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Spin This - The Trouble With Bill O'Reilly
Reason Magazine ^ | August 2002 | Cathy Young

Posted on 07/11/2002 4:45:31 PM PDT by visagoth

August 2002

Spin This

The trouble with Bill O'Reilly

By Cathy Young

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To his detractors, Bill O’Reilly, the tough-talking host of the phenomenally popular Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor, exemplifies the meanness and vulgarity of public discourse. The leftist media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting calls his show "The Oh Really? Factor" and takes him to task on a regular basis for mistreating guests and clutching "at any straw to avoid admitting he’s wrong."

To his admirers, O’Reilly is a scourge of liberal pieties, a commentator who cuts through elitist nonsense and upholds common sense. As Stanley Kurtz put it in National Review Online, "O’Reilly’s plenty smart alright, but his tough-talking, working-class hero persona drives our cultural aristocracy nuts."

Love him or hate him -- or love to hate him -- O’Reilly certainly pulls in the audience. By the most recent figures, his show averages nearly 2 million viewers a night, handily beating CNN’s Larry King Live even though the latter is far more widely available.

O’Reilly and his Factor have much to recommend them. (For what it’s worth, my sole appearance on the show, in January 2001, was a very positive experience.) He makes an effort to present both sides of an issue and to invite guests with whom he disagrees, even if he does tend to harangue them. He is upfront about his biases. His bluntness can be refreshing -- for instance, when he told cartoonist Ted Rall, who decided it would be provocative to mock the pregnant widow of the slain journalist Daniel Pearl as an attention seeker, that he was making himself look like a jerk.

A wealthy graduate of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, O’Reilly positions himself as a champion of the common man against both economic and cultural elites, and as a champion of common sense against intellectual sophistry. Given the propensity of modern intellectuals to believe in preposterous things, this means that O’Reilly turns out to be right a lot of the time. He also has the guts to take stances likely to alienate a good portion of his socially conservative core audience -- he’s against the death penalty, for example, and condemns virulent anti-gay rhetoric.

But O’Reilly’s populist conventional wisdom has its limitations. As a result, his "no-spin zone," as he calls his show, sometimes offers a rather bizarre spin on the issues.

Consider a February discussion of the Supreme Court’s refusal to review a ban on the display of the Ten Commandments at the Indiana statehouse. O’Reilly asserted that the Ten Commandments do not imply the endorsement of a particular religion but merely support general spirituality and "moral behavior."

His guest, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, pointed out that the Ten Commandments -- which include "Thou shalt have no other God before me" -- belong to Judaism and Christianity. O’Reilly retorted that nothing in them could be seen as contrary to Buddhism: "Buddhism is based upon pretty much the same tenets here, monotheism, one God."

Apart from this peculiar interpretation of Buddhism, which in its various forms either recognizes no personal god or worships many god-like, enlightened beings, O’Reilly seemed to ignore completely the existence of Americans who are not monotheists but polytheists (such as Hindus), agnostics, or atheists.

Just how blinkered and dogmatic O’Reilly’s "common sense" can be is most evident in his relentless cheerleading for the War on Drugs. His rhetoric on the subject rarely goes beyond some variation on "drugs are evil" and on occasion descends into outright demagoguery. Earlier this year, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance appeared on the Factor to discuss the Office of National Drug Control Policy ad that premiered during the Superbowl. The ad, which showed teenagers alternately saying things like "My life, my body" and "I helped blow up buildings," asserted -- much to O’Reilly’s approval -- that casual drug users are helping underwrite terrorism.

Nadelmann noted that American teenagers’ primary drugs of choice are marijuana and Ecstasy, which are not linked to the funding of terrorism. O’Reilly countered that the Ecstasy trade is "run by Middle Eastern guys." When Nadelmann expressed skepticism, O’Reilly proposed a $100 bet.

The next day, in his "most ridiculous item of the day" segment, O’Reilly cited a government report which mentioned "the involvement of Israeli criminal organizations in Ecstasy smuggling. Some of these individuals are of Russian and Georgian descent and have Middle Eastern ties." He gleefully invited Nadelmann to "send a 100 bucks to Habitat for Humanity in New York City....It would be ridiculous not to do that."

According to Nadelmann, he never did send a check and never heard from O’Reilly again; but of course, he wasn’t the one being ridiculous. It’s fairly obvious that when people speak of Middle Eastern ties in the context of terrorism, they are not thinking about Russian- and Georgian-born Israeli mobsters.

