KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Malmedy, given the controversy stirred up by that one word in 2006, one can only shudder at what it must have entered in 1945. That was when America learned that just before Christmas of the preceding year, German S.S. troops had slaughtered 84 American soldiers who had just surrendered to them in that place, the Belgian town of Malmedy.
Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, as promised now, a follow-up on the inversion of the story of Malmedy by Bill O‘Reilly of FOX News channel, who has twice claimed that it was Americans who killed German prisoners there. The follow-up unexpectedly includes the controversial post-war senator, Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin and the re-rewriting of history. Firstly that re-rewriting.
This is what Mr. O‘Reilly said during an argument with General Wesley Clark over the purported atrocities at Haditha in Iraq last Tuesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O‘REILLY, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”: In Malmedy, as you know, U.S. forces captured S.S. forces who had their hands in the air and they were unarmed and they shot them down. You know that. That‘s on the record, been documated (SIC).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: FOX News had scrubbed clean O‘Reilly‘s remarkable misstatement, his second on this subject in just under eight moths. Its transcript of O‘Reilly‘s remarks had him saying, quote, “In Norman, as you know, U.S. forces captured S.S. forces, etc.” that rewriting yesterday‘s newspaper is the electronic version of what George Orwell prophesized in his novel “1984.” Well, good and real news here, after we called out O‘Reilly on FOX on both his slander of dead American soldiers and their attempt to hide it, on his newscast last Thursday they changed it back last Friday. It now reads as is should have all along. As O‘Reilly said it, “In Malmedy, as you know.” So we can get back to the focus, which is why Bill O‘Reilly has twice turned the dead victims of Nazi war atrocities into American war criminals, and perhaps worse, offered no apology nor clarification other than a tepid 24-word dismissal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O‘REILLY: In the heat of the debate with General Clark my statement wasn‘t clear enough, Mr. Coldwell, after Malmedy, some German captors were executed by American troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: O‘Reilly‘s blase response to his own malicious remarks suggests he still has some doubts about the truthfulness of the story of Malmedy, a battlefield crime so horrific that it led to the prosecution of 73 German soldiers and officers. Turns out others have preceded him down this road of anti-American doubt, a series of speeches, articles and lawsuits in this country in 1949 suggested that evidence and confessions of those German soldiers who admitted what they had done at Malmedy had been obtained under torture, torture by American-Jewish prosecutors and servicemen. Malmedy, the murder by the S.S. of 84 american soldiers who had just surrendered had been transformed into some sort of Jewish propaganda plot and an ad hock investigation was launched by the Senate Armed Services Committee. One of its members was an obscure junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. But within five months of its formation, that senate sub-committee on which McCarthy served had found nothing to support the charges that Malmedy was a fiction. Its senior members, republican Raymond Baldwin of Connecticut and democrat Estes Kefauver of Tennessee determined that the medical evidence was to the contrary and that the only thing supporting the charges was prejudice and a desire by some in the German-American community to blunt the impact of the then ongoing Nazi war crimes tribunal.
That‘s when Senator Joseph McCarthy quit the committee and accused Senator Baldwin and Kefauver of quote, “whitewashing the investigation.” Senator Joe McCarthy and evidently Bill O‘Reilly believe that the real victims in the story of 84 American servicemen at Malmedy, the real victims were the Nazis.
Judging by reaction to just the first part of our coverage last week, I‘m not the only person enraged by O‘Reilly‘s twisting of the tragedy of Malmedy and in the bigger picture twisting it into some kind of indecipherable defense of what happened, whatever happened at Haditha. So, too, for one, the executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paul Rieckhoff, himself an Iraq veteran.
Thank you for your time, sir.
PAUL RIECKHOFF, EXECUTIVE DIR. IAVA: My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I guess that big picture question; however he screwed up the details, how is Bill O‘Reilly, self-described patriot, defending American troops in Iraq by invoking the World War II massacre of any kin?
