Dr. Robert Thompson Goes on 'The Factor'

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," April 22, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY HOST: "Impact segment" tonight, the CBS program "48 Hours" has angered some people by using two black and white pictures of a dying Princess Diana. (search) The photos were part of a file accumulated by French investigators.

CBS declined to appear on "The Factor" this evening, but says the pictures are not exploitative.

Joining us now from Syracuse is Dr. Robert Thompson (search), the director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. I did not see this program. You did, doctor.


O'REILLY: The photos, when you saw them, what did you think?

THOMPSON: Well, actually, it wasn't the most graphic thing in the show. They were - they looked to be photocopies of black and white photos that were already quite grainy. And she was in a relatively serene position. She wasn't all mangled or didn't appear to be even all that injured.

They went back - went by relatively quickly. And I suppose compared to comparable documentaries about the Kennedy assassination, where we see the Zapruder film, for example, these things were very, very tame.

O'REILLY: All right, so was there a doctor attending to the princess? Is that what the pictures showed or just her?

THOMPSON: No, it was her amidst the wreckage, relatively close-up. And of course, one of the things that showing these pictures indicate is sort of the bizarre nature of this paparazzi culture, because of course, this picture came not from a doctor, not from an attending law enforcement official, but in fact, they came from the cameras of confiscated film of the paparazzi.

O'REILLY: All right, now I have to tell the audience that Fox News does not want to show those pictures. We have them, but the decision has been made not to show them. And I can understand the decision because I do believe showing a dying woman in a car doesn't serve any purpose. Did it serve a purpose in the "48 Hours" episode?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, there are two purposes of this thing. One is to cater to the seemingly insatiable appetite that so many Americans seem to have for this story.

O'REILLY: But that's not the purpose. That's -- but wait a minute.


O'REILLY: Wait. CBS said it didn't exploit the situation. What you just described is exploitation.

THOMPSON: Right, so that's one...

O'REILLY: All right, let's discount that.

THOMPSON: ...the same with the NBC stuff last time, which is just that people seem to be obsessed with this story. It's not, after all, breaking news.

On the other hand, the premise of this story was actually an OK premise for a journalistic documentary. The idea is that their polls showed that 25 percent of the people still think that this was not an accident. 76 percent of those polled think we will never get to the bottom of it. So this hour, presumably, was about debunking all the conspiracy theory myths about her pregnancy and that she was murdered.


THOMPSON: And the brake lines were cut.

O'REILLY: And what did the two pictures of her in her last moments on this earth lend to debunking the foolishness of these people, who believed it was a conspiracy?

THOMPSON: It lent nothing. It was not necessary to tell the story.

O'REILLY: OK, so it was gratuitous?

THOMPSON: There's no question about that.

O'REILLY: All right, so...

THOMPSON: Well, I'm not sure it's one or the other. I'm not sure it's one or the other.

O'REILLY: Whoa, whoa, whoa. If the pictures -- if the pictures of a dying woman lent nothing to debunking what you say was the point of the piece and you do admit that using them was exploitative, then CBS, what they're saying, isn't true. It was done to stimulate an audience who wants to see this voyeurism stuff.

THOMPSON: Well, I'm not arguing that it was done partially for that reason. Let's face it that - the people...


THOMPSON: ..."48 Hours" things - you know, they were partially brought to that show because they...

O'REILLY: The sensationalism of this.

THOMPSON: ...were the never before pictures of the dying princess.

O'REILLY: OK. So I'm going to have to come down based on your description that this was an exploitative thing that wasn't necessary to prove this point. Last question, would CBS have done this 10 years ago?

THOMPSON: I think CBS, in this context, would have done it 10 years ago. And I think if you compare the kinds of things we see in the Kennedy assassination documentaries that are a perfect examples. Those films don't actually get us closer now to answering the question. We show it as part of this larger picture.

O'REILLY: Yes, but what you're doing, doctor...


O'REILLY: ...is what I always tell FACTOR viewers not to do, justify one bad behavior with other bad behavior. OK, doctor. Everybody's got it. Thanks for your expertise. We appreciate it.

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