Fox Newsman Exaggerated Fundraising Efforts

By Nathaniel Popper

Published April 02, 2004, issue of April 02, 2004.

The self-described enemy of political spin, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, appears to have been overstating his charitable efforts on behalf of Israel, while defending his support for Mel Gibson and “The Passion of the Christ.”

During a March 10 appearance on the Don Imus radio show, O’Reilly struck back at one of his sharpest critics, New York Times columnist Frank Rich, saying, “I did a benefit in L.A. four weeks ago where we raised millions of dollars for Israel. OK, pal? Get off it; stop the sleazy nonsense, because you trade in this all day long, Frank Rich.”

O’Reilly and his publicist told Business Week media editor Tom Lowry that the benefit he “chaired” in Los Angeles had raised $40 million for Israel, a fact that ended up in the first paragraph of Lowry’s article about O’Reilly.

But a few inquiries into the event in question raise questions about the account given by O’Reilly, who routinely refers to his television show as the “no spin zone.”

It turns out that O’Reilly was the paid keynote speaker, not the volunteer chair, of a February dinner that raised $3 million for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. According to the federation’s spokeswoman, Deborah Dragon, the event was part of the organization’s annual campaign, which raises over $40 million, with some of the money going to help Israel. But the larger share is spent on local causes.

The dinner that O’Reilly attended was a private event for donors who gave more than $100,000 and was not publicized by the federation. The first public mention of the dinner was made by O’Reilly, when he cited it during his dispute with Rich.

O’Reilly’s appearance in front of the Los Angeles Jewish community came just days before he asked a correspondent on his show if “The Passion” was meeting so much resistance from the American press because “the major media in Hollywood and a lot of the secular press is controlled by Jewish people?”

When asked about O’Reilly’s description of his charitable efforts, the commentator’s publicist, Robert Zimmerman, said that he had been given the $40 million figure by the Los Angeles federation.

“Is $3 million not enough to have raised?” Zimmerman asked.



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