by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers
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Last Saturday, March 21, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly sent two of his employees to stalk, ambush, and harass ThinkProgress.org Managing Editor Amanda Terkel. Upset over a ThinkProgress report that noted O'Reilly's insensitive comment towards a rape victim, O'Reilly dispatched his producer Jesse Watters, along with a cameraman, to stake out Amanda's home in Washington, DC, follow her for two hours across state lines, and ambush her while she was on vacation in Winchester, VA. O'Reilly then used a small portion of highly edited footage he obtained from Watters's ambush interview to falsely claim that Amanda was bringing "a lot of pain and suffering" to rape victims. Unfortunately, Amanda is just one of roughly 40 different victims of these kind of ambush tactics. Indeed, O'Reilly has hired producers whose primary job is to track, harass, and intimidate anyone whom O'Reilly perceives as an opponent or an enemy. That's not journalism -- that's a mafia-style intimidation operation, and we need to put an end to it. ThinkProgress has launched a campaign asking O'Reilly's major sponsors to issue a clear statement opposing O'Reilly's Harassment Machine. Please consider joining this campaign here.
THE ANATOMY OF AN AMBUSH: O'Reilly's ambush of Amanda was sparked by a short piece that she wrote on March 1 highlighting O'Reilly's invitation to speak fundraiser for a rape-victims support group, the Alexa Foundation. Amanda noted in response, "O'Reilly has made controversial comments about an 18-year-old woman, Jennifer Moore, who was raped and murdered, implying that it was partially her fault." "Indeed, O'Reilly called Moore "moronic" for being assaulted, raped, and murdered after going out drinking in "a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff." Nowhere in her piece did Amanda comment on the Alexa Foundation itself. O'Reilly, however, couldn't stand to see Amanda highlight his offensive commentary, so he sent Watters after her. Last Saturday, Amanda left her Washington, D.C. home for a weekend trip to Winchester, VA. After driving two hours, Amanda checked into her lodgings and then decided to take a walk. As she left the hotel, Watters approached Amanda with a cameraman in tow and demanded that she explain why she had caused "pain and suffering" to rape victims and the Alexa Foundation. Amanda had told no one where she was going, so she concluded that Watters and his cameraman had "staked out my apartment and then followed me for two hours" (Amanda recalls that a tan SUV had been tracking her car). O'Reilly then spliced footage from the Watters's ambush interview to characterize Amanda as "evil" and "certainly a villain." O'Reilly never showed his audience what Amanda actually wrote and never played what he said about Moore, nor did he explain how his henchmen tracked her down.
O'REILLY'S BULLYING TACTICS: In August 2007, O'Reilly defended his ambush tactics, claiming that they are "a vital tool in holding public servants accountable for their actions" and that "we do not go after people lightly." "We always ask them on the program first or to issue a clear statement explaining their actions," he said. In Amanda's case, no one at the O'Reilly Factor or Fox News attempted to contact her for comment or a chance to appear on O'Reilly's show before stalking and ambushing her in rural Virginia. In all, O'Reilly's ambush tactics have been used on nearly 40 different individuals. Some are public servants, but many are private citizens who work at non-profit foundations, while others work as journalists, priests, actors, and authors. A woman who wrote an op-ed for Newsday suggesting that shock jocks could in some cases be inspiring violent acts, was ambushed by O'Reilly's henchmen in her driveway. Michael Hoyt, executive editor for the Columbia Journalism Review, was ambushed as he tried to board a public bus, while Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, was ambushed in a restaurant while having dinner. "O'Reilly's ambushes are indistinguishable from those by the paparazzi O'Reilly calls the scum of the earth.
STOPPING THE MACHINE: We need to Stop O'Reilly's Harassment Machine. Therefore, ThinkProgress has launched an e-mail campaign asking O'Reilly's major corporate sponsors to issue a clear statement opposing O'Reilly's "ambush journalism." As Amanda explained to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann last night, "This is not a liberal or conservative issue." Olbermann agreed, saying in reference to ambush journalism tactics, "It's inappropriate. There are some rules here and they apply in both directions to everybody." At least some of O'Reilly's sponsors appear to agree as well. In the 48 hours since ThinkProgress first launched its campaign, over 5,000 e-mails have been sent to O'Reilly's advertisers. Ford, AT&T, UPS, and Capital One have all responded. UPS said in a statement, "We are sensitive to the type of television programming where our messages and presence are associated and continually review choices to affect future decisions. Further investigation is underway related to this placement." Similarly, Capital One said, "We regret that you found the Bill O'Reilly programming during which one of our ads was aired to be offensive. ... Capital One in no way endorses the views/opinions portrayed during the news broadcasts in which we advertise." Despite this, a number of prominent advertisers including Audi, Hyundai, Johnson and Johnson, Bayer, and Proctor & Gamble have yet to respond. O'Reilly complained on air about the campaign, calling ThinkProgress "insects" for "going after" his sponsors. If you want to help get under O'Reilly's skin and put an end to his ambush and harassment tactics, ask his advertisers to express their disapproval.