"The more I find out, the less I know."

Wednesday - August 11, 2004 at 10:20 PM in

Who is Bill O'Reilly Talking To?


Am I the only one who find Fox News' Bill O'Reilly almost completely unwatchable? I admit to having only seen a handful of his interviews (mainly because they make me sick), but this seems to be the usual script:

BILL O'REILLY: Let's welcome my guest tonight, who has recently [written a book/made allegations/been quoted] about [President Bush/9-11/Iraq].

GUEST: Glad to be here.

BO: I invited you on my show tonight because there's something I want to understand. You said [absurd misrepresentation of what GUEST actually said or wrote]. Do you really believe that?

GUEST: Actually, that's not really what I said, if you....

BO: [getting angry] Are you calling me a liar?

GUEST: I think if you [read my book/listen to my statement], you'll see that what I said was [begins quoting himself]....

BO: [stabs finger at GUEST] I'm not going to sit here and argue semantics with you. Did you or didn't you say [absurd mischaracterization of GUEST's position].

GUEST: No, that's not what I said.

BO: [getting red in face, shouting] Listen, you can't come on MY SHOW and call me a LIAR! I won't have it!

GUEST: Look, if you'd just [read my book/listen to the tape]....

BO: [really upset now, practically foaming at the mouth] SHUT UP! I invited you on MY SHOW to have a civil debate, and practically the first thing you do is call me a LIAR!

GUEST: But....

BO: Can we turn off his mike? Someone turn off his mike....
This makes great theater, but when the guest isn't part of the game, it just comes across as ugly. Like watching the playground bully shake down kids for lunch money. I suppose there are people who enjoy watching that kind of spectacle, but I find it supremely distasteful.

But perhaps the thing which bothers me most is the pretense that this bullying is somehow advancing the political discourse. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As host of the show, O'Reilly has the deck stacked in his favor in any confrontation: he can set the agenda, ask the questions, impose a time limit, and even cut off the guest's mike. If all that fails to produce "victory," he can re-edit the interview to make the guest look bad.

Rather than using this control to encourage a thoughtful "spin-free" interview (as he likes to claim), instead he uses it to create outrageously one-sided confrontations, which he naturally "wins" (he could hardly lose under those circumstances), and then crow about how he demolished the opposing viewpoint. A sort of political Jerry Springer show.

Professional wrestling displays more fairness.

But the fact is that the man draws an audience. The reason he gets away with his juvenile behavior (my 2-year-olds display more maturity), and the reason why guests who should know better agree to appear, is that people watch the show.

Going out on a limb (not really!), I'm guessing that most of his viewers aren't the sort of people who are really open to thoughtful, reasoned debate in the first place. In all likelihood, they're watching because they enjoy the spectacle of seeing someone with an opposing viewpoint humiliated in front of a national audience. And that's about all they get.

These are not swing voters, in other words.

So if your own views happen to differ from those of Bill O'Reilly, my advice is to not get too worked up over his antics. He's not changing anybody's mind, just putting on a great show for the true believers on the right.

And if you ever get invited to appear on his show, I suggest you very politely decline.

Posted at 10:20 PM | Permalink | | |

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