Video: Sick 'em Bill

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updated 3/6/2006 11:32:37 AM ET 2006-03-06T16:32:37
STORY

First it was the warnings to NBC chairman Robert Wright,  next there were phone calls to NBC president Jeff Zucker, then the petition to get Keith Olbermann fired and Phil Donahue brought back, and lastly erroneous ratings were given out.

Now, Bill O’Reilly is threatening callers to his radio show who mention Olbermann’s name. Ted Baxter told uncooperative listeners that he'll turn their phone numbers over to Fox security, and that Fox security will in turn contact the local authorities.

A caller got through to O'Reilly's radio show Thursday and insists he used no foul language, that all he did was mention Olbermann’s name, compliment ‘Countdown’, and asked, Why are you always smearing him, Bill?  And the host, using the dump button all talk radio shows have on the seven-second delay, cut him off.

Bill O'Reilly wants his listeners to think, that if they don't cooperate they can get into some kind of legal trouble with FOX security. 

A former Connecticut state prosecutor, Susan Filan joined Keith Olbermann on ‘Countdown’ to discuss the legal ramifications surrounding this issue.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, ‘COUNTDOWN’:  I've done call-in radio off and on since 1975.  I thought I knew this thing pretty well.  The caller can only get into trouble if he threatens a violent or illegal act, right?

SUSAN FILAN, FORMER CONNECTICUT STATE PROSECUTOR:  The only person that's going to get in trouble here is Bill O'Reilly.  He's lost the plot entirely.  To think that you can commandeer local law enforcement to be your personal henchman because you don't like something a caller said on the air is absolutely outrageous and absurd.  It's an abuse of the media, it's an abuse of law enforcement, and he's now the one engaging in threatening behavior.  You can't do that.  He's crossed the line.

What did the caller say that's obscene, “Keith Olbermann”?  I don't think so. 

OLBERMANN:  The people behind this and, as much as I'd like to claim I'm behind this, I'm not.  I'm not as smart as Howard Stern is.  But the people behind this say that one of their callers, Spinners, they call themselves, actually got calls today from somebody identifying himself as a former New York City policeman who is now director of FOX News security, who advised that organizer that if you call anyone to often in this circumstance, you can be charged with harassment. 

Is that a scare tactic or is there anything to that particular claim, the idea of harassment?

FILAN:  I think that's a scare tactic.  Because what is too often?  If one called and said every single day, “I love you, I love you” and he likes your message, is that too often?  Is it only too often when he doesn't like what you're saying? 

The harassment here is coming from Bill—Bill O'Reilly to that caller.  The caller calling up and saying your name on the air, how is that harassment?  It's a public radio show.  He's inviting people to call in.  That person has a First Amendment right to say your name on the air, and Bill O'Reilly doesn't have the First Amendment right to threaten a visit from law enforcement, as if this person has committed some kind of criminal behavior.  Bill O'Reilly has crossed the line and lost the plot. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, he has a long history of trouble when it comes to phones, but that's another story entirely. 

Is there a scenario with a call-in show, if you're obscene, if you're actually personally threatening the host and you've called in a number of times?  Is some line you can cross when you're being asked to call in to a radio show to be a participant?

FILAN:  Of course.  One's First Amendment right ends where somebody else's nose begins.  You can say what you want to say, but you can't use threatening behavior.  You can't say, “I'm going to kill you.”  If something like that is said on the air, that's clearly a threat.  That's more than harassment.  There can be an on-air stalker. 

But can you really tell me that calling into the Bill O'Reilly show and using the name Keith Olbermann is harassment, is stalking, is crossing the line, incites violence, is obscene or foul or illegal?  I can't understand it. 

And for a host to threaten the power of the media, FOX News security force, to call local law enforcement, to knock on your door and say, “Hey, buddy, you're in trouble, because you said Keith Olbermann's name on my show” is patently absurd.  And the only one that's going to get in trouble on this one is Bill O'Reilly. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, to be fair, when I was at FOX Sports, I had a stalker, constant phone calls.  There were trips, attempts to get into the studio.  To their credit and with my everlasting thanks, they had a team in place to deal with this and they dealt with it very effectively.  They dealt with it legally.  They dealt with it even physically to intervene. 

They get a lot of training because Rupert Murdock owns them, and he gets, like, a death threat a day.  So that's one thing where aggressive attitudes towards potential stalkers or people who are genuine threats is applicable.

But now let's flip this thing on its head here.  You mentioned Bill O'Reilly threatening a caller on the air or this director of FOX News security phoning a caller at home or at work and saying, you know, “You'll be getting a little visit.” 

Is there seriously a potential legal risk here?  I mean, could Bill O'Reilly, could FOX News be charged with harassment of some sort?

FILAN:  Well, I think that this has to be investigated.  I think if Bill O'Reilly, in fact, made that threat on the air and, in fact, followed it up with someone from FOX security and, in fact, local law enforcement was called, I think that has to be investigated.  Because that is an abuse of Bill O'Reilly's power. 

And it's an attempt, literally, to commandeer local law enforcement to be his personal henchmen, so that he can be the censor, the arbiter of what's allowed to be said on his show.  How can it be illegal, how can it be a crime to say “Keith Olbermann” on the Bill O'Reilly show?

OLBERMANN:  Well, you'd have to know him.  Former Connecticut prosecutor Susan Filan, great thanks. 

FILAN:  It's a pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  One last thing.  We all know Mr. O'Reilly cannot stop himself from responding.  Fail in this business for 25 uninterrupted years, then have a success, and you do wind up a mixture of paranoia and a Napoleonic complex. 

So I'm going to save him the trouble.  I'm going to respond for him. 

Bill O'Reilly answering this story. 

“The abuse of the airwaves is a critical problem with which the First Amendment—MSNBC's ratings are a disaster.  Nobody pays attention to them.  I do.  I watch, addicted, unable to change the channel. But they're a disaster.  So don't pay attention to MSNBC.  Nobody watch MSNBC.  Nobody is watching MSNBC.  If you watch, we have your phone number, by the way.  I'll turn it over to FOX security.  I told you I'd shoot, but you didn't believe me.  Why didn't you believe me?”

OK.  And just so we get this ratings things cleared up, if you want to know what this is really all about, on the air Billy called this the key demo, and FOX owners call it the money demo.  Here are the official ratings, adults 25 to 54 for Wednesday night of this week at 8 p.m.  Eastern.

O'Reilly, 309,000; this program, 231,000; “Nancy Grace Knows What You Did Last Summer,” 131,000; “Paula Zahn Now,” 81,000.

Our audience was 75 percent of Ted Baxter's.  It ain't perfect.  Then again, he's been on for nearly 10 years, and we're still a month away from our third anniversary. 

So now I'm expecting that soon I'll be getting a visit from the Bill O'Reilly police, armed with loofahs. 

Watch 'Countdown' each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

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