Oh, Really?

Published: March 23, 2011

By Jim Lichtman
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What can I say about Bill O’Reilly?

Well, here’s what I wrote about him in my soon-to-be-released e-book, Shameless. “[Keith] Olbermann is one side of the political coin, with Bill O’Reilly occupying the obverse. While both have sounded shrill and pompous, the difference is Olbermann cares more about an issue; O’Reilly cares more about himself.”

Here’s O’Reilly debating with the exceedingly mild mannered Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, on why he, O’Reilly, walked out of his interview with her.

O’REILLY: That’s the only interview in my whole life I’ve ever terminated. …Here’s my problem with this interview. I thought that you were trying to make a name for yourself by quoting this defamation, which has been discredited at this point all up and down… And you say, “One of the issues I wanted to pursue with O’Reilly was whether he uses his Fox News program to settle scores with anybody who takes issues with him,” on and on and on. And that’s legitimate…But what you don’t have in your book is that you got scolded by your own ombudsman. Why didn’t you just put that in the book? Why did you leave that out? …

GROSS: The point, Bill, is that I think the interview was very fair. The ombudsman criticized it. That’s fine. That’s the ombudsman’s job; to stand back and pass judgment on how things were done. He’s an independent voice.

O’REILLY: Right.

GROSS: Does Fox News have an ombudsman?

O’REILLY: Yes. We have an ombudsman some place, I think. …He’s in the closet.

In the olden days, (before 24/7 cable television) O’Reilly would be referred to as a gadfly – “a person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands, requests, etc.” (It almost sounds like they coined the phrase around O’Reilly.)

In today’s media-centric universe, O’Reilly delights in taunting anyone to exasperation. Like contemporary Ann Coulter, O’Reilly has fallen in love with the sound of his voice and appearance of his own image.

Take a close look at your TV screen the next time O’Reillytweaks someone with one of his manic escapades. The O’Reilly “look” was clearly in evidence when he was a guest on ABC’sThe View, (Oct. 14, 2010), the daytime talker dominated by liberal hosts. In offering his opinion about the planned Muslim mosque to be located several blocks from the 9/11 site in downtown New York, O’Reilly bluntly declares that “Muslims killed us on 9/11!” Hosts Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg fly into a rage and walk off. Certainly not a hostly thing to do. However, that smug swagger you see on O’Reilly’s face is supreme satisfaction at having “gotten” just the reaction he was looking for.

This is O’Reilly’s M.O. He lives for this kind of response.

Okay, but how is he on the facts?

Of 8 O’Reilly statements checked by Politifact.com, 2 were rated “True,” 1 “Mostly True,” 1 “Half-True,” 3 “False,” and 1 was rated Pants-on-Fire False.

When it comes to O’Reilly’s “True” statements, his remarks fall under either the clearly non-controversial as when he “Tells President Obama that he also asked former President George W. Bush about how he felt about Americans hating him;” or the sly, “…a Democratic poll operation shows that Fox News is the most trusted news operations in the country. Forty-nine percent of Americans trust Fox News.”

Politifact is quick to point out that “as with so many polls, there’s lots of ways to slice numbers when you examine specific groups. For example, you could accurately say that among self-described moderates, Fox is also the least trusted network. It probably would be more accurate to say that Fox News is overwhelmingly trusted by Republicans. Together, Democrats and independents trust other networks more than Fox.”

In interview after interview, O’Reilly’s posturing and preening is clearly on exhibition as in this profound exchange between O’Reilly and Ann Coulter on his May 7, 2010 edition of The Factor.

“You will find liberals always rooting for savages against civilization,” the equally outrageous Coulter says.

“They didn’t root for the Nazis against civilization,” O’Reilly counters.

“Oh yes they did,” Coulter contradicts. “It was only when Hitler invaded their precious Soviet Union that at the last minute they came in and suddenly started saying oh no, now you have to fight Hitler.”

The “look” on O’Reilly’s face that time was more discomfort than swagger at being topped by the feisty conservative.

While I’m all for passion, the debate on political and social issues needs to be both rational and responsible — two notions completely foreign to too many in opinion media.

More often than not, though, O’Reilly reminds me of another self-absorbed talk show host… from the 60s.

“Joe Pyne,” I write in Shameless, “had a gift for provoking anything and anyone provocative, (something not lost on Bill O’Reilly). Indeed, Pyne’s mission was – borrowing the words of Chicago-based writer and humorist Finley Dunne – ‘to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’; although most times, Joe preferred the latter.”

Although he was outrageous, belligerent and in-your-face, Pyne remained clear on his mission. “The subject must be visceral,” he told TIME magazine. “We want emotion, not mental involvement.”

And that’s just what O’Reilly supplies.





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