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Posted by on Jun 1, 2009 in Society | 12 comments

“Will No One Rid Me of This Turbulent Priest?”

That is the legendary translation of Henry II’s famous outburst of rage against the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, which resulted in Becket’s murder:

“What miserable drones and traitors have I nurtured and promoted in my household who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric!” were the words which sparked the darkest event in Henry’s religious wranglings. This speech has translated into legend in the form of “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” – a provocative statement which would perhaps have been just as riling to the knights and barons of his household at whom it was aimed as his actual words. Bitter at Becket, his old friend, constantly thwarting his clerical constitutions, the King shouted in anger but most likely not with intent. However, four of Henry’s knights, Reginald Fitzurse, Hugh de Morville, Lord of Westmorland, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton overheard their King’s cries and decided to act on his words.

On 29 December 1170, they entered Canterbury Cathedral, finding Becket near the stairs to the crypt. They beat down the Archbishop, killing him with several blows. Becket’s brains were scattered upon the ground with the words; “Let us go, this fellow will not be getting up again.” Whatever the rights and wrongs, it certainly tainted Henry’s later reign. For the remaining 20 years of his rule, he would personally regret the death of a man who “in happier times…had been a friend”.

Although there is no such thing as an historical exact match, one can hear a certain contemporary echo in these words (emphasis mine):

When his show airs tomorrow, Bill O’Reilly will most certainly decry the death of Kansas doctor George Tiller, who was killed Sunday while attending church services with his wife. Tiller, O’Reilly will say, was a man who was guilty of barbaric acts, but a civilized society does not resort to lawless murder, even against its worst members. And O’Reilly, we can assume, will genuinely mean this.

But there’s no other person who bears as much responsibility for the characterization of Tiller as a savage on the loose, killing babies willy-nilly thanks to the collusion of would-be sophisticated cultural elites, a bought-and-paid-for governor and scofflaw secular journalists. Tiller’s name first appeared on “The Factor” on Feb. 25, 2005. Since then, O’Reilly and his guest hosts have brought up the doctor on 28 more episodes, including as recently as April 27 of this year. Almost invariably, Tiller is described as “Tiller the Baby Killer.”

Tiller, O’Reilly likes to say, “destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000.” He’s guilty of “Nazi stuff,” said O’Reilly on June 8, 2005; a moral equivalent to NAMBLA and al-Qaida, he suggested on March 15, 2006. “This is the kind of stuff [that] happened in Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union,” said O’Reilly on Nov. 9, 2006.


When Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an O’Reilly favorite who faced harsh criticism for seeking Tiller’s records, was facing electoral defeat by challenger Paul Morrison, O’Reilly said, “Now we don’t endorse candidates here, but obviously, that would be a colossal mistake. Society must afford some protection for viable babies and children who are raped.” (Morrison ultimately unseated Kline.)

This is where O’Reilly’s campaign against George Tiller becomes dangerous. While he never advocated anything violent or illegal, the Fox bully repeatedly portrayed the doctor as a murderer on the loose, allowed to do whatever he wanted by corrupt and decadent authorities. “Also, it looks like Dr. Tiller, who some call Tiller the Baby Killer, is spending a large amount of money in order to get Mr. Morrison elected. That opens up all kinds of questions,” said O’Reilly on Nov. 6, 2006, in one of many suggestions that Tiller was improperly influencing the election.

Tiller’s excuses for performing late-term abortions, O’Reilly suggested, were frou-frou, New Age, false ailments: The woman might have a headache or anxiety, or have been dumped by her boyfriend. She might be “depressed,” scoffed O’Reilly, which he dismissed as “feeling a bit blue and carr[ying] a certified check.” There was, he proposed on Jan. 5, 2007, a kind of elite conspiracy of silence on Tiller. “Yes, OK, but we know about the press. But it becomes a much more intense problem when you have a judge, confronted with evidence of criminal wrongdoing, who throws it out on some technicality because he wants to be liked at the country club. Then it’s intense.”

Tiller, said O’Reilly on Jan. 6 of this year, was a major supporter of then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. “I think it’s unfairly characterized as just a grip and grin relationship. He was a pretty big supporter of hers.” She had cashed her campaign check from Tiller, “doesn’t seem to be real upset about this guy operating a death mill, which is exactly what it is in her state, does she?” he asked on July 14 of last year. “Maybe she’ll — maybe she’ll pardon him,” he scoffed two months ago.

This is where it gets most troubling. O’Reilly’s language describing Tiller, and accusing the state and its elites of complicity in his actions, could become extremely vivid. On June 12, 2007, he said, “Yes, I think we all know what this is. And if the state of Kansas doesn’t stop this man, then anybody who prevents that from happening has blood on their hands as the governor does right now, Governor Sebelius.”

Three days later, he added, “No question Dr. Tiller has blood on his hands. But now so does Governor Sebelius. She is not fit to serve. Nor is any Kansas politician who supports Tiller’s business of destruction. I wouldn’t want to be these people if there is a Judgment Day. I just — you know … Kansas is a great state, but this is a disgrace upon everyone who lives in Kansas. Is it not?”


O’Reilly didn’t tell anyone to do anything violent, but he did put Tiller in the public eye, and help make him the focus of a movement with a history of violence against exactly these kinds of targets (including Tiller himself, who had already been shot). In those circumstances, flinging around words like “blood on their hands,” “pardon,” “country club” and “judgment day” was sensationally irresponsible.

Unlike Henry II, though, O’Reilly will not spend the rest of his life regretting the part his words played in the murder of a man over a political disagreement.

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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • jwest

    King Henry II: So what in most people is morality, in you it’s just an exercise in… what’s the word?

    Thomas Becket: Aesthetics.

