In my previous post, I discussed a segment on The O’Reilly Factor in which host Bill O’Reilly had stated several times that President Obama was not a Muslim, that he was not born abroad, and that everyone who thought otherwise was “insane.”
The following day, on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, after Mr. O’Donnell had referred to his prime time nemesis on Fox News as “the Bill O’Reilly character played by Bill O’Reilly on the long-running Fox News sitcom The O’Reilly Factor,” Mr. O’Donnell’s guest David Brock, chairman of the progressive watchdog site Media Matters for America, said this:
The truth is everything Bill O’Reilly said in that segment is false.
This stunning revelation followed right on the heels of Mr. O’Donnell having shown a clip of Bill O’Reilly asserting that “sane, clear-thinking people understand the president is not a Muslim, and he wasn’t born in Indonesia, or whatever they’re putting out there.”
Somehow I cannot imagine that the head of Media Matters believes President Obama is a foreign-born Muslim, which he would have to believe if he really thought everything Bill O’Reilly had said in that segment was false. More likely, what we have here is yet another classic example of an overly zealous assailant stumbling in his eagerness to strike. Some folks are so crazed with lambasting Bill O’Reilly—and Fox News in general—that they literally don’t know what they’re saying anymore; a common and quite intriguing phenomenon, frequently on display in conjunction with a categorical declaration by the attacker that he or she either (a) would never give Fox News the time of day, (b) doesn’t have cable, or (c) lives in a country where Fox News isn’t available, as if, via some mysterious mechanism, proudly capping one’s reactionary gibberish with the sonorous disclaimer that one doesn’t really know what one is talking about afforded validity to the supercilious claptrap which preceded it. (I’m sure Mr. Brock of Media Matters lives in the U.S. and owns a cable box, but obviously he hadn’t seen—or at least not paid attention to—the segment he was critiquing, or else he would hardly have denounced calling President Obama a non-Muslim U.S. citizen as an act of falsehood.)
Now, as an English language aficionado of sorts—mainly because I try to compensate as best as I can for being a non-native speaker and therefore feel compelled to put in some extra work in order to make up for my formative years spent communicating in a foreign tongue—I have come to develop a keen ear for how people use English, and I delight in listening to individuals who, in my personal judgment, have a particularly swingin’ way with words. That’s how I learn.
Of course, run-of-the-mill volubility abounds. All you have to do is turn on your radio or TV and chances are you’ll come across some very articulate talking head yapping away without seemingly ever pausing to think. Some, however, are a mite more nimble-witted in their loquacity than others, and about twelve years ago, while channel-flipping, I stumbled upon a particular news analysis program whose host instantly struck me as a cut above the rest as far as assembling nifty sentences on the fly. Specifically, the guy had a way of blending erudite jargon and street lingo that I found rather unique, plus an impressive knack for quickly nutshelling into one elegant line what had taken an interlocutor several sentences to express.
So I started watching this show every night, pencil and my little notebook at the ready, just taking down neat new words and phrases by the truckloads, and I’ve been watching The O’Reilly Factor on a fairly regular basis ever since. Never a dull moment on this show. Ever. In addition to and related to Mr. O’Reilly’s breezy way with words, I also get quite a kick out of his glib sense of humor—which one must see in action to appreciate, for merely reading about the man in what comes up in a Google search or from sampling selected clips furnished by his detractors, one would never know he had a sense of humor. Moreover, I enjoy seeing opposing points of view pitted against one another, which forms the keystone concept of the program.
As an unintended side-effect of all this, I can tell in a flash whether an O’Reilly critic speaks from actually having watched the show, or—as is the case more often than not—whether he or she is merely regurgitating second-hand information, usually information dispensed by forums like the Huffington Post, Media Matters, MSNBC, The Guardian, etc., or third-hand information dispensed by individuals who were robotically spouting back stuff they had read or heard in any of those forums. Pretty soon the campfire tales take on a life of their own and an alternate narrative emerges that is curiously divorced from the underlying reality, and, whisper-down-the-lane, word gets around that Bill O’Reilly opens every show with a recitation from Mein Kampf and signs off each night by decapitating puppies for ratings, while spending the bulk of the time in between shouting over his guests and cutting their mikes.
