Two College Professors Explain Why They Support William Ayers

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," October 14, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight: It looks like former Weather Underground guy William Ayers, now a teacher in Illinois, may be featured Wednesday night in the debate. You may remember Barack Obama saying John McCain would not discuss Ayers to his face. Here's McCain's reply:


JOHN MCCAIN: I was astonished to hear him say that he was surprised for me to have the guts to do that, because the fact is that the question didn't come up in that fashion, so you know, and I think he's probably assured that it will come up this time.


O'REILLY: Well, it should be interesting. But Ayers does have some support around the country. An Internet petition supporting him obtained more than 3,000 signatures.

Joining us now from Las Vegas, Dr. David Tanenhaus, who teaches history and law at the University of Las Vegas, and on Long Island, Dr. Alan Singer, who teaches education at Hofstra University, the site of the debate Wednesday night.

Dr. Singer, you know Ayers and you like him, right?

DR. ALAN SINGER, HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY: I have known Ayers professionally for about 20 years in the American Educational Research Association. I've got to tell you, Bill, he never tried to turn me into a terrorist. This is a man who's an advocate for school reform in Chicago, urban minority communities. These are issues that are very important to me. Sits on the board of prestigious foundations. He won an award as Chicago teacher of the year, citizen of the year, and that's how he crossed paths with Barack Obama.

O'REILLY: All right. Now...

SINGER: I just don't get it.

O'REILLY: OK. But he — here's the problem with William Ayers that you both have to grapple with, I think, to be intellectually honest. The man participated, by his own admission, in three bombings, all right, in the '60s. And — actually between 1970 and '74 to be exact. The bombings were in New York City police headquarters. Seven individuals were hurt. The Capitol building in '71 and the Pentagon in '72. So he's a terrorist.

Now, I know he is an educator now in Illinois, and I understand he is — you know, does some work that you admire. But when asked if he made a mistake back then, he said, "No, I wish I had done more." So he's an unrepentant bomber, an unrepentant terrorist.

Now, Doctor Tanenhaus, if you're going to support an unrepentant terrorist, what does that say about you?

DR. DAVID TANENHAUS, UNIVERSITY OF LAS VEGAS: Well, first of all, I want to say that the Bill Ayers that I got to know in the 1990s was a teacher and not a terrorist.

O'REILLY: Buy you can't — you can't brush out the record.

TANENHAUS: I do not condone the actions of the Weather Underground, but I also believe in redemption and that people can lead…

O'REILLY: What if they don't ask — I'm a big redemption guy, and this program is, too. But what if they don't ask for redemption.

Let me make an analogy here. What if you had a war criminal in any war, and they escaped justice, and they're hiding, and they do good things for their community, and they — don't you take them back and charge them for war crimes and what they did in the past, Dr. Tanenhaus?

TANENHAUS: Absolutely. Absolutely. But Bill Ayers turned himself in. And also, I want to stress that after 9/11, he called the terrorist attacks on the United States crimes against humanity.

O'REILLY: Did you ever talk to him about the terrorism rap? You know him.

TANENHAUS: No, we never talked about the 1960s and '70s.

O'REILLY: How about you, Dr. Singer? Did you ever talk to him about it?

SINGER: No. But Bill Ayers has never been convicted of any serious crime.

O'REILLY: No, but he admitted he did it.

SINGER: Again, he has never been convicted of any serious crime.

O'REILLY: He admitted he did it, Doctor. It doesn't matter whether he was convicted or not. He beat the rap because the prosecutor fell down. He admitted he did it.

SINGER: Bill Ayers, again, I don't agree with Weather Underground. I didn't agree with them 40 years ago. Bill Ayers says things that I don't agree with now. You say things that I don't agree with now.

O'REILLY: But I never — I'm not — I never hurt anybody. The guy hurt seven people in New York.

SINGER: You have hurt people, Bill.

O'REILLY: No, I haven't. I never hurt anybody.

SINGER: You supported a war — you supported a war based on lies. Four thousand American soldiers are dead. You supported a war based on lies, 100,000 people are...

O'REILLY: Do you know how ridiculous you sound, Doctor? You sound like a raving loon. If you look at history, clearly you'll see the dictator Saddam Hussein killed 500,000 people, and we removed him so he couldn't kill anybody else. So there.

But getting back to Bill Ayers, you guys, both of you, understand that he admitted what he did, hasn't repented. He could have done it any time. We called him many, many times to come on the program. If he wanted redemption, I think most Americans would grant it. If he said, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done it. I shouldn't have hurt seven innocent people in the New York City police headquarters. I shouldn't have done that. That's not the way to get change." But he didn't do any of it.

Yet, you guys are giving him a pass. And you know why, Dr. Tanenhaus? Because you're secular progressives who don't make judgment about behavior like that, unless it's conservative behavior, as we just heard from Dr. Singer.

TANENHAUS: Well, I'd like to speak for myself. I think I've defended people on both the right and left issues that have dealt with academic freedom. But I do want to stress with Bill Ayers, I think even if he apologized, given the amount of anger and unresolved issues from the Vietnam era, there's still many, many people who would not accept.

O'REILLY: You're absolutely correct. But at least then I could understand you gentlemen, educators, expending the energy that you're expending defending him. Then I could understand.

SINGER: But what about...

O'REILLY: Last word, Doctor.

SINGER: Bill, what about your energy? You opened up by saying that it's going to be discussed at the debate tomorrow.

O'REILLY: Right.

SINGER: This is what I don't understand. You discussed this with Senator Obama. I thought it was over. Senator McCain said call off the dogs. And you won't call them off. I don't get it.

O'REILLY: Listen, it's in the news. It's in the news because Obama...

SINGER: Because of you. You're putting it in the news.

O'REILLY: Not because of me. Obama said he didn't have the wherewithal to say it to my face, so he called him out. And we'll see at Hofstra tomorrow how it goes down.

Gentlemen, very stimulating discussion. Thank you.

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