Think of how vicious the attacks from Fox News and right-wing commentators were on Sen. Dick Durbin for citing FBI criticism of detainee abuse at Guantanamo, or the smears against Dan Rather and other journalists who helped expose the scandal at Abu Ghraib, or the ugly campaign to boycott the Dixie Chicks for criticizing George W. Bush.
But it 's hard to imagine any comments as outrageous as O 'Reilly 's loose talk about war crimes supposedly committed by U.S. Army forces fighting in Belgium and by U.S. Marines in the bloody battle at Iwo Jima.
On "The O 'Reilly Factor " on May 30, O 'Reilly floated the argument that the alleged murder by U.S. Marines of 24 unarmed men, women and children in the Iraqi town of Haditha in November 2005 was just par for the course in wartime.
"In Iwo Jima, in the Battle of the Bulge, Malmedy, all these things, " O 'Reilly lectured his guest, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark. "You 're a military historian. You know these happened. It happened in every war. It 's happened in every army. ... "
"In Malmedy, as you know, U.S. forces captured SS forces who had their hands in the air, and they were unarmed, and they shot them down, " O 'Reilly said referring to the Belgian town of Malmedy, which was fought over during the Battle of the Bulge. "You know that. That 's on the record, been documented. In Iwo Jima, the same thing occurred. Japanese attempted to surrender, and they were burned in their caves. "
But O 'Reilly 's historical certainty was astonishingly misplaced. First, at Malmedy, the atrocity on Dec. 17, 1944, was the other way around: about 86 surrendering U.S. soldiers were massacred by German SS panzer forces in one of the most notorious war crimes on the Western Front.
O 'Reilly had turned the U.S. soldiers from victims into war criminals, while transforming their SS murderers from war criminals to victims.
As MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann noted on his "Countdown " program on June 1, O 'Reilly made the same mistake last year in using the alleged U.S. atrocity at Malmedy the supposed killing of unarmed SS troops by American troops to blunt concerns about the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Despite encountering demands then for a correction, O 'Reilly was back abusing the facts of Malmedy on May 30, this time to dilute outrage over the alleged murders of civilians at Haditha.
When challenged about his error after his May 30 program, O 'Reilly didn 't exactly apologize but instead insisted he was referring to supposed U.S. revenge killings after the Malmedy atrocity. But that wasn 't what he actually said. (Olbermann reported that Fox News later doctored the May 30 transcript to substitute "Normandy " for "Malmedy. ")
"After German SS troops massacred 86 American soldiers at Malmedy in Belgium on Dec. 17, 1944, some units like the U.S. 11th Armored Division took revenge on captured German soldiers, " O 'Reilly wrote, adding: "In the Pacific, relatively few Japanese prisoners were taken in the brutal island fights. "
Yet, O 'Reilly provides no specifics or documentary citations to support these war-crimes charges against Americans. While it certainly is likely that some individual American soldiers killed surrendering enemy troops, O 'Reilly seems bizarrely sympathetic to the fascist forces of Germany and Japan, responsible for tens of millions of deaths.