Confronted with pro-legalization arguments, including the question of what makes illegal substances so different from legal ones such as alcohol and tobacco, O’Reilly tends to bluster his way out. A typical display occurred in his interview with Keith Stroup of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in May.

When Stroup pointed out that Holland, where marijuana is legally sold in coffee shops, has lower rates of marijuana use than the United States, O’Reilly testily replied that this was due to Holland’s smaller population. Stroup countered that he was referring to percentages, not numbers.

"That statistic’s skewed," O’Reilly shot back. "If you...ask the government of the Netherlands to tell us about how many kids get caught, they won’t tell you. I don’t believe them for a second."

When all else fails, there’s the tried-and-true tactic of invoking the children: "In America, where we have...such a substance abuse problem, if you legalize another intoxicant, that intoxicant inevitably is going to find its way down to the kids of America," O’Reilly told Stroup. Based on this logic, one would presumably see no problem with banning alcohol to protect the kiddies, either.

The tendency to invoke "the children" as the ultimate rationale for any dubious social policy is a trait O’Reilly shares with one of the public figures he most despises: Bill Clinton. The focus on children has led O’Reilly to do excellent hard-hitting programs on issues ranging from abuses in the child welfare system to child molestation by clergy. But it has also led him to chide politicians for not pressing for the resignation of Catholic cardinals who have covered up claims of sexual abuse, brushing aside constitutional issues of church and state by saying, "I want to see the big boys out of there for the sake of the kids and for the sake of justice."

At its worst, O’Reilly’s black-and-white approach to complex issues translates into a tendency to demonize the opposition. After his appearance on The Factor, Nadelmann received an obscenity-laden e-mail accusing him of promoting drug use and threatening to "break every bone in your worthless useless body." While O’Reilly is hardly responsible for the ravings of his less stable fans, Nadelmann believes that "he does play to such sentiments."

The Factor will undoubtedly continue to draw plenty of thoughtful and intelligent viewers -- as well it should. But I would worry about any member of the audience who doesn’t want to yell at O’Reilly at least as often as she wants to cheer him on.

Contributing Editor Cathy Young is a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Front Page News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: fox; oreilly; spin; zone
An interesting spin on the 'no spin zone'... posted for discussion and comment.
1 posted on 07/11/2002 4:45:31 PM PDT by visagoth
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To: visagoth
Sounds a lot like the O'Reilly show I watch.
2 posted on 07/11/2002 4:50:29 PM PDT by TheOtherOne
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To: visagoth
Consider a February discussion of the Supreme Court’s refusal to review a ban on the display of the Ten Commandments at the Indiana statehouse.

1 example....from February???? FEBRUARY? How many stories ago WAS THAT? Sounds like sour grapes to me.

3 posted on 07/11/2002 4:56:22 PM PDT by Puppage
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To: visagoth
Contributing Editor Cathy Young is a columnist for The Boston Globe.

"Nuff Said!"

4 posted on 07/11/2002 5:01:01 PM PDT by Don Corleone
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To: TheOtherOne
"Where you stand depends on where you sit."

Drug warrior/gun grabbers/lifestyle police
won't believe anything that contradicts their
mindset and everything that supports it.
When you're right, you're still wrong with them.
O'Reilly is not immune.

5 posted on 07/11/2002 5:02:59 PM PDT by gcruse
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To: visagoth
I like a lot of what O'Reilly has to say, but hate the other half. For instance, he's bought into the global-warming/evil-SUV nonsense with so much gusto you'd never know he wasn't a liberal.
6 posted on 07/11/2002 5:07:06 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: LibWhacker
He's a gun grabber and a shill for the neoconservatives. Used to like the show when klintoon was in office, since Bush got in he's useless.
7 posted on 07/11/2002 5:15:53 PM PDT by steve50
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To: TheOtherOne
Sounds a lot like the O'Reilly show I watch.

Sounds more like the O'Reilly I can't watch. Lord, he's annoying. This column's right on the money.

What drives me up the wall -- so much that it's comical -- is the way he refers to himself in the third 'person'. "Frankly, Doctor, The Factor disagrees." It's even crept into his opening monologue, "The Talking Points Memo." "The Points thinks Vice President Cheney should come clean, and release his tax returns. And that's tonight's memo."

It's all about him. I mean, The Factor.

