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Standing Up to Bill O'Reilly

May 23, 2006

Many a guest has Bill O’Reilly intimidated with his verbal jab-hook-uppercut combos.

Dave Frohnmayer, president of the University of Oregon, however, was neither a guest nor intimidated.

Frohnmayer refused to cancel his appointments on short notice to drive 200 miles to Portland to appear on “The O’Reilly Factor” last week to discuss risqué cartoon depictions of Jesus.

The cartoons include one showing Jesus on the cross, with an erection, and another showing him kissing a naked man. Both ran in a March edition of The Insurgent, a progressive student publication. (That publication's Web site does not feature recent editions, but versions of the cartoons with some covering up are available on another site.) The Insurgent published the Jesus cartoons as a provocative response to The Commentator , a conservative student publication that ran the infamous Danish Muhammad cartoons, along with an editorial.

The furor was contained on campus, until “The Factor” got his hands on the cartoons and featured the hullabaloo on his show last week.

O’Reilly called out Frohnmayer, saying he was afraid to come on the show, and added that "that man needs to be fired.... The image of Jesus is disrespected in shocking ways."

Though Frohnmayer didn’t appear on the show, which he called “entertainment,” he didn’t hold back in telling various publications his feelings about O’Reilly. “Being called names by him is like being called ugly by a frog,” Frohnmayer told the Associated Press.

In response to O’Reilly’s call for Frohnmayer to shut down The Insurgent – O’Reilly said that, because the publication is paid for by student activity fees, the university can shut it down – Frohnmayer told the Oregon Daily Emerald that "Bill O'Reilly doesn't know the First Amendment from the back of his own hand, which is a shame because he takes full abuse of it."

Shortly after The Insurgent published the cartoons, Frohnmayer wrote a letter to the Emerald saying that “our media should not focus on creating controversy for controversy’s sake,” and should instead “promote campus debate rather than making individuals feel that they or their beliefs are unwelcome and belittled.”

Frohnmayer, in a statement, pointed out that there is no legal basis for him to censor The Insurgent, or to threaten to withdraw its funding. In 2000, in University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, the Supreme Court ruled that student activity money is student money, not institutional money, and that it cannot be allocated to or removed from a publication based on content.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that Frohnmayer handled the cartoon issue well, and added that cartoon debacles are hot this year.

One of O’Reilly’s guests was Tyler Graf, former editor of The Commentator. Graf wrote a guest opinion piece for the Emerald, in which he said the cartoons “contained nothing resembling measured analysis or satirical wit,” and called them “a sucker punch to Christianity.”

Graf added that the Muhammad cartoons in his publication, which were accompanied by an editorial that chastised President Bush and much of the American media for their hand-wringing approach to the Muhammad cartoons, were part of an effort to "put the controversy into context."

Some of O’Reilly’s critics have said that he is being hypocritical, and would not protest the cartoons if they attacked any religion other than Christianity. O’Reilly has, however, said on his show that he didn’t want to use the Muhammad cartoons. In February, O’Reilly said that Fox wasn’t showing the cartoons -- which he said have “a basis in fact” -- because “we're not in the business of offending for the sake of offending.”

In a statement, Frohnmayer said that “the best response to offensive speech often is more speech.” The Insurgent certainly thought so.

 

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