O’Reilly Spins a Correction on ‘White House Visits’

oreillyOn last night’s O’Reilly Factor (6/5/13), the Fox News host asserted that there’s still a lot the White House isn’t telling us about the IRS/Tea Party scandal. But in the process he also, in his own special way, issued a correction–of sorts:

The president will also not explain the IRS situation. His defenders denying that former IRS Chief Douglas Shulman visited the White House 157 times. But he was cleared into the People’s House 157 times. That is a fact. Those who diminish the Shulman factor are lying directly to you.

Now this is confusing. O’Reilly has been telling his viewers over and over again that Shulman visited the White House 157 times. Now he’s waffling; Obama “defenders” deny it, but the records show he was “cleared” into the White House.  Huh?

The whole point of this story is to connect the White House to the IRS scandal over targeting conservative groups for additional scrutiny of their tax-exempt applications.

The problem is that the story O’Reilly has been telling his viewers is not true. He picked it up from the right-wing website Daily Caller (5/29/13), which claims Shulman visited the White House far more often than any of Obama’s cabinet officials.

If that sounds a little hard to believe, that’s because it is. As Garance Franke-Ruta explained at the Atlantic (5/31/13), those records do not show actual visits; the 157 number refers to instances where Shulman was approved to attend a meeting, mostly about the new healthcare law. (Slightly more than half of them, 80, were a regularly scheduled biweekly gathering of deputies working on the healthcare reform project; another 40 were with the director of the Office of Health Reform.) A large majority of the meetings Shulman was cleared to attend, 115 in all, were in the Old (Eisenhower) Executive Office Building, not in the White House itself.

According to the same record-keeping, Shulman is known to have actually attended only 11 meetings in the White House complex between 2009 and 2012. And as far as the comparison with Cabinet members goes, the Daily Caller acknowledged in its original story that “it is probable that the vast majority of visits by major Cabinet members do not end up in the public record.”

So what’s O’Reilly been telling his Fox audience? On May 30:

Did the campaign of intimidation come from the White House? Well, today, there is disturbing information. This man former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House–ready–157 times. Incredible.

By comparison, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to the White House 43 times, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta 20 times. So what the heck was Mr. Shulman doing at the White House with that kind of frequency?

Old (Eisenhower) Executive Office Building (cc photo: Alfredo Penalosa)

The Old Executive Office Building, where most of the “White House” meetings former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman was cleared to attend took place. (cc photo: Alfredo Penalosa)

On the same show, O’Reilly played a clip of Shulman suggesting that attending the “Easter egg roll with my kids” might be one reason to show up at the White House. To which O’Reilly responded:

Well, Mr. Shulman, you know what you can do with your Easter egg. You must explain under oath what you were doing at the White House on 157 separate occasions.

 And then on June 3:

So far, we have been dead on. Last week we told you that former IRS Chief Douglas Shulman visited the White House 157 times, far more than any other department head. And it wasn’t even close. Logically, we asked the White House to explain those meetings: With whom did Mr. Shulman chat, and what was the subject on all 157 occasions?

O’Reilly also told viewers that “if the IRS boss visits the White House 157 times, that’s a big story,” and  asked, “What was Shulman doing at the White House 157 times?”

And on June 4, he asked: “How about the Shulman guy with 157 visits?” 

On June 5, one guest–Fox‘s Kirsten Powers–dared to suggest that maybe O’Reilly was the one getting the story wrong. That didn’t go well:

POWERS: The number of times he actually showed up is something like 11, I think.

O’REILLY: Oh that’s–that’s false. We don’t know that. He was cleared in 157 times.

Actually, we do know–if those White House visitor records are accurate–that Shulman signed in to attend 11 of those meetings.

O’Reilly’s commentary on this subject has attracted some ridicule from the likes of Comedy Central host Jon Stewart. On June 4, O’Reilly explained that, unlike Stewart, he’s “a  fact guy.” 

Now that is a good one!


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About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.