Who's Responsible When Guests Lie on Cable News Networks?

Bernie Goldberg analyzes how cable news networks should handle false statements made on air


This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," November 22, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Weekdays with Bernie" segment tonight, you may remember last week actress Ellen Barkin telling Joy Behar on Headline News that I verbally attacked her.


ELLEN BARKIN, ACTRESS: I'm very flattered that I'm now on Bill O'Reilly's radar.

JOY BEHAR, HLN HOST: Oh, he called you a pinhead.


BEHAR: Did he? Probably.

BARKIN: I thought he called me a washed-up, has-been D-list celebrity, (EXPLETIVE DELETED), whatever, you know. Dumb.

BEHAR: Yes. It's always the same.

BARKIN: It's always the same.


O'REILLY: Well, it turned out to be totally false. I never said anything like that against Ms. Barkin, nor would I. We asked Headline News to issue a correction or an apology; they refused.

Joining us now from Miami, the purveyor of, Mr. Goldberg.

So, look, cable news now in prime time is dominated by opinion. And it goes all over the world, not just in the United States. So you have operations that -- do they have no responsibility when something like that occurs? Nothing? They just say, "Too bad. We don't care. See you"?

BERNIE GOLDBERG, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Here's my rule of thumb, Bill. If Ellen Barkin, or for that matter Henry Kissinger or Steven Hawking, if anybody went on a cable program and said, "The other night I heard Bill O'Reilly say that President Obama is a communist spy. He's a Manchurian candidate, and he ought to be impeached," then everybody involved needs to apologize, because that kind of slander cannot stand.

The person who said it would have to apologize. The person who let it go by without challenge would have to apologize. And the network. Some executive at the network would have to come forward and apologize, because that kind of accusation is important.

But when a celebrity makes a dopey comment, as celebrities have a tendency to do, on a silly little cable TV show, that's -- that's not important.

O'REILLY: Well, it doesn't rise to what you're saying. Well, wait a minute. Let me challenge that. Let me challenge that.

I don't care what they say about me. My problem in this country isn't with people who watch me every night. It's with people who don't watch me and don't know, and hear third hand from people like that. That's a bit of a problem, but since we're the dominant No. 1 program, not much of one.

But what if I'm not famous and what if I'm just a doctor or a lawyer or, you know, an iron worker, a blue-collar worker, and my name comes up in a conversation, and somebody says, "Well, that person did this or said this"? And it's flat-out false. Headline News, Bernie, knows this is flat-out false. They know it.


O'REILLY: They basically said, "You know what? We don't care what she said. We don't care." So that means there are no rules over there.

GOLDBERG: Right. In a better world, somebody -- in a better world where everything is corrected that's incorrect, there would be a media culpa and somebody would come forward and say, "Hey, we got that wrong. We didn't know at the time, but we're sorry."

But the difference between taking a shot at you, is you come back the next day on a cable program...

O'REILLY: You bet. You bet.

GOLDBERG: ... that's -- that has a thousand times the audience of the other show, and you slap down everybody involved. That's sort of the end of it.

If they ever do something really nasty to a working guy, a carpenter, somebody who works on a railroad, some woman who's a secretary or a school teacher, you know, the rules of libel apply to those people in a different way than they apply to people like you and me. And that person can take action.

O'REILLY: If that -- if that actress and Ms. Behar -- and by the way, Ms. Behar's show has been canceled, but it had nothing to do with this. She didn't get very good ratings.

GOLDBERG: That’s a shame.

O'REILLY: If you believe that they were discussing a civilian, not somebody who was famous, that say, both of them had a business dealing with or both of them had a run-in with or a car accident, a car accident, and they -- this person did f, -- x, y, you believe that person could take them into a court of law and sue them. The person would have to show damages which isn't easy to do in the court of public opinion.

GOLDBERG: No, you are right. You are absolutely right. And the fact of the matter is -- and this is something that we all have to understand -- that in the real world, sometimes people get away with crummy things. I mean, there isn't a solution to everything.

O'REILLY: No, but there should be rules. There should be rules of behavior on these programs.

GOLDBERG: Well, there should be -- there should be rules but they're not -- they're not TV rules. If you're telling me that a civilian who has no actual damages except that they've been slimed on TV, there should be rules. Yes, there should be rules that the legislature passes. Not that the TV Cable Association passes.

O'REILLY: I disagree. I mean, on this program, if some -- if a guest says something that is untrue on this program, I will correct it as soon as we know it's untrue. And I think all the networks should have that rule in place. You have to do that.

Now, I've got -- I've only got a minute left on this.

O'REILLY: Do you...


O'REILLY: Go ahead.

GOLDBERG: OK. Did you know that Ellen Barkin asked me out once?

O'REILLY: That is a frightening thought to consider.

GOLDBERG: I was in her trailer at the time, and she said, "Get out." But now...

O'REILLY: Goldberg.

GOLDBERG: So that happened.

O'REILLY: All right. FBI data, 2010, hate crimes against Jews, 10 times as many as hate crimes against Muslims in the USA. And you're not going to hear that report on many news programs. You're not going to hear it.

GOLDBERG: Right. Because a story line developed after 9/11. And the story line was basically that Muslim-Americans are under attack. Now, it wasn't true. There were some isolated cases. But even the New York Times ran a story that said there was a torrent of vandalism against Muslim- Americans. You would think there was an epidemic. But the FBI statistic that you just made reference to...

O'REILLY: No. Very small.

GOLDBERG: ... say it's far greater among Jews. But that doesn't fit the story line. Didn't even fit the story line in the Occupy Wall Street story where there were plenty of examples of anti-Semitism.

O'REILLY: And they didn't report those. I just want to give the facts.

GOLDBERG: Muslim-Americans are seen as underdogs and liberals in the media...

O'REILLY: Right.

GOLDBERG: ... root for underdogs, and that's why that story took off.

O'REILLY: Violence against Jews, 1,040 victims in 2010. Violence against Muslims, 197, according to the FBI.

Bernie, thanks very much. Happy Thanksgiving.

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