O'Reilly the Wrong Factor in Saudi Abduction Case
9/6/2002 12:00:00 AM - Joel Mowbray
In a move that crossed traditional journalistic boundaries - and not for
the better - Fox News talk-show host Bill O'Reilly arranged a rendezvous
in London last weekend for Patricia Roush's two daughters (who were
escorted to Europe by many Saudi men), an O'Reilly Factor
producer, and of course, a P.R. pit bull who worked for the Saudis.
Details of how he and his staff helped coordinate the London excursion
for Roush's daughters, Alia and Aisha, came out during a segment on his
show Tuesday with Roush and the producer who interviewed the girls
O'Reilly has taken the most heat for beating up on Roush - he at one
point called her "too emotional," not the choicest phrase to describe a
mother who has dedicated the past 16 years to recovering her kidnapped
children - but Roush is a tough, feisty lady who can stand up to him,
and O'Reilly has apologized for his treatment of her. It's going to take
more than a rude snap during a television interview to shake a woman who
simply dreams of the day when she can cook pasta with her daughters and
granddaughter at her side.
Some people close to the Roush case suspect that O'Reilly does not
really care about the girls' plight, but that theory doesn't seem right.
In a phone interview with me Wednesday, O'Reilly seemed to sincerely
want to help Alia and Aisha, and he passionately believes he did the
right thing. Unfortunately, he didn't. This is yet another path to hell
paved with good intentions.
The talk host has justifiably been widely criticized for arranging to
help two American citizens - who were kidnapped by their Saudi national
father in 1986 - temporarily leave Saudi Arabia at the very time a
congressional delegation was arriving there to negotiate their release.
But the girls were getting out of Saudi last week, O'Reilly or no
O'Reilly. The Saudis have a particular disdain for Roush, and they also
know the significance of her case in Rep. Dan Burton's original decision
to take a congressional delegation there. O'Reilly just provided the
Saudis with a convenient opportunity.
O'Reilly's maneuvers were not driven by any secret sympathies he harbors
for the despotic Saudi tyrants - he is no fan of the House of Saud. In
fact, he played a leading role earlier this year in showcasing the
now-infamous Visa Express program. But that's the maddening thing: He
knows enough about the Saudis to know better.
Repeatedly exclaiming "they're gone for good" during the phone
interview, O'Reilly is convinced that Roush's daughters will never
breathe freedom again - and that they will never want to. But how could
he believe this when his sentiment is based on what Alia and Aisha said
in a London hotel under close Saudi supervision?
In the phone interview, the talk-show host admitted that the girls were
obviously brainwashed - Aisha described Osama bin Laden as a "peaceful
person" - and that the hotel was a coercive environment. Yet he
maintains that the interview room in the hotel itself was "not
coercive." He tries to have it both ways: showing that he understands
the enormous pressures the girls face, but also that The Factor
was able to instantaneously erase 16 years of unrelenting manipulation
in a few hours.
For some inexplicable reason, O'Reilly refuses to accept that the Saudi
representative tainted the whole interview - because, he reasons, the
P.R. woman is an American. But being an American, sadly, makes the
woman's presence no less pernicious than that of a member of the royal
family - because that's who she works for. The girls understood what
O'Reilly apparently did not: The woman was going to report back to the
House of Saud. Even if the girls somehow had the unlikely ability to
overcome 16 years of psychological torture in mere moments, Alia's
newborn baby, Bisma, was not in the interview room with her mother and
may not have even been in the hotel.
O'Reilly curiously stated on Wednesday night's show, in response to
criticism for Tuesday's Roush segment, that the deciding factor in
agreeing to the London interview was that a U.S. consular officer would
privately meet with the girls. This suggests ignorance of the State
Department, at the very least. State has a terrible track record of
helping abducted American children, even when those children show up
literally at their door.
When Monica Stowers begged the U.S. embassy to help her rescue her two
children a decade ago while they were physically in the embassy,
Americans at the consulate snidely remarked that the embassy was "not a
hotel" - and her children were deliberately sent back into the clutches
of the House of Saud.
But there's a more direct precedent for the current situation. When Dria
Davis was kidnapped at age eleven by her Saudi father, a consular
officer interviewed her in Saudi Arabia. The American State Department
employee believed the sham appearance of a happy, albeit kidnapped,
Dria. What she didn't know then from her cursory discussion is that
Dria's father had threatened to kill her if she did not do exactly as
told - which we only know now because Dria's mother paid to have her
smuggled out of the desert prison three years ago.
O'Reilly had to know Dria's experience, because she was a guest on the
same show as Roush, and she even reminded him that Alia and Aisha had
almost certainly been similarly threatened.
Bill O'Reilly has done some great journalism, and he's even achieved
major reforms on important issues. Maybe that impressive track record
made him a little too ambitious in this instance: He decided he could in
one month solve a 16-year ordeal. There was no way he could have - nor
should he have tried. With genuinely good - but sorely misguided -
intentions, he stepped all over a situation he never should have
inserted himself into in the first place.
But no matter how much damage O'Reilly caused - though he did some
specific good - the real villain in this tale is the State Department.
State bought into the lie that Alia and Aisha were "happy" as part of a
"statement" they gave to the consular officer - and then State
immediately lied to the American public about the condition under which
the lies were made.
O'Reilly's interview and explanation of the circumstances surrounding
the London trip lay bare the ridiculous assertion by State over the
weekend that Alia and Aisha were "on vacation." This lie was meant to
hoodwink Americans about the real nature of the trip - which was for
Saudi p.r. purposes - and disguise it as some voluntary, spontaneous
action by the girls. It was no such thing.
State's greater sin than lying, though, was to put the seal of
legitimacy on the Saudi scam. State did not have to be the Saudis'
lackey, but it chose to be.
All is not lost, however. Though he is pessimistic about the prospects
for Alia and Aisha ever reaching freedom, O'Reilly's dedication to the
case has brought tremendous exposure, and the interview clearly showed
the effects of Saudi brainwashing - something that State didn't even
mention in its official line about the girls' "statement."
No one can be sure how or when this case will end, but Pat Roush will
hopefully get to cook that pasta with her daughters and granddaughter at
her side before long - in spite of the State Department's efforts to
shatter her simple dream.