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.