My primary aim here is not to defend Bill O’Reilly. In fact, Bill O’Reilly is somewhat incidental to my point. He just happens to be a topic which, for reasons stated above, I know a little something about, and I continue to be flabbergasted by the half-witted drivel about him and his show that is being bruited around with solemn conviction by so many people who seem oddly oblivious to the capacity of propaganda to cut both ways and who appear to consider themselves impervious to its effects. Anytime I hear or read that Bill O’Reilly is “far-right”, “arch-conservative,” a “racist” (!), someone who preaches that the Old Testament ought to be the law of the land, or who took his marching orders from the Bush administration, I tend to give these people the benefit of the doubt in that they probably obtained their 411 from Bill Maher and similar sources, because had they arrived at these conclusions based on actually having seen O’Reilly’s show or read any of books, they’d have to be institutionalized.
In one of MSNBC’s customary O’Reilly-bashing segments the night before the sharpshooting Media Matters CEO inadvertently declared Bill O’Reilly a bearer of false tidings for having called the president an American-born non-Muslim, host Lawrence O’Donnell launched into a five-minute-long anti-O’Reilly diatribe, the clip of which I posted at the bottom of this article for your independent evaluation.
Following is a transcript of what Mr. O’Donnell had to say in a prepared peroration recited off the teleprompter, i.e., not some top-off-the-head jeremiad that could be justified by the speaker having gotten carried away without having had a chance to properly reflect upon his statements:
Do you ever get the feeling that Glenn Beck’s job is to be a smokescreen for Bill O’Reilly? Beck is busy saying so many utterly insane things that get him so much attention that it’s easy to miss O’Reilly’s lower voltage lies. Here’s O’Reilly talking with renowned prostitute patron Dick Morris about the thing O’Reilly can never stop talking about—his interview with president Obama:
[Clip] Bill O’Reilly: “The president wouldn’t basically define how he sees the Muslim Brotherhood. He would not do it. He said there are strains of anti-Americanism in that, but that sounds like MSNBC—there are strains of anti-Americanism over there, OK.” [End of clip]
So Bill O’Reilly—that’s the guy the MSNBC prime time talent can never stop talking about—had quipped that there were “strains of anti-Americanism” over at MSNBC. Of course, what exactly constitutes “Americanism” and, by extension, its antithesis, is a matter of personal interpretation, which renders the bestowal of such attribute inherently unfalsifiable and hence ineligible to be deemed a lie (or the truth, for that matter). Mr. O’Donnell, for instance, openly classifies himself as a “European-style socialist.” To him, this probably amounts to being as American as Donald Duck. (In the end, anyone accused of anti- or un-Americanism typically responds that they’re actually much more in alignment with the founding principles of this nation than are their accusers, and then the anti-Americanism charge gets hurled back and forth ad infinitum.)
So O’Reilly tells the lie that MSNBC is anti-American and gets a desperate guy whose public record with prostitutes makes him unemployable anywhere else to agree with him, and his devoted audience thinks they just learned something, which explains why a University of Maryland study found that Fox News viewers are misinformed more than any other news network viewers, a study that was not the first to reach that conclusion.
You can peruse this UMD survey here and ponder for yourself whether replacing those nine out of eleven questions (e.g., “Is it your impression that most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation (a) saved or created several million jobs, (b) saved or created a few jobs, or (c) caused job losses?”) that self-identified Fox News watchers were reportedly more prone to getting wrong than self-identified consumers of other news sources with a slightly modified set of questions would have shown the viewers of a different network to be the most misinformed. (For instance, testing a prototypical MSNBC watcher’s grasp of Fox News would be akin to quizzing Trofim Lysenko about genetics.)
