Bill O’Reilly continued what he calls his investigation into terrorist ties at USF Tuesday night, interviewing another USF professor.
O’Reilly questioned Roy Weatherford, a USF professor and president of its faculty union.
On his Fox News political talk show, The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly attacked Sami Al-Arian, a USF computer science and engineering professor, Sept. 26, saying he had connections to the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad and its leader Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, a former USF adjunct professor.
O’Reilly said his questions to Al-Arian were justified because they were facts.
On the show, Weatherford acknowledged that while Al-Arian had associated with a man who later turned out to be a terrorist, it was still not the university’s job to decide if there is any validity in that accusation. He also emphasized that an investigation conducted by the FBI two years ago never produced evidence sufficient enough to charge Al-Arian with a crime.
“Whether he is or is not a terrorist is up to the federal government,” Weatherford said.
Later in the interview O’Reilly said he wished Al-Arian had his job back, but he said the people of Florida, who pay his salary, deserve a better explanation.
In an interview following the broadcast, Weatherford said he thinks O’Reilly is beginning to see the serious effects his Sept. 26 interview produced, and that is why his line of questioning Tuesday was not as harsh.
“He wasn’t particularly abusive,” Weatherford said. “I think he is having second thoughts in the sense that many respectable people think he is being intemperate.”
Following the Sept. 26 interview, Al-Arian was placed on paid administrative leave, which raised questions last week about academic freedom. Those questions were addressed in a meeting on Oct. 10 and 11 by members of the faculty senate and faculty union. The faculty senate executive committee then drafted a resolution supporting USF President Judy Genshaft’s decision to place Al-Arian on leave because of safety concerns.
Weatherford said he was contacted late last week about appearing on the show. He said some thought going on the show again would just revive a story that has been out of the news for a few weeks, but, ultimately, it was decided that going on would do more good than bad.
“I talked with elected officials from the United Faculty of Florida, and friends and family, and we took into concern that no good would come out of (the interview),” Weatherford said. “But in the end, the time to stand up for rights and principles is the time when they are most endangered.”
Michael Reich, a USF spokesman, said the university supports Weatherford’s comments.
“We agree with Dr. Weatherford,” Reich said. “Academic freedom creates free exchange of ideas.”
Reich said O’Reilly’s questioning of Al-Arian three weeks ago revealed nothing new and that O’Reilly should allow the proper authorities to do their jobs.
“He presented allegations as fact,” Reich said. “Let’s let allegations be allegations, and let law enforcement tell us when they determine the facts.”