8 posted on 07/11/2002 5:16:47 PM PDT by Gurn
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To: LibWhacker
I don't agree with everything O'Reilly believes, but it sure is fun to see him assault those leftists who are used to "powder-puff" interviews on the networks. He had an AIDS proponent on the other night who thought the US was not doing enough about AIDS, ($2 billion a year, far more spent per person than on US cancer and heart disease, per Billy), and the idiot thought that by not emotionally reacting to BR's verbal challenges, he would win or break even on the interview. LOL, fat chance pinky! And although he has gotten some facts wrong, it's not like he weaves in and out of the truth as the ultraleft do on a minute to minute basis. He bludgeons his guests with the truth. After seeing Clinton and Co get by with everything but murder, and that with a pass from the liberal "watchdog" press, (ROTFLMAO!!!), it sho' is nice to see someone who will bite the nose of all these wackjob guests he brings on his show, just to hack them down to size. Dan Rather, please watch and take notes. As that car commercial said a while back, "this is what's next!!!"
9 posted on 07/11/2002 5:28:51 PM PDT by Malcolm
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To: visagoth
Actually, not a bad O'Reilly Factor review from the liberal Boston Globe.

Like many others, I generally like O'Reilly but I don't agree with him all the time (Global warming, death penalty, his skewed views on Christianity come to mind) but I understand his bombastic attitude and welcome it. He doesn't coddle guests and I like the way he states his position then asks the (usually opposed to him) guest: "Where am I wrong?" Imagine Chris Matthews doing that.

Sure, Bill blusters and gets stuff wrong but as a former Long Island guy I 'get' his in-your-face style and compared to other hosts, I like it, disagreements and all. Good TV and he's to the right on many issues, so much so that the liberals hate him - always a good sign. O'Reilly looks for government solutions too often and has a few dumb ideas but he's no dummy and his success is deserved.

He's a breath of fresh air in a stale wasteland of shouting talking heads and droning interviews where the subjects never get a pointed question - unless they're Republicans or Jerry Falwell. O'Reilly isn't successful because of his looks (as he'd be the first to admit) but because of his perceived honesty and skewing of pompous liberals. Works for me.

10 posted on 07/11/2002 5:30:47 PM PDT by Jim Scott
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To: visagoth
"He is upfront about his biases"

I disagree. O'Reilly claims allegiance to no political party. But while some of his views stray from the Republican mainstream, there's no doubt that 99% of the time, he supports Republican politicians and policies.

I'm not complaining, but his "I'm totally independent and not an ideologue" shtick gets on my nerves.

11 posted on 07/11/2002 5:31:09 PM PDT by governsleastgovernsbest
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To: visagoth
I haven't watched O'Reilly for weeks. His constant interrupting is my biggest complaint. However, I just happen to tune in a few minutes ago and he made an absolute fool of Congresswomen Eddie Bernice Johnson (d-TX). She seemed to be too stupid to understand she had just been taken apart.
12 posted on 07/11/2002 5:35:13 PM PDT by leadpenny
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To: visagoth
O'Reilly's got a scatter-shot mentality, but he does manage to hit the bullseye on some issues.

He just had a black (racist) congresswoman on, and challenged her to tell him what the black caucus finds objectionable about Bush. She said the tax cuts were only for the rich, and he shot her down. She followed that with "Haiti" and he erupted in laughter. "That's a corrupt government, we can't do anything there." She proceded to Aids, and he responded that we could spend hundreds of billions, but "those people won't wear condoms, and nothing's going to change." Then, of course, there was the Florida election, to which he responded that major newspapers, such as the Miami Herald and USA Today, had found no discrimination against blacks in their investigation. She of course said that these were "white" newspapers and weren't speaking for blacks.

Finally, she latched onto global warming, and he agreed that "it's a problem."

Four out of five: typical, but better than the competition.

13 posted on 07/11/2002 5:42:27 PM PDT by browardchad
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To: visagoth
Coulter on Factor NOW
14 posted on 07/11/2002 5:50:59 PM PDT by clintonh8r
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To: visagoth
A wealthy graduate of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, O’Reilly positions himself as a champion of the common man

The above sentence is an interesting new description -- O'Reilly is also a former history teacher, who taught in Miami. And, most people are pretty quick to tlet you know that if you are a teacher, you are not much -- just a "common man."
15 posted on 07/11/2002 5:56:36 PM PDT by summer
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To: summer
tlet = let
16 posted on 07/11/2002 5:56:58 PM PDT by summer
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To: visagoth
Gimme Alan Keyes over O'Reilly any day! I was really quite stunned to hear that O'Reilly was a Harvard graduate! He's distinctly low-brow, and he would have you believe that he has the answer to everything. He's really full of sh*t! I stopped watching that guy long ago!
17 posted on 07/11/2002 5:58:10 PM PDT by old school
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To: Malcolm
Yep, I saw the AIDS interview. He did a real good job on that one.
18 posted on 07/11/2002 5:58:40 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: clintonh8r
Coulter on Factor NOW

Oh, no, I missed it! I love Annie! Was O'Reilly ticked off because she said he wasn't a conservative?