As to unemployability on account of one’s personal history with prostitutes, surely Mr. O’Donnell feels the same way about former Democratic NY Governor Eliot Spitzer, who these days seems to be unemployable anywhere except for his new prime time hosting gig on CNN, and about Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, who has been making ends meet by getting himself re-elected to Congress for thirty years and counting. Since these two gentlemen’s public record with prostitutes makes them unemployable anywhere else, they will, I suppose, remain doomed to scraping the bottom of the barrel in the labor market for good; which is too bad, because Barney Frank must be among Mr. O’Donnell’s favorite politicians, at least since Rep. Frank, in the course of a rollicking Factor shootout from two years ago, told Bill O’Reilly to his face that his “stupidity” got “in the way of rational discussion” and that he was “boorish” and ultimately “too dumb to understand” the issue at hand.
Lawrence O’Donnell continues:
Now, when I say O’Reilly is lying about this, I’m giving him credit for sometimes being smarter than what he actually says, and on this one, O’Reilly knows better. He knows there’s nothing anti-American going on at this network, but he’s seen the studies about how, shall we say, impressionable his audience is, and he knows that everyone on the Fox payroll who appears as a guest on his show is gonna say exactly what he wants them to say. He has by now figured out exactly what his audience wants to hear, and that’s what he delivers, and when that requires lying, O’Reilly can do it without blinking because he’s discovered there’s a lot of money to be made in those lies.
This comment about the Fox payroll really takes the cake and the frosting—talk about a guy being smarter than what he actually says in an attempt to bamboozle an impressionable audience. Here’s a clip of someone “on the Fox payroll” who, according to Mr. O’Donnell, says exactly what O’Reilly wants him to say:
That was in 2007, and these are a few choice words for Bill O’Reilly from Megyn Kelly—another individual on the Fox payroll who regularly appears as a guest on his show—on the most recent Factor edition in March 2011:
You’re misleading … No, Bill, you’re wrong … You’re making facts up, Bill …
That’s how it rolls on The O’Reilly Factor, and anyone who suggests otherwise is—to borrow Ms. Kelly’s phraseology—making facts up, and the only people susceptible to believing the obtunded humbug Mr. O’Donnell is peddling here are those who, for whatever reason, want to believe it. (I wonder how often MSNBC hosts are told on the air by guests on their network’s payroll that they’re wrong, misleading, inventing facts, or that they make cheap political points. To MSNBC’s credit, they don’t even bother with a slogan á la “fair and balanced.”)
Of course guests are booked with some general idea of where they’ll come down an a given issue. Ideally, this is done in order to guard against inviting none but the choir for segment after segment. After all, watching spirited debates is infinitely more captivating than watching a bunch of aggrieved allies paraphrase one another for the entire hour. Keith Olbermann, Mr. O’Donnell’s predecessor in the MSNBC prime time slot, never seemed to have figured that out.
All told, I must have watched some 40 or 50 full episodes of Countdown with Keith Olbermann over the years, yet not once did I witness one whit of disagreement between Mr. Olbermann and any of his guests. Having been accustomed to the animated altercations and screaming matches on The O’Reilly Factor, the deafening absence of dissent on Countdown seemed somewhat surreal by comparison. Keith Olbermann aired his views, and guest after guest echoed them wholeheartedly, except that every once in a while a guest would put forth that Mr. Olbermann hadn’t gone far enough in vilifying Fox News or whatever Republican’s turn it was to get the pie in the face that evening (Keith Olbermann: “This is fascism!” Guest: “Oh Keith, it’s even worse than that…”). Clearly, these individuals were booked because Mr. Olbermann “knew exactly what he wanted them to say,” albeit with the manifest objective of stifling rather than fostering dissent, a hallmark of the very fascism he so frequently accused his competition of practicing. Mr. Olbermann appeared to be running some sort of anti-conservative anti-Fox-News support group solely designed to give its members the opportunity to lighten the weight of the chips of their shoulders by venting their frustrations at Rupert Murdoch & Co and the Republicans. In terms of range and repertoire, good old Johnny One Note was Placido Domingo compared to the Olbermann program.