RIECKHOFF: He‘s not. Not at all, and I think what he‘s doing is really shameful, I think he needs to step up and accept responsibility for his mistake and stand up in front of the country and say I apologize, I screwed up and what I said was not in the best interest of our troops of any generation. This was in direct attack on the legacy and the history, the proud history, of all the World War II veterans in this country, and think it‘s really shameful to try to twist it into some convoluted argument to dismiss Haditha is really twisted. I think he just needs to be upfront about it, say he screwed up and apologize. That would be the right thing to do. I think we‘ve seen this type of behavior from the president, we all see where that‘s gotten us, so I think it‘s about time somebody stepped up and claimed responsibility for their actions and just ask for an apology.
OLBERMANN: To the detail of Malmedy and how first, 60 years ago Joe McCarthy tried to turn this S.S. bloodbath into an American war crime and now how casually Bill O‘Reilly has done nearly the same thing, is that just a bizarre coincidence or does it underscore a lot of what you have seen among those who are waving the flag, the fastest, and singing the anthem the loudest, relative to how they really feel when it comes right down to it about the troops?
RIECKHOFF: What it underscores is a detachment. He dismissed General Clark, he dismisses history, and I think we all understand how high the stakes are with regard to the allegations at Haditha. We need people to get down to facts, we need people to trust, people like General Clark who got extensive experience as a four-star general, people who‘ve been on the ground in Iraq who can help us understand this complex issues. Haditha is going to have global implications around the world no matter how it turns out, we understand that. We need to let the investigation run its course. And Mr. O‘Reilly‘s role in this is really not helping the case. This is not the Natalie Holloway case. We need to get down to brass tacks here, find out what went on and let a thorough investigation run its course and keep the American people informed with people from a position of credibility like military veterans, like General Clark, not like Bill O‘Reilly.
OLBERMANN: Well, as you‘ll hear O‘Reilly say, he‘s in combat, meaning he covered a shootout once. Military history is this very useful tool in analyzing war of the present day. You can go almost to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if you want and try to figure things out, but it has to be used really carefully, doesn‘t it? I mean, if you say, Malmedy, where Americans slaughtered German prisoners or maybe it was after Malmedy, what‘s the difference? When you reach for a military parallel to Iraq, you have to be a lot more accurate. You have to be precise, don‘t you?
RIECKHOFF: I think you do and I think you have to be careful and you have to be responsible. And I think that‘s what we all have to do as this Haditha case unfolds. We have to be responsible, we have to be accurate, we have to give people the benefit of the doubt. But there‘s no disputing what happened at Malmedy and trying to twist it and have some kind of revisionist history is really irresponsible. You know, I think he needs to issue an apology, we all ask that, all the veterans of our country ask that, and I think it‘s the responsible thing to do. And if he wants combat experience, I think he should take his butt over to Iraq. I know he hasn‘t been there yet. Even Al Franken‘s been there three times at this points. And if he‘s really concerned about supporting the troops and understanding the complexity of what‘s going on over there, he should cover it. That‘ll be plenty “fair and balanced” for all of us.
OLBERMANN: Can‘t get him past west of Sixth Avenue, I don‘t think you‘re going to get him to Iraq. Tell me, thought, this last point is piling up, but since he brought Malmedy up for the second time last week and I‘ve heard from relatives of the Americans who were murdered there, actual descendants of victims and they are hurting from this in a way that I and maybe even you can‘t, would it be really over the line to throw that infamous question back at Bill O‘Reilly, tell me, sir, why do you hate our troops?
RIECKHOFF: Well, I don‘t know what the right question is, but I know the right demand is an apology. And I think that he owes that to all our troops and he especially owes that to the World War II generation. My grandfather served in World War II and I know how proud of his service he was, and we all know how difficult that time was. And I think he owes them an apology. It‘s the responsible thing to do and if he really supports the troops he should support the veterans and listen to what they have to say and understand history and be responsible and be accurate, that‘s the best way to support our troops is to be accurate and understanding in the way you represent the coverage of this war and our understanding of it.
OLBERMANN: Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Great thanks for your time and thanks for your service to this country.
RIECKHOFF: My pleasure, sir. Thank you.