19 posted on 07/11/2002 6:01:07 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: visagoth
O'Reilly tries to be fair, balanced, objective, neutral, non-partisan, etc.....I hate that.
20 posted on 07/11/2002 6:03:25 PM PDT by Consort
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To: LibWhacker
Catch it on the 11PM (EDT) repeat of The Factor. It wasn't that great an interview but she was, as usual, radiant!
21 posted on 07/11/2002 6:19:44 PM PDT by clintonh8r
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To: TheOtherOne
He's only another pimp of the election industry. His "No Spin Zone" is as true as Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect"!
22 posted on 07/11/2002 6:34:21 PM PDT by leprechaun9
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To: visagoth
O'Reilly lost me... he's a Drug War Nazi...
23 posted on 07/11/2002 6:39:41 PM PDT by Lexington Green
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To: LibWhacker; visagoth; steve50; All


<< I like a lot of what O'Reilly has to say, but hate the other half. For instance, he's bought into the global-warming/evil-SUV nonsense with so much gusto you'd never know he wasn't a liberal. >>

For my money O'Reilly is an old-fashioned-to-the-point-of-obsolescence, working-class-Irish-Catholic "Democrat."

No thinking Republican or conservative could either identify with his politics -- nor mistake his, more-often-than-not-misguided, sincerity.

He is an almost [But not quite!] harmless left-wing-ish, populist, buffoon.

Who shills for the global warmingists and who just -- in the face of the evidence detailed in Ann Coulter's book -- and which issued from America's fascists' mistress's mouth -- defended morning tv's affable Eva Braun in debate with Ms Coulter.

Goodbye Mr O'Reilly.
24 posted on 07/11/2002 7:06:58 PM PDT by Brian Allen
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To: old school
and he would have you believe that he has the answer to everything. He's really full of sh*t! I stopped watching that guy long ago!

LOL. I agree. I too stopped watching quite a while back. No spin, unless you count Bills spin. When I was still watching, I found myself coming away from his show with the feeling you get when you find out you've eaten some questionable seafood.

25 posted on 07/11/2002 7:09:05 PM PDT by Hoosier Patriot
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To: visagoth
well he was a rude snide girlyman with Ann Coulter tonight
I would have bitch slapped him,were I Ann
26 posted on 07/11/2002 7:10:10 PM PDT by cactusSharp
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To: old school
People who are full of shit claim that O'Reilly is full of shit. HE TELLS THE TRUTH! If you have a problem with the truth maybe you should head over to DU.
27 posted on 07/11/2002 7:55:27 PM PDT by mrfixit514
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To: visagoth
The only problem with O'Reilly is that at heart he is a statist.
28 posted on 07/11/2002 7:58:43 PM PDT by Jonathon Spectre
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To: governsleastgovernsbest
O'Reilly claims allegiance to no political party. But while some of his views stray from the Republican mainstream, there's no doubt that 99% of the time, he supports Republican politicians and policies.

I wouldn't put anywhere near 99% of the time....but I'd say most of the time.

What I believe gives away O'Reilly's mostly conservative leaning, is the patronizing manner in which he plays up those views that happen to agree with the left.
He seems to patronize them...as of to say, see? I'm fair and balanced.

29 posted on 07/11/2002 8:17:53 PM PDT by Jorge
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To: mrfixit514
Then you believe in Globel Warming and bigger Government?
30 posted on 07/11/2002 9:47:41 PM PDT by Brimack34
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To: leadpenny
...Congresswomen Eddie Bernice Johnson (d-TX). She seemed to be too stupid to understand she had just been taken apart

That's only because she IS STUPID.
How stupid?? Sheila-Jackson-Lee-STUPID!

31 posted on 07/11/2002 10:01:49 PM PDT by TheGrimReaper
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To: leadpenny
I've stopped too, but happened to catch his Talking Points last night, and he was dead on about the media running the Elizabeth Smart case into the ground strictly for ratings. He took Larry King and CNN to task for spending entire shows discussing it, but also pointed to Fox as being guilty. Frankly I agree wholeheartedly. I don't watch much CNN, but if they're devoting more time than Fox is to the Smart case, I may give up TV altogether. I Tivo H & C, and every time they go into the obligatory Smart segment, I fast forward through it. If they find her, call me. Otherwise, talk about something important.
32 posted on 07/12/2002 9:23:44 AM PDT by jenny65
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