In his latest personal blog post, Andreas Kluth of The Economist opined that the reason why “conservatives tend to win propaganda wars against liberals” and that “Fox [News] trounces whatever rivals pose as its left-wing analogue” was that conservatives picked one single story and rallied around it, “telling and retelling it until the audience is numb.” As an alternative hypothesis, may I suggest that the reason Fox News trounces whatever rivals pose as its left-wing analogue is that the latter keep telling and retelling the same single story until their audience clicks over to the much livelier Fox News lest they doze off.
Last summer, I flippantly replied to one of Keith Olbermann’s tweets that he might as well put up a sign in his studio that reads “Conservatives Suck” and go home early each night, for one never heard anything else on his show anyway. Minutes later, I received the following message, sent from Mr. Olbermann’s verified Twitter account:
Alas, Mr. Obermann got canned before conservatives stopped sucking.
I know it’s not easy to keep track of all those last names starting with O, so I’m willing to cut Mr. O’Donnell some slack for obviously confusing O’Reilly with Olbermann and himself in terms of the sheer amplitude of the echo chamber effected by the guest roster on their respective network’s payroll.
By the way, Keith Olbermann launched a brand new website and Twitter page. Somehow the guy reminds me of Chief Inspector Dreyfuss in The Pink Panther Strikes Again after he escaped from the asylum. As we speak, I imagine Mr. Olbermann in his basement secretly designing some sort of doomsday weapon to vaporize Fox News.
Mr. O’Donnell drones on:
Here’s what I see when I look at Bill O’Reilly: a very, very, very rich man, who has grown phenomenally rich by playing a character on TV that the most gullible audience in the history of television falls for. When I look at O’Reilly, I also see dozens of guys I grew up with, who are just like him. Overbearing, argumentative Irish guys who think they know everything and can back up nothing. Those guys have always been a joke to me, which is why O’Reilly almost never has the capacity to outrage me. Because he is just a joke to me most of the time.
Pot calling kettle, except that what Mr. O’Donnell may lack in riches he more than makes up in the joke department. It may come as a bit of a shock to President Obama that during the SuperBowl pre-game interview (the one that Bill O’Reilly allegedly can never stop talking about) he publicly outed himself as a member of “the most gullible audience in the history of television.” (For the life of me I can’t figure out what kind of audience exactly Mr. Donnell’s remarks are intended to target.)
But when he blares homicidal encouragement for killing physicians who perform abortions he deserves all the serious-minded condemnation he has received for that, much of it eloquently delivered through the microphones of this network.
In May 2009, Dr. George Tiller, one of only a handful of physicians to perform IDX (“partial birth abortion”) in the United States, was assassinated by an anti-abortion activist. Now, whether a viable eight-month-old fetus is a “baby” and whether drilling a hole in its neck and suctioning out its brain constitutes an act of “killing,” legal or otherwise, is subject to personal opinion. Bill O’Reilly thought it was and thus frequently referred to Dr. Tiller as “Tiller the Baby Killer,” a sobriquet that predated O’Reilly’s coverage of the doctor. If this amounts to “blaring homicidal encouragement,” then Mr. O’Donnell and his ideological compatriots are clearly in the business of blaring homicidal encouragement for killing Fox News employees and their alleged ringleaders in the Republican Party. Recall that the Bush administration was run by “war criminals” aided and abetted by their “propaganda arm,” Fox News. Even the most prolific late-term-abortion mill couldn’t possibly keep up with these two organizations in terms of the death and destruction they’re being accused of having wrought. If Bill O’Reilly ends up with a bullet in the head or if somebody swipes Dick Cheney’s battery pack, who’s going to be condemned for that?Last October, in the intro to a one-hour special on the Tiller murder, Rachel Maddow “eloquently delivered through the microphones of this network” the following message, which, judging from the overall tenor of the program and the clips it contained, was squarely directed at Bill O’Reilly and Fox News:
In politics, culture war is a term of art. It means Americans finding the enemy here in our own country among other Americans. It means finding where differences between us Americans produce fear and resentment and then stoking that fear and resentment to maximum effect.
