This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, January 23, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.
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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight, actor Mel Gibson (search) continues to be viciously attacked for his upcoming film "The Passion" (search) about the death of Jesus. Columnist Frank Rich (search) in "The New York Times," and writer Tim Rutten (search) of "The Los Angeles Times," both of accused Gibson of pretty much every heinous act ever committed.
Last Sunday, Rich said Gibson was using the pope to make money. On Wednesday, Retten said, "A good Hollywood publicity campaign does not stumble over technicalities -- like the truth. Still, it takes a particular sort of chutzpah to put a phony quote in the mouth of Pope John Paul II."
Retten goes on to say Gibson and his staff have created a quote from Pope John Paul, which described the movie. The quote was "it is as it was." However, today in that same newspaper, "The Los Angeles Times," a different story. It was written Lorenzo Minos and Larry Stammer.
And it says, "Last month, the ailing pontiff was quoted as having said after a private screening of the film 'it is as it was.' Asked Dec. 19 whether the quote was reliable, Vatican press secretary Joaquin Navarro-Valls (search) told the Times 'I think you can consider that quote as accurate'."
Also today, Catholicnews.com says, "In summary the position would now appear to be that the Pope did see the film and he did say the comment that was attributed to him..."
We called "L.A. Times" columnist Tim Rutten to explain his attack, in light of the fact that his own newspaper had information that Gibson had told the truth. Rutten did not return our calls.
Joining us now from Dallas is Rod Dreher, editorial writer for "The Dallas Morning News." He's been following this story.
This is, I think, very outrageous, although I would like Retten to put forth his point of view. It seems that his own newspaper had information the pope did say that "The Passion" is as it was. OK? That Rutten had to know that if he did any kind of research or he read his own newspaper. Yet Rutten comes this week and calls Gibson a liar, putting false words in the pontiff's mouth. How do you react?
ROD DREHER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Well, it is outrageous, Bill. And it shows you the viciousness with which the enemies of Mel Gibson and this film are reacting to the film and taking this Vatican statement that the pope never said any such thing and using it to hang Mel out to dry. And I'm afraid that the Vatican itself, through its own duplicity and through its own, I'll say it, lying have -- they've thrown Mel Gibson to the wolves.
O'REILLY: Well, I see it a little bit differently than you do. I don't think that the Vatican itself lied. I think Navarro-Valls, the official press secretary, told the truth last December when he said the pope saw the movie and this comment is accurate.
What the Vatican doesn't want to do is get in the middle of the controversy. So it's backing away. It's not defending Gibson. OK? It doesn't want to be -- they don't want the pope's picture endorsing this obviously controversial film. I don't know whether they lied. Maybe an individual did, but I wouldn't put that on the Vatican.
DREHER: No, no, Bill, I would, and I'll tell you why. Navarro-Valls did, we know this now from "The L.A. Times," from ["Wall Street Journal" columnist] Peggy Noonan and from other sources that Navarro-Valls has confirmed back in December that the pope said this.
DREHER: Somebody higher up decided that it wasn't convenient for the pope to have said this. And so, Navarro-Valls has backed off this story and held Mel Gibson up in effect to ridicule. And his reputation is at stake here, as you see from the Frank Rich attack and "The L.A. Times," attack. I think Navarro-Valls told the truth the first time, but now he's backed away from it.
O'REILLY: Well, when you say he's backed away, I haven't seen any statements by the Vatican press secretary denying the pope said it. He's just not sticking up for Gibson. And Gibson's under attack.
DREHER: Well, he denied to me in an e-mail to me earlier this week. I wrote about this in "The Dallas Morning News."
O'REILLY: Did he really?
DREHER: I wrote to him, sent him an e-mail I had gotten leaked to someone close to the film, giving -- verifying the quote and giving Mel Gibson's team permission and encouraging them to use it in the promotion of the movie. I sent that e-mail to Navarro-Valls and said did you say this? Is this e-mail accurate? He denied its authenticity. And I think that's simply not true.
O'REILLY: OK, but there's a little bit of a difference. And I want to make sure that the audience understands this. You were saying -- you were asking the man if the Vatican gave the Gibson people permission to use the statement, correct?
DREHER: That's true. The e-mail I sent him was verified, the original Peggy Noonan report that the pope said it is as it was, and that he gave permission for them -- encouraged them to use it in the promotion of the film.
O'REILLY: OK, so -- but he didn't deny it is as it was, did he?
DREHER: I think he did. I sent him...
O'REILLY: I don't see that. I have the e-mail correspondence here. I don't see that.
DREHER: Well, he says the e-mail was fake. I mean, he didn't come out and say the e-mail is fake, but the pope did say this.
O'REILLY: All right, so it's a mess.
DREHER: I think he was told -- it's a mess, yes. And the Vatican looks terrible.
O'REILLY: They do this all the time, because they don't know how to handle. They didn't do -- they didn't respond to the child molestation thing correctly in America. They're afraid.
And I think this is where it stems from. They're afraid to get in the controversy over a movie. They don't -- they think that denigrates the pope. He shouldn't be involved in a movie and all of that.
But at this point, the Catholic press, the national "Catholic Reporter" and the Catholic Web site says flat-out their research confirms the pope said this and that the Gibson people didn't do anything wrong.
DREHER: Well, you know, Bill, some people are saying this is a tempest in a teapot. Why are people so concerned about a movie? I tell you what, it's not a tempest in a teapot to Mel Gibson and his people, who's reputations are on the line.
O'REILLY: You bet.
DREHER: It's not a tempest in a teapot to Peggy Noonan and other journalists whose only mistake was to believe the Vatican press spokesman.
O'REILLY: OK. Now do you believe -- last question.
DREHER: This is serious.
O'REILLY: 30 seconds left, that "The L.A. Times" and "New York Times" consciously want to go after Gibson and destroy the credibility of this film?
DREHER: Well, I think so. You look at the Tim Retten piece in "The L.A. Times," you talked about, basic journalism would have required him to go back and look at what has been reported. I mean, it's a mysterious thing here how this quote got out. I think that they want to get him.
O'REILLY: All right. We'll stay on the story, Rod. Thanks as always.
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