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What About Bill?

by adam at 03:48 AM on May 12, 2004

I saw this link on Laurence Lessig's blog that pointed out an old interview that Terry Gross did on her NPR show, Fresh Air. I wasn't even aware of this interview before, but I tried to picture Terry Gross, possibly the most mild-mannered person on any broadcast medium anywhere, interviewing the rather less mild-mannered Bill O'Reilly. I blanked - I just kept getting images of Gene Simmons having tea with Jewel for some reason.

So I listened to the interview, and I was surprised and I wasn't. Terry asked many questions, some quite innocent and some fairly leading. One could argue that inviting a guest onto one's show to ask about supposed inconsistencies in their past statements, about the substance of their critics statements against them, and other sensitive topics is unfair. I think the stronger argument is that when you make as many waves as Bill does and achieve a certain level of fame, that this is to be expected.

Terry was never actually rude, never once raised her voice, and was generally her measured self. Which made it all the more difficult to listen to when Bill got a head of steam and plowed right through her with a speech seemingly designed for nothing so much as to provide clip fodder for his own show. And then he hung up. On Terry Gross! She should've slapped him silly before he had the chance, of course, with something witty like, "Mr. O'Reilly, on your show you can act any way you please, but this is my show, and you will behave yourself." She didn't, of course, because she's a nice lady, but I would've loved to hear her say it anyway.

I'm bothered about this. Bill is obviously not a dumb guy. When he's not abusing a guest (or an interviewer in this case) he has some positions that are reasoned, even finessed, though I don't agree with all of them. And it's too simple to say that Bill's just a prick, even if he is - there's no law saying that smart people have to be polite, and being a prick certainly hasn't cost him his popularity. Bill has a formula, and it works very well for him:

a) Claim with mock outrage and indignation that you're the constant target of character assassination from Al Franken, the New York Times, and the Space Pope.
b) Say over and over that you are spin-free *for certain definitions of "spin"
c) Convince poorly-informed foreign dignitaries to come on your show, like the Jordanian ambassador to the United Nations, and then yell at them.
d) Repeat again the next day, ad nauseum.

This works because:
a) Dumb people love to hate smart people, especially if they're slightly smug about being smart. "The Harvard Physics Professor" would instantly be the most hated WWE wrestler. So if you make fun of smart people, home viewers will say to themselves, "Yeah, who do they think they are, anyway?"
b) Opinions are like accents. Everyone secretly believes that their own is the baseline, and everyone else is not just different but wrong. So if you present people with biased news that happens to be tuned to their opinions, they'll say, "Sounds fair to me!"
c) Everyone hates foreigners. The more foreign, the better.
d) People love repetition. Maury Povich has been airing the same three shows for the last six years and no one's noticed yet.

comments (8)

I've heard Bill's radio show. What strikes me about him is how he's always decrying how his perceived foes employ character assassination in place of reasoned argument and then proceeds to do just that. He is an a-hole.

One of my clients once asked me, and I quote, "Are you treating me different because I am an asshole?" Answer: yes.

by anna at May 12, 2004 7:49 AM

Regardless if you like him or not, Bill had a valid point. Al Franken came on the show and he and Gross had a good time talking about his book. Bill arrives to plug his book and he has to sit and defend himself over things that are not even in the book. He asks her point blank, “Were you as tough on Al Franken as you are on me?” and her reply is that Al wrote political satire. WTF? I don’t get it. People like Al Franken and Michael Moore want to debate politically, but anytime they are challenged they jump back and say “but it’s political satire”.

Anyway, Terry Gross and NPR later wrote an official apology for the interview. It was on the NPR web site, but I can’t find it again. It doesn’t really matter. They just did it because NPR was afraid of Republicans cutting their public funding.

by MrBlank at May 12, 2004 3:17 PM

So just ask yourself, what do republicans have to fear from public radio? Public radio is by far, one of the most thorough and balanced mediums for reporting on news and issues there is. Why do they think it is without merit? The problem with Bill O'Reilly is that he's not interested in reaching understanding. He likes to deal in righteous indignation, exageration, and treats any kind of dissent as a personal attack. Too often it is dramatic and un-necessary. For instance, when he tried to characterize a review of Micheal Moore's book as glowing, and Terri pointed out that the reviewer had called it an effective door stop (as in good only as an object to be placed on the ground for holding a door open) one has to wonder, why does he do that? Then at the end of the show he describes the entire 50 minutes as a personal attack to fulfill and public radio agenda. And he makes comments like, "if you feel differently than I do then you can't read". I think it's obvious why an interviewer would treat Al Franken differently than Bill O'Reilly. His is a particularly negative and mostly one-sided kind of bile that many people would like to question, yet on his show, where he is in control, he won't have it.

by Chris at May 16, 2004 9:42 PM

I'd add that according to Franken, O'Reilly's photo wasn't altered on the original cover of his book (though O'Rielly suggests otherwise in the radio interview). Those were O'Rielly's very own dermal blotches, which could suggest a whole host of illnesses.

It might only mean psoriosis, but I'd like to think it also proves that he's a bleeding asshole.

by lajoie at May 17, 2004 5:11 PM

When I lived overseas, Fox was one of the English stations I got on the satellite for a while. I watched "the Factor" (so ironic that 'fact' is even in the title) as often as I could stomach it. Now, back in the US, I try to listen to his radio factor sometimes just to load up on bile for the next day. it is entertaining for a while, then just makes one seethe. It is hilararious irony when Bill takes an interviewer (or talking head) to task for how they conduct interviews or deliver their message. Bill's interviews with those on the right side of the "no spin zone" are ass-bound sunshine sessions where Bill tosses melons up for them to smash out of the park while his interviews with those on the wrong side are ambushes where Bill throws proverbial fastballs (or change-ups, pick your metaphor) at their heads. He is a hypocritical cretin.

The saga with Franken is delightful karma. The asshole sues Franken over a book title, ostensibly, and the case is thrown out. Of course it easn't the title that raised Bile's [sic] hackles, it was the content. Franken nailed Bill using facts and transscripts from Bile's own show. He gave Bile chances to reply, retract, rephrase, etc. In Bile's attacks, he employs none of these methods for checking/ proving what he reports as facts and offers his guests/ targets none of the same courtesies.

by Jonathan at October 5, 2004 2:05 PM

I like the idea of calling him Bile. Sort of inspires me to pass it around. Like the way that "santorum" has gained another meaning...

by Linz at October 7, 2004 12:22 PM

I find the man to be a complete tool. Mean, ignorant, and not even entertaining in the least. But if I were having a conversation with you, and you started talking about "Bile" O'Reilly (or "Slick Willie" or any other little thing like that), I'd have to start ignoring everything else that followed. Nail O'Reilly on being wrong 90% of the time and a giant ass, but when if you have to degrade the conversation to name-calling, its is hard to take anything you have to say seriously.

by mg at October 7, 2004 8:07 PM

Bill O'Reilly is horrid. I also hate the way he coos to his audience and makes out like he's their all-knowing father figure. People I've known who like conservative talk radio love that sort of thing. Actually, they seem to mainline it like it was heroin. Then all their support is just this sad need fulfillment instead of the result of any thinking.

by jean at October 8, 2004 4:21 AM

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