I have no quibbles with Ms. Maddow’s statement on its face, although it curiously counterpoints with another statement, no less eloquently delivered through the microphones of MSNBC a year earlier by former Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson:
In fairness, Ms. Maddow has nothing to do with what’s being said on other shows, and Rep. Grayson was speaking as a guest, not as a representative of the network. On the other hand, Ed Shultz, the host of that particular program, didn’t exactly call Alan Grayson on the carpet for so readily finding the enemy here in our own country among other Americans. The real conundrum arises when people—and y’all know who you are—fervently agree with Ms. Maddow’s and with Rep. Grayson’s words, i.e., when finding the enemy among other Americans isn’t considered a problem as long as the right (pun intended) enemy is being found.
Fox News and their Republican collaborators are the enemy of America. They’re the enemy of everyone who cares about health care in this country, the enemy of anybody who cares about educating their children, the enemy of everybody who wants energy independence, or anything good for this country, and certainly the enemy of peace. There’s no doubt about that. They are the enemy. [emphasis added]
And in another remarkable instance of an attacker doing a face plant in his eagerness to land a blow, Rep. Grayson worked this calculation into his enemification rant:
There’s 307 million Americans in this country. Barely three million of them ever tune into Fox News. That means 99% of all Americans have the good sense to ignore them.
Quite an ingenious observation as delivered through the microphones of a network which, per Rep. Grayson’s own definition of “good sense,” even more Americans have the good sense to ignore.
Lawrence O’Donnell enters the home stretch of his sermonette:
But most of what O’Reilly does day in and day out deserves nothing more than to be laughed at, which was how Saturday Night Live treated him this weekend. What else can you do with someone who says he knows of no explanation of why the tides go in and out? And then, when told it has a little something to do with the moon, thinks he can stump you with this question:
[Clip] Bill O’Reilly: “How did the moon get there? How did it get there? How did the sun get there? Come on. Who put it there?” [End of clip]
He believes he can ask an utterly idiotic question like that and intimidate you simply by using his faux Irish tough guy style. Billyboy, I know real Irish tough guys. They don’t look and sound like you, and none of them come from Long Island like you, and none of them go to work in make-up like you. Anybody who knows real tough isn’t fooled by your act, Bill.
In recent debate with a representative of an atheist organization, Bill O’Reilly had reiterated his belief that the harmony and the absence of miscommunication in nature (“The sun comes up, the sun goes down. The tide comes in, the tide goes out.”) suggested divine intervention. Here’s a bullet point for Mr. O’Donnell: All religious people believe that God created the universe, which obviously includes the sun and the moon and the stars. At least I’ve never heard a person who claimed to believe in God assert that God had nothing to do with the creation of the cosmos and its attendant phenomena. From Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama—all very religious men by their own accounts—the list of individuals prone to asking “utterly idiotic questions like that” is quite a long one, yet Mr. O’Donnell seems rather selective in singling out his targets for ridicule in the worship department.
Finally, Lawrence O’Donnell issues a challenge:
Now I have a homework assignment for your underworked staff. Since they’ve finished explaining the tides and the moon to you, put them to work trying to find what this network has done or what I have done that is anti-American. Take as long as you want. Find it, and show it to your audience. And if you’re as afraid to accept my challenge as I think you are, if you don’t even try to provide facts to back up what you said about me, no one watching this show is gonna be surprised, Billy, because they will know that you will have proved everything that I just said about you.
As I stated earlier, anti-Americanism is inherently difficult to “prove” beyond articulating how someone else’s concept of what America is all about differs from one’s own and calling that other concept “anti-American.” Although Bill O’Reilly only devotes a fraction of airtime on the National Broadcasting Company and its cable arms as compared to the airtime the latter are wont to lavish upon him and Fox News, Mr. O’Reilly generally gives reasons for why he believes what he believes—you can agree or disagree with these reasons—and has done so plenty of times regarding his specific gripes with the NBC operation. So Mr. O’Donnell’s concluding paragraph is a mere act of grandstanding before an audience he, perhaps correctly so, expects to be utterly clueless about what Bill O’Reilly says or does on his show—did I hear anyone say “gullible”?