Press Box

Bill O’Reilly Libel Watch

O’Reilly v. Franken: Coming to a court in London soon? Nah.

Bill O’Reilly came alive last night (July 14) on his highly rated Fox News Channel show, The O’Reilly Factor, during a discussion with Keith Graves, a reporter for the United Kingdom’s Sky News. In his opening, O’Reilly asked Graves, “What should be done with people … who continue to continue to accuse Prime Minister Blair and President Bush of deliberately lying about WMD?”

Graves didn’t adequately respond, so O’Reilly rephrased the question:

Now if somebody calls a prime minister a liar in print or on television in Britain, can they get in trouble? Because here you can call your president or anybody else a liar, even when the evidence that there is no lie is overwhelming, and simply walk away and not get anything to happen to you. Is it the same in England?

Yes, Graves replied, the prime minister would have grounds for a libel action if somebody called him a liar without evidence. And with that O’Reilly got to what was really on his mind. The subject wasn’t the failings of the CIA and MI6. And it wasn’t Tony Blair’s damaged reputation. It’s the damage being done to Bill O’Reilly’s reputation by Al Franken’s book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them!

Said O’Reilly:

Some of those smear books that are written here are being sold in London. Can I go over there and sue those people over there? Because I can’t win here. Can I go over there and sue? Because I’ll go.

Graves offered the layman’s advice that O’Reilly could sue for libel in England. I assume from the context of his remarks that O’Reilly believes it would be futile for him to bring a libel suit in the United States because the courts would consider a broadcaster like him a “public figure.” Indeed, it is extremely difficult for public figures such as O’Reilly, who have placed themselves in the public eye, to win libel suits.

How does O’Reilly think he was libeled? Franken calls O’Reilly (and others) a “liar” repeatedly in the book, an allegation that can be libelous if not true. One of the lying liar lies Franken attributes to O’Reilly is that he claims to have grown up in Levittown, N.Y., but did not.

“Oh, I’ve got the deed to my house. They said I didn’t grow up where I grew up. I’ve got the deed. So I can prove it. I should go over there [to England],” O’Reilly told Graves.

(Where did O’Reilly grow up? O’Reilly posts a copy of the deed * to his family house on his personal Web site  as proof of his Levittown origins. See Page 74 of Lies and the Lying Liars for Franken’s version.)

Graves warned O’Reilly that if victorious in court, he could only win “a few thousand bucks. It wouldn’t be—it really wouldn’t be worth your while doing it.”

But O’Reilly still sounded eager for the legal scrap.

“No—well, it might be, just for the symbolic gesture,” he said.

Not since Richard Perle shook his limp libel threat at Sy Hersh have I observed such an empty promise of litigation. I take that back. Just last month, O’Reilly foe Michael Moore threatened libel action against his critics—before they had even spoken.

On the long shot that O’Reilly really intends to sue, he’d better hurry. According to Amazon U.K., the Franken book was published in England on Sept. 30, 2003. The statute of limitations for libel in England is one year, giving O’Reilly only 76 more days to file.

Let the libel countdown begin!


I grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich. Not the city of Kalamazoo, mind you. The township of Kalamazoo. Please don’t confuse them, or I’ll sue you. (Thanks to reader Doug Swalen for suggesting the item.) Send e-mail and deeds to (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Addendum, July 16: O’Reilly said on the July 14 broadcast that he has the deed to his parents’ house. I have no reason to doubt him. But as reader Martin J. Gaynes points out, the document on O’Reilly Web site that I linked to is a copy of a portion of his parents’ mortgage. A mortgage document doesn’t necessarily prove location. A copy of the deed would be more persuasive.