DENVER — Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly is so outraged over Colorado House Democrats killing “Jessica’s Law” he’s devoted two on-air segments to the subject, including a second one Monday night in which one of O’Reilly’s reporters ambushed House Speaker Mark Ferrandino outside his house last week.
In the segment, the reporter demands that Ferrandino explain how he could oppose mandatory sentences for first-time child molesters and cites a few cases in which predators have done shockingly little jail time.
But it’s O’Reilly’s repeated mentioning of Ferrandino’s sexual orientation, which would seem to have little relevance to an issue of criminal justice, in both on-air segments that has Colorado Democrats upset.
In an email to supporters Tuesday that was first reported by the blog Colorado Pols, state Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio labels O’Reilly’s rhetoric “some of the most vile, homophobic attacks you’ll ever see.
“Bill O’Reilly and his Republican allies are insinuating that our State House Speaker protects child predators because he is gay,” Palacio writes. “If there is a more vicious smear they could try, it’s hard to imagine what it could even be.”
After the initial segment on O’Reilly’s show on Feb. 22, in which the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, accused Ferrandino of “protecting someone”, the Speaker bristled, telling reporters that Republicans only seem to introduce “Jessica’s Law” when they’re a political minority and have no chance of passing it — the ultimate goal being to politicize the emotional issue of juvenile sex assaults and portray Democrats as weak on crime.
“Now this Fernandino (sic), I understand he’s the first openly gay Speaker in the history of Colorado,” O’Reilly says to Szabo in the show’s Feb. 22 segment. “He was a fervent gay marriage person.”
O’Reilly actually asked Szabo to correct that characterization of Ferrandino if it were incorrect.
Her response: “So far, you’re correct.”
An article the following week by Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post popped several holes in the outrage over the bill’s death, reporting that the Independence Institute’s Dave Kopel and “Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Colorado Office of the Public Defender all agree Jessica’s Law isn’t necessary”.
Ferrandino explained all that to Jesse Watters, O’Reilly’s reporter, when he was ambushed by the Fox News Channel camera crew last Friday morning.
“We have very strong laws,” Ferrandino says, before a white flash covers up an edit, clipping Ferrandino’s response and moving on to Watter’s rebuttal: “You actually don’t have strong laws.”
Ferrandino, who wasn’t able to comment on specific cases Watters referred to in an attempt to portray Colorado sentencing laws as week, responded that “all the people in criminal justice think the laws are tough enough and are tougher than Jessica’s Law.”
O’Reilly, who pops up on camera after the interview concludes, blasts Ferrandino for not being better informed.
“This guy, he doesn’t know anything,” O’Reilly tells former FEMA administrator-turned-Colorado conservative radio host Michael Brown, brought in to help hammer home the show’s argument.
“He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know.”
Ironically, O’Reilly doesn’t know much about his chosen subject either.
“He’s a big gay marriage guy, big marijuana legalizer, there he is,” O’Reilly says.
In reality, Ferrandino never took a position on Amendment 64, by which voters approved the legalization of marijuana last November; and his signature bill recognizes civil unions, not gay marriage, which isn’t allowed under an amendment to the state constitution.
And then there’s O’Reilly’s central thesis, that any state that hasn’t passed Jessica’s Law, and any lawmaker that stands in the way, is somehow lenient on sexual predators — a thesis the state party and the liberal group Think Progress both took issue with Tuesday.
“Colorado already has harsh sentencing for sex offenders and nobody — not even the law enforcement community or victims’ advocates groups — supports changing the laws,” Think Progress wrote on its site Tuesday..
Palacio lays out the same facts in an email to Colorado Democrats, urging them to write letters to local newspapers defending Ferrandino and attacking O’Reilly’s brand of advocacy journalism, a thinly-veiled smear campaign.
“We shouldn’t water down our criminal statute with a blanket policy, and we absolutely will not tolerate the kind of homophobia Bill O’Reilly is spreading,” Palacio said.