Jail Time for Tax Evaders? Yes, Said Fox News – Part Two

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I wasn’t planning to write any more about Bill O’Reilly, but it seems I have to do one more round of fact checking about The Factor.

After I pointed out that O’Reilly had erroneously said Fox News never told viewers they could be jailed for failure to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, O’Reilly attempted to defend himself. In the course of doing so, he referred to my reporting on this as “dishonest,” “far-left” and part of a “sham.”

But I digress. Anyway, last night O’Reilly claimed he was only talking about the final health reform bill when he said no one on Fox “had ever said you are going to jail if you don’t buy health insurance. Nobody has ever said it.” Of course, a number of people have said this on Fox, as I pointed out. To be fair to Fox, in my previous post, I also pointed out that the House bill did not expressly prohibit imprisonment over failure to obtain insurance or pay a tax penalty. I noted that neither did the House bill include language about imprisonment and that those who quoted text about imprisonment were quoting the IRS code that says those who don’t pay their taxes can go to jail. I also said the Senate Finance bill and final legislation expressly prohibited imprisonment for failure to get health insurance. Here’s the paragraph I wrote about this:

All of these statements were made after the Senate Finance Committee passed its version of the health reform legislation, which specifically prohibited imprisoning people for refusing to pay the tax penalty levied on those without insurance. To be fair, the House bill did not specifically prohibit this, but it also did not include this threat. Critics who said failure to obtain insurance would result in jail time were quoting a piece of the internal revenue code, not any version of health reform legislation. Further explanation here, here, and here.

O’Reilly’s explanation last night was an attempt to seem like he was right when he had, in fact, been wrong. Sen. Tom Coburn, who originally called Fox out for leading viewers to believe they would be jailed, was right. But yet O’Reilly said on his program last night, “Senator Coburn admitted he may have made a mistake.” He didn’t make a mistake. And neither did I. O’Reilly’s the one who was mistaken – along with those on Fox who said even during the final months of the health reform debate – that Americans who don’t get insurance or pay the related tax penalty could go to jail.

But mini-media wars are silly and I’m not usually one to wage them. What really matters is that people understand that no one is going to go to jail for not buying health insurance. At least this is clear now, to O’Reilly and non-O’Reilly viewers alike.