After he returned from his recent trip to Afghanistan, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly attacked the United Service Organizations (USO) for not sending more celebrities to the country to entertain U.S. troops. The USO swiftly responded to O’Reilly, pointing out that it has already sent seven entertainment tours to Afghanistan this year, and expects to send approximately 19 celebrities total in 2007.
Last night on his show, O’Reilly hosted USO CEO and President Edward Powell, sharply criticizing him for not sending more high-caliber celebrities — the “big guns” — to Afghanistan. His entire tirade was based on a complaint by right-wing radio show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who told O’Reilly that the USO turned down her offer to go to Afghanistan:
I had my staff call the USO at least four, if not more times and volunteer me and run-arounds and rejection. They said, “You can’t just come once or twice. You have to go on a specific tour of going back 18 million times or something.” Anyway, they just blew me off.
After mocking the fact that the biggest name celebrity USO has taken to Afghanistan is Wilmer Valderrama of “That 70’s Show,” O’Reilly told Powell that “Dr. Laura wants to go, you get her butt over there, sir.” Watch it:
Dr. Laura is hardly a “big gun.” Yet O’Reilly is intent on pushing the USO to send her. It appears that his real motivation is to get more right-wing figures to meet with the troops. Dr. Laura, however, may not be the best choice. In May 2007, before appearing at Fort Douglas in Utah, Schlessinger disparaged “lonely” military wives, saying that they were “bitching” and “whining”:
Raging radio relationship guru Laura Schlessinger says she is tired of hearing the complaints of lonely and overwhelmed military wives whose husbands are deployed.
“He could come back without arms, legs or eyeballs, and you’re bitching?” Schlessinger asked before taking the stage at the Fort Douglas base theater today.
“You’re not dodging bullets, so I don’t want to hear any whining – that’s my message to them,” she added.
After her comments were reported, Dr. Laura claimed that they were taken “out-of-context” by the Salt Lake Tribune. She then turned to O’Reilly to help her hit the newspaper. O’Reilly went after the reporter, Matthew LePlante, personally, saying he “isn’t a journalist” and wants to “hurt military families.” “He’s out to hurt you,” he consoled Dr. Laura.
It’s not all together surprising that the USO may not be too enthusiastic about bringing such a divisive public personality to entertain the troops.
UPDATE: Newshounds has more.
O’REILLY: But when I visited Afghanistan a few days ago, I found out very few celebrities had gone to that country and nobody there knew why. The USO’s budget for 2007 is about $150 million. Sixty-five million of that is cash, the rest donated materials. So this isn’t about money.
On the “Radio Factor” last week, Dr. Laura Schlessinger said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I had my staff call the USO at least four, if not more times and volunteer me and run-arounds and rejection. They said, “You can’t just come once or twice. You have to go on a specific tour of going back 18 million times or something.” Anyway, they just blew me off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O’REILLY: Now, with us is Edward Powell, the president of the USO since 2002.
So I’m over there with the commanders, and I’m saying, “Oh, yes, how many guys have shown up.”
And they go, “Toby Keith in July.”
And I said, “Who else?”
And they go, “That’s it.” Now, I understand Tom Arnold is over there, too, the actor-comedian.
You know, I’m wondering, is it hard to get celebrities to go?
EDWARD POWELL, PRESIDENT, USO: Well, first of all, I want to thank you for having us. And as you know, you’ve been a big supporter, both of the troops and the USO.
But no, it’s not necessarily difficult. But every tour we take is coordinated very closely with the military, with DOD. And they have final approval over who goes. They also determine where we go, because we also do tours all over the world. It is not just there. […]
O’REILLY: All right. Say you called up Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn and — I don’t know — Bono. I don’t know. Bruce Springsteen. Would you call people of that caliber up and said, “Would you go?”
O’REILLY: You have?
POWELL: And we do talk — Vince Vaughn, quite frankly. I probably couldn’t say, because he didn’t want us to. But he has gone. Not necessarily Afghanistan.
O’REILLY: OK. So you do call people of this caliber, these kind of stars?
POWELL: Yes, and they call us, too.
O’REILLY: OK. But we haven’t seen any of them in Afghanistan. […]
And I’m not getting it, Mr. Powell. I’m not getting why we can’t have a modern-day Bob Hope do this in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not getting it.
POWELL: Well, Bob Hope is clearly an icon of this country in the entertainment world. We have done — we did almost 700 shows last year. We’re on target to do that many this year. We are doing them globally. We aren’t just…
O’REILLY: Not with the big guys. Not with the big guns. […]
And then, you heard Dr. Laura. Says they blew her off. What’s that all about?
POWELL: Well, again, I can’t…
O’REILLY: You’re the head of the show.
POWELL: Well, that’s true.
O’REILLY: Is she lying?
POWELL: I’m not going to go there on that. […]
O’REILLY: What’s the biggest name you’ve gotten over there, between now and March?
POWELL: Wilmer Valderrama just came.
O’REILLY: Wilmer Valderrama. This is the biggest name? Come on.
POWELL: We have other celebrities going, but I can’t — I know this sounds trite.
O’REILLY: I know you can’t. Security. No, no, I know. I know that, because I couldn’t say I was going there.
POWELL: I’ll tell you what. Excuse me. Have me back in March, and I’ll tell you who was there and go into more detail.
O’REILLY: All right. I’ll make you a deal. We’ll have you back in March. But I want you to work with us. And we’ll work with the DOD, because I know celebrities watching right now. After they see this, they’re going to call you and say, “I’ll go.” They are going to do that.
POWELL: We would be thrilled to work with you on that.
O’REILLY: All right. And if Dr. Laura wants to go, you get her butt over there, sir.
POWELL: It’s not up to me to determine whether she…
O’REILLY: If the DOD says no, then we’ll find out about it.
POWELL: That’s — that’s a deal.
O’REILLY: All right. Mr. Powell, thanks very much. We appreciate it.