If you rely on Bill O’Reilly for your news, here is what you probably think of me: I am a “villain[ous]” member of a “well-financed” liberal “cabal” that includes NBC News and President Obama. My most recent crime is deliberately causing “pain and suffering” to rape victims. I am an “insect” that needs to be squashed.
Your first acquaintance with me would have been on Monday, March 23, when O’Reilly devoted a whole segment to my “evil.” The Fox News host noted that a few weeks earlier he had been asked to speak at a fundraiser by the Alexa Foundation, a charity created to support rape victims and their families following the brutal rape of Alexa Branchini. Here is what he said:
Elements at NBC News...encouraged the loons to protest the Alexa Foundation, causing Alexa and her family major grief. Perhaps the worst garbage came from the far left-group Center for American Progress, headed by John Podesta. A woman named Amanda Terkel led that charge.
I have caught myself constantly looking over my shoulder, being more cautious about where I go, and carefully monitoring the threatening emails I’ve been receiving from O’Reilly’s viewers.
Viewers then saw a clip of O’Reilly producer Jesse Watters asking me why I “attacked the foundation” and “brought a lot of pain and suffering to this group.” I replied, “I can't remember exactly what he had said, because it was a while ago. But I remember it was something having to do with that he had talked about a rape victim in a derogatory way that seemed to place the blame for the rape on the victim.” In the clip, I look confused and am unable to immediately answer Watters’ question about “ the Mel Gibson component to Bill's analysis.”
What was missing from that segment was the truth behind the original controversy—and how O’Reilly obtained that interview with me. Here’s the whole story.
I’m the deputy research director at the Center for American Progress in Washington and write daily for its blog, ThinkProgress.org. On March 1, I wrote a post reporting that O’Reilly was slated to speak at a March 19 benefit for the Alexa Foundation. I noted that O’Reilly had made controversial comments in 2006 about Jennifer Moore, a woman who was raped and murdered. He implied that it was partially her fault, called her “moronic,” and added:
Now Moore, Jennifer Moore, 18, on her way to college. She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning. She’s walking by herself on the West Side Highway, and she gets picked up by a thug. All right. Now she’s out of her mind, drunk.
In my article, I never criticized the Alexa Foundation, nor did I ask readers to protest the organization, as he suggested in his March 23 broadcast.
My three-week-old post was the furthest thing from my mind on Saturday, March 21, when I was in Winchester, Va., for a short weekend getaway. My friend and I left my apartment building in Washington, D.C., around 1:30 p.m. We then drove two hours, quickly checked into our lodgings, and came back out for a short walk.
A few seconds later, two men began shouting my name and crossing the street toward me. One was carrying a large videocamera and the other was holding a microphone. My first thought was that I somehow knew them from somewhere, although I still couldn’t figure out how they knew where I was. I never told anyone where I was going that weekend, and the reservation was in my friend’s name. There was no way anyone could have known where I was.
Then they said they were from Fox News, but didn’t give their names or reveal that they were from O'Reilly's show, The O’Reilly Factor. The man with the microphone, whom I later learned was Watters, immediately began asking me why I was causing “pain and suffering” to the Alexa Foundation and rape victims. He never gave me the context for his accusations. Confused, I repeatedly asked him what he was talking about and whether he could refresh my memory, but he just continued throwing out questions. When I tried to figure out why he was attacking ThinkProgress in particular—even though other news organizations had also covered the story—he said we were part of the “smear pipeline,” which also included the “Soros-funded” Web site Media Matters, referring to financier and philanthropist George Soros.
Watters demanded that I look into the camera and apologize to the Alexa Foundation and rape victims.
In the past, O’Reilly has said of his ambush victims: “We always ask them on the program first, or to issue a clear statement explaining their actions.” That’s not true. I was never asked to do either. When O’Reilly aired this segment, he never showed me saying I would be happy to speak one-on-one with someone from the Alexa Foundation if he or she called me.
How did O’Reilly’s producers find me? My friend recalled seeing a tan SUV following us almost the entire time from Washington; that same vehicle then parked outside our lodging. I can only imagine that O’Reilly’s crew found my home address, staked out my apartment building, followed me for two hours, and then ambushed me.
The interview with O’Reilly’s people had nothing to do with journalism. I emailed Mike Hoyt, executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, who has faced his own O’Reilly ambush. He said that while he believes some street interviews are acceptable, what O’Reilly does is try to grab “whatever out-of-context quote that he can use to make you look stupid.” I believe that O’Reilly’s ambushes are about harassment and intimidation.
The rest of the weekend I was constantly wondering how long these two men had been following me and whether they were still tracking me. Ever since, I have caught myself constantly looking over my shoulder, being more cautious about where I go, and carefully monitoring the threatening emails I’ve been receiving from O’Reilly’s viewers.
On the morning of Monday, March 23, I published a post on ThinkProgress recounting my experience. The outrage was instantaneous. I even received support from conservatives who said that while they usually disagree with what I write, they believe O’Reilly went too far. On Friday, UPS said it would not longer be advertising on O’Reilly’s show. Capital One said it “in no way endorses the views/opinions portrayed during” The O’Reilly Factor. A Ford employee—speaking for himself and not the company—said he finds O’Reilly “hopelessly pig-headed.”
I wasn’t the first victim of O’Reilly’s harassment machine. There have been nearly 40 others —from Barack Obama to Rosie O’Donnell, from Arianna Huffington to Hendrik Hertzberg. For many people, what made my case especially disturbing is that O’Reilly was trying to show his viewers that he was sympathetic to women who have been victims of a crime—and then he decided to send his producers to stalk and harass a 5-foot-tall, 100-pound young woman.
O’Reilly’s conspiracy theories about our “well-financed cabal” are little more than attempts to evade the main issues I raised in my first article. Why, when a woman is raped and murdered, is it relevant what she was wearing or how much she had been drinking? And why was it appropriate to send producers to find my home address, follow me, and harass me while I was on vacation?
Perhaps O’Reilly believed I was simply asking for it.
Amanda Terkel is managing editor of ThinkProgress.org and deputy research director at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.