I think I'm right here, that they made it a game for the little girl. It became a game. That's how you get two-year-olds to do anything. You create a game. And you create a scenario. And they're in the game. And they have fun in the game. They get rewarded.

But Geraldo's contention is that the girl isn't going to remember this, anything about it. All she'll remember is that the game was fun.

GROSS: Well, what is that game? We taught her behavior, and that behavior is trapped now in her little brain. Now if Pearl is around other children, and she slips with some of those words, the other children will react, the parents of the other child will react, and Pearl will be penalized.

So we set little Pearl up to really get in trouble, so to speak. Childhood is about teaching children. Parents are the first teachers, first role models. In fact, they're the true gene therapists. What a child is to be, they are now becoming. And by the time they are three, a lot of that is already in place. They learn multiple languages.

O'REILLY: Right, the personality development is. But what isn't in place is the memory. And I'm not sure that make a difference, because subliminally, kids react different ways. I got 40 seconds. What would you tell the parents?

GROSS: Once you have language, you have memory.

O'REILLY: What would you tell the parents of Will Ferrell about this? Just give me 30 seconds.

GROSS: Well, I would tell them not to do this any more, not to use that language around their children any more, to ignore that language when it comes up again, which it will, and not joke about it, not laugh about it, and try to make it go away.

And if they must, they have to say to Pearl, “This is not appropriate language to use around other children.”

O'REILLY: All right. Doctor, thanks very much. We appreciate it. Very interesting.

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