It's easy to typecast Bill O'Reilly as a conservative sloganeer in the culture wars. Indeed, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, the self-appointed nemesis of the top-rated Fox News commentator, has made the better part of a career out of just such typecasting. But according to a recent report on the conservative website Newsmax, O'Reilly has interceded to assist a lawsuit targeting one of the most extreme organizations on the right flank of the culture wars — the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Westboro church has gained infamy by organizing protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers, contending that God delights in such tragic losses because of excessive toleration of homosexuality in the United States. (One of the tamer slogans that church members trumpet at these occasions is "Thank God for Dead Soldiers.")
But the father of one such soldier, Albert Snyder — whose son, a Marine lance corporal named Matthew A. Snyder, died in 2006 in Iraq's Anbar province in a non-combat-related accident — resolved to make the church pay for its conduct. After Westboro demonstrators turned out in force at his son's funeral, Snyder brought a federal suit against the Kansas-based church's lead pastor, Fred Phelps, for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury initially found in Snyder's favor, and assessed $10 million in damages. (A trial judge later reduced that amount to $5 million.)
However, when Westboro's attorney's challenged the ruling in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the judgment was overturned; the judge in the case granted that the Westboro group's action was "distasteful" but was nonetheless protected by the First Amendment.
The court also ordered Snyder to foot $16,500 in legal expenses that Westboro incurred during the court challenges. O'Reilly had previously interviewed Snyder about the case, and in Tuesday's edition of his show, "The O'Reilly Factor," the cable host announced that he would gladly pay Snyder's debt. "I am not going to let this injustice stand," O'Reilly declared. "It's obvious [the Westboro protesters] were disturbing the peace by disrupting the funeral. They should have been arrested, but our system is so screwed up ... that the loons are allowed to run wild."
The help comes for Snyder at a critical time — the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear his challenge to the 4th Circuit ruling in its fall 2011 term, so he'll be racking up legal fees for some time to come.
— Chris Lehmann is managing editor of the Yahoo! News blog.
Oh O'Reilly. His hypocrisy once again shines through. It's interesting to see how the "far right," Fox News, and the GOP's official strategy are working in concert. (I'm not claiming here that it's some sort of grand conspiracy of the three, but it's by no accident that the Tea Party movement, Glenn Beck, and the GOP are all looking out for the same interests: profits of major companies)