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Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story

Associated Press

Following up on Rachel's segment from last night, which I really hope you watched, it's truly amazing to see how some myths take root at Fox News, even after they're proven false.

On Thursday night, Bill O'Reilly told his viewers that there may be a "smoking gun" in the IRS controversy: former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, the host said, visited the White House 157 times between 2009 and 2012. This proved ... something. We learned a day later, however, the smoking gun was shooting blanks: Shulman had been cleared for a series of routine White House gatherings, but only attended 11 events over the course of four years.

So on Thursday, O'Reilly thought he had a big scoop. On Friday, it was debunked. And on Monday, O'Reilly pretended his story hadn't been discredited, and repeated it all over again. "We still don't know much about former IRS Chief Douglas Shulman visiting the White House 157 times," the Fox host said. "That's extraordinary."

Well, something is certainly extraordinary here.

And while Rachel was marveling at this story last night, O'Reilly returned to the subject again on his own show. He told viewers last night:

"What I can say is that the White House still has not told the nation what the hell ... Douglas Shulman was doing in the White House all those times. What's the holdup, Mr. President? How about that transparency deal?"

It's simply amazing. O'Reilly shouldn't have made the original mistake on Thursday night, claiming a bogus story was a "smoking gun," but let's say it was an innocent mistake. That original slip-up, however, was five days ago -- and it's not unreasonable to wonder how long it takes for the host and his team to catch up on the basic details surrounding their own story.

What's more, this allergy to facts appears to be contagious.

The Washington Post's Bob Woodward appeared on O'Reilly's show on Monday and said:

"You say they aren't answering this question about the 157 visits by the IRS commissioner. They should. They should get on top of this story."

Actually, they're not the one who are failing to stay on top of this story -- it was proven false last week.

I've heard of media figures joke about some stories being "too good to check," but this is ridiculous. It's already been checked, and the allegations are baseless. So in what universe do media professionals continue to push a bogus story several days after it's been discredited?

Kevin Drum argued yesterday that Fox is in the business of keeping Tea Partiers "whipped up," and if that means touting stories the network knows to be false, so be it.

Outrage is how they do this, and neither facts nor the long-term health of the GOP are allowed to get in the way. Pounding away mendaciously on Shulman's 157 visits might be the kind of overreach that hurts Republicans in the long run, but who cares? The rubes don't read the Washington Post and don't know that the story is bogus, so Fox will keep at it because it's good for business. The tail is now wagging the dog, and the Republican Party is being held hostage to the bottom line of the conservative media.

This is the Republican Party's core problem.

Given that O'Reilly is seen by millions of Americans as one of the leading faces of today's GOP, that's certainly a fair assessment.