    King Henry II: Yes, that’s the word. Always “aesthetics.”

  • markst

    Considering abortion is one of the most divisive moral and political subjects in the U.S., here Newsy does a good job of providing insightful perspectives from different sides on this recent controversial and tragic event:

    I wish those on both sides of this issue could reach some strong common ground, but like some things in life, that doesn’t look like it will happen for quite some time in the U.S.

  • AustinRoth

    There is no excusing the actions of the man who took Tiller’s life.

    There is also no excuse for trying to lay the actions at the feet of a vocal opponent of abortion. However much you disagree with O’Reilly, and for the record, I do as well, people are responsible for their own actions.

    This argument is ridiculous whether you are talking about teenage lovers committing suicide because of Romeo and Juliet, the Manson clan killings after hearing backward encoded messages in the White Album, the Columbine shootings because of kids playing Doom and listening to Marilyn Manson, etc., or this senseless killing.

    • jchem

      AR, let me add to your list. I read a story this morning about a shooting at a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas and wondered how long it would take for it to become politicized. Well, here you go:

      Go figure, now Malkin is basically making the same arguments about that situation, along with showing pictures of those who could be said to be “fomenting violence”. If every single crime in America now has to have some sort of political motivation, I believe we are in some serious trouble.

  • jchem — it’s certainly very sad that the recruiter in the malkin story was murdered. However, if I’m reading your comment correctly, it looks like you think that Tiller’s murder may not have been politically motivated?

    • jchem

      roro80 — According to the NYT, the suspect had professed an anti-govt, anti-abortion philosophy in years past, and I think its pretty safe to say that the only reason Dr. Tiller was gunned down was simply because his killer didn’t agree with the service he provided.

      I’m pro-choice, but I’m very hesitant to label the entirety of the pro-life movement as a bunch of fundie whackos unhinged by their love of guns and their lust for killing abortion doctors. But within hours of Dr. Tiller’s death, memeorandum was blazing and we didn’t even know who committed the crime. But now that we do, what do we do about it? Clamp down on pro-life protestors, monitor their forums, intercept their mailings?

      The only reason I linked to Malkin’s post is because she is so quick to assume that the suspect in that story must be a Dem who is anti-military, or anti-war, or anti-troop. Essentially she is trying to paint all those who protest military recruiting offices with the broad brush, in much the same way as is being done here. Was that attack politically motivated? I don’t know, to be honest. But what if it is? What’s the proper reaction to it? Do we respond by clamping down on all sorts of protests for fear of violence breaking out?

  • Rambie

    Roro80, it’s what AR said, “People are responsible for their own actions” and “There is no excusing the actions of the man who took Tiller’s life.”

    Trying to splash blame on others isn’t right coming from either side.

  • I think that it’s a bit disingenuous, from both of you, to say that this man and this man alone bears the entire responsibility for this murder. It’s arguably taking it too far to single out BillO on his own, but talking about the tactics of the movement as a whole shouldn’t be off limits. There’s something to say for the culpability of movement who has to come out and say that, no, we don’t actually advocate cold-blooded murder, because quite frankly, I can see the confusion that some might have about that point, given the rhetoric and actions taken by these “pro-life” groups. Let’s be honest here — these are the same groups who scream and intimidate both doctors and patients at fully legal clinics providing fully legal, often life-saving procedures. The fact that Dr. Tiller was one of exactly three doctors in the States that provided the types of services he did shows just how well the intimidation has worked. Medical professionals should not have to wear bullet-proof vests to work unless they’re working in a war zone. Patients should not have to have recordings taken of their walks into the clinic, then posted on the internet for the purpose of shaming them. So don’t tell me this is out of the ordinary, or that it’s not political.

    • Rambie


      No, I’m not saying that some of the fringe groups didn’t help incite this man into this act by their rhetoric. However, rhetoric alone isn’t illegal. Looking as some of the comments of the pro-life leaders about this murder is proof enough of their acidic rhetoric.

  • CStanley

    I think these cases certainly are politically motivated, and a broad concern for overheated rhetoric being part of the problem is valid. However, that’s different than an attempt to tie the act of one person to a particular commentator’s expression of a provacative viewpoint, if that person did not himself truly incite violence. It’s also different than trying to imply guilt by association among all related activist groups, even though there are far more moderate ones than the few that get attention with extreme tactics.

    Jchem, I think that was a well balanced comment about Malkin- I agree that that’s an example of the other side of the political spectrum also making presumptions and accusations that a fringe individual represents an entire group or movement.

  • jchem — ok, I see what you’re saying now, and I agree that we shouldn’t stop protests. I disagree with standing in front of a recruiting office and harassing or shaming those entering, just like I disagree with screaming at or harassing those walking into a women’s health clinic. While the former has happened on occasion in certain places, it has not been an over-arching strategy for anti-war movements, and there isn’t any indication or history of protestors bringing bombs or guns to these sorts of protests. Not to say, of course, that the story you linked to couldn’t have been politically motivated, but it just isn’t the modus operandus of most anti-military protestors to start shooting up the place.

    One wouldn’t generally think of a military recruiting office of being a target for domestic terrorism, whereas abortion clinics most certainly are known as such targets. While I see no problem with having a peaceful protest against abortion, I have a very big problem with those who scream slut-shaming insults at the women who enter clinics, attempt to physically block them from receiving legal and generally very nessesary medical treatment, and those who use incendiary rhetoric to essentially paint 40% of the female population as murderers. From the pulpit or from Fox news, I feel that while this speach is certainly legal and protected, it is highly irresponsible and dangerous, and leads very quickly to the sort of violence we saw yesterday in Wichita.

    • AustinRoth

      roro – you forget your recent history on the bombing and vandalism of recruiting offices, and threats on campus against military recruiters.

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