Washington Post’s Dana Milbank takes O’Reilly’s beheading threat seriously

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly have been waging an apocalyptic war of words these past two weeks that could very well mean the massacre of polite political discourse, the execution of elocution and the secession of the American vernacular from the English language.

That was a joke.

If it was a bad one, perhaps it needs a set up.

On his Nov. 4 show, O’Reilly called for the sharia-certified beheading of Milbank, after which he emphatically reminded viewers, sidekick Megyn Kelly, “you Media Matters people,” and himself, that he was joking. Then he continued berating Milbank until the next commercial break.

His ire derived from a column Milbank had written the day before critiquing Fox’s “fair and balanced” coverage of Election Night. For the most part, the ever-cool Kelly stayed out of the fray but cheekily encouraged O’Reilly, saying, “I think you and I should go and beat him up.”

Six days later, the usually jovial Milbank responded at length in a very serious column titled “Bill O’Reilly’s Threats.”

In his column, Milbank said O’Reilly was serious about the decapitation threat and that there was nothing funny about the joke. While later in the article he wrote, “I don’t believe O’Reilly really wants to sever my head,” Milbank cautioned against further “thuggish tactics.”

”O’Reilly has every right to quarrel with my opinion or question my accuracy,” wrote Milbank. “But why resort to intimidation and violent imagery? “

Milbank wrote that “if only one of [O’Reilly’s] millions of viewers interprets his message otherwise, that’s still a problem for me.”

So is Milbank afraid for his physical safety?

“I have no way to know whether O’Reilly’s comments put me and my family in danger,” said Milbank to The Daily Caller on Wednesday afternoon. “I certainly hope not.”

Milbank told TheDC that, yes, O’Reilly “literally” wanted to behead him. And despite whatever linguistic terminology one wishes to employ regarding hyperbole, jokes, satire, etc., he said, “I just wish he’d drop the violent imagery.”

In his piece on Wednesday, Milbank surmised that the invective leveled against him by O’Reilly — whom Milbank compliments as a “responsible alternative” to Fox News commentator Glenn Beck — arose from a series of columns Milbank penned attacking Beck. Those columns (and a book now available in hardback!) take Beck to task for exciting violent individuals with unceasing tirades about Hitler and Socialism.

In the Beck series, Milbank made direct correlations between the radio jockey’s rants and crimes perpetrated by several high-profile nutcases.

For his part, Milbank told TheDC he just wants “them to turn it down a notch” because O’Reilly’s trash talk — like Beck’s — could lead some people to violence, although he said it wasn’t a particularly partisan problem.

“I have no reason to think Fox viewers are any crazier than the population,” said Milbank.” But as I wrote in the column, it only takes one nutcase to take violent talk as something other than a joke. That’s why I urge people to be responsible and to ease up on the violent imagery…”

Milbank noted that “from 2005 until just before [abortion specialist] Dr. George Tiller was murdered in May last year, O’Reilly called him ‘Tiller the baby killer,’ or some variation of that, 27 times on his program.”

Milbank didn’t specify whether or not he had taken specific precautions to protect himself from either a beheading or Bill O’Reilly.

All this took place before Bill O’Reilly’s Wednesday night show where the pundit returned the volley, highlighting the “desperation on the far left,” which is suffering from “Fox-o-phobia.”

“Now Milbank is desperately trying to convince his readers that I would like violence to befall him,” said O’Reilly. “Not true. I would like honesty to befall Mr. Milbank.”

The Factor’s guest, Karl Rove, then lambasted the columnist while also saying that O’Reilly’s beheading comment was “maybe not a particularly very funny joke.”

“Isn’t it amazing. Snarky Dana Milbank who writes a column several times a week that is generally bitter, and brittle and nasty to people on the center-right of America politics,” said Rove. “If you’re upset with people making a joke then why don’t you got out there and be serious about all the people who say ugly things about Republican who are not making a joke.”

The columnist, for his part, then told TheDC in an unsolicited e-mail that he was “pleased” with what O’Reilly had said.

“I very much appreciate Bill clarifying that he doesn’t wish me violence,” said Milbank.

Both the columnist and the TV pundit then settled their remaining differences via an Oprah mediation, agreed they had more in common than they ever expected and went to drink freshly-made hot cider at Starbucks.

That was a joke.

Email Jeff Winkler and follow him on The Twitter.  Copies of O’Reilly and Milbank’s most recent books can be borrowed from your local library.