"You Can Look It Up"

Thanks, James Thurber. You sure can. And, given the Internet, it’s a lot easier now than it was sixty-five years ago, when your story was published.

Fact checking is easy now. Well, easier than it was when you had to go all the way to the library. But people still don’t do it, even people who, by virtue of their position, should know better.

Can you say, “Bill O’Reilly”?

Twice in the past year, O’Reilly has referred to the Malmédy massacre as a war crime committed by US troops. After the first time, which took place during a 2005 interview with Wesley Clark, O’Reilly later said:

In the heat of the debate with General Clark, my statement wasn’t clear enough…. After Malmédy, some [of the SS troops involved in killing unarmed Americans] were executed by American troops.

Well, not quite. Though there were accusations that this did happen, at least.

However, O’Reilly regressed. Again while interviewing Clark (this time six months later), he claimed:

In Malmédy, as you know, U.S. forces captured SS forces who had their hands in the air and they were unarmed, and they shot them down. You know that. That’s on the record. Been documented.

Well, no.

What’s odd about O’Reilly’s belief is its connection with Joe McCarthy. In his first year in the Senate (1949), McCarthy got himself involved in claims that there had been abuse of SS prisoners (arrested for participation in the Malmedy massacre) by American guards. In his new book Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy, Tom Wicker writes:

In 1946 seventy-three former Nazi troopers had been found guilty of an atrocity, near Malmedy, Belgium, against U.S. troops and Belgian civilians; forty-three of the troopers were sentenced to death. General Lucius D. Clay, the post-war military governor of Germany, commuted thirty-one of the death sentences. But in Devember 1948 an American Quaker group, the National Council for the Prevention of War, charged that the accused Nazis had been subjected to torture and mistreatment. (56-57).

McCarthy seized on this as an issue of his own. True to fashion, McCarthy refused to accept a report on the “incident” generated by a subcommittee of the Armed Services committee, chaired by Senator Raymond Baldwin:

Even after the Baldwin panel issued a convincing final report citing evidence that refuted the German charges, McCarthy continued to call the panel’s work a whitewash. (60)

The details of the Malmeday massacre are well-known and easily established. Joe McCarthy’s role relating to the Senate hearings into the conduct of American guards isn’t quite so remembered—but it is also easy to verify.

Why couldn’t O’Reilly, who must have had some hazy knowledge of McCarthy’s screams about “whitewash,” have at least checked his recollections?

You say that’s not what he’s about?

Oh, right.