Tuesday, May 16, 2006

# Posted 1:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE O'REILLY FACTOR: SPECIAL EDITION. Not long ago, I admitted that I'd never watched the O'Reilly Factor (ORF) but still felt confident enough to dismiss a profile of O'Reilly in the New Yorker as a hatchet job. Well, now I can say that I've watched the ORF. Thanks to JetBlue and the seatback televisions it provides to every passenger, I was able to listen to O'Reilly as I flew over the American heartland, headed back to DC after a long weekend in California.

Moroever, although it's hard to generalize on the basis of just one hour, I feel confident enough now to stand up to certain liberal friends of mine who insisted that if I watched the ORF just once, I'd see what an idiot O'Reilly truly was.

Now, I'm not saying I like the guy. If you wanted, you could easily pick out five dumb things he said tonight and hold them up to ridicule. (OxBlog typically requires at least 72 hours to say five dumb things.)

But the bottom line is that O'Reilly came off tonight as anything but the pseudo-populist rabble-rouser his critics make him out to be. The topic of tonight's show was the President's televised address on immigration. As it turns out, O'Reilly favors comprehensive reform, meaning both more border security and a road to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Not really what'd you expect from a Red State rabble-rouser, eh?

The unexpected moderation of O'Reilly's stance set up an interesting conflict with most of his guests, who reject every kind of reform except better enforcement. Among those guests were anti-amnesty crusader Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and super-blogger Michelle Malkin. The specific arguments they made aren't all that important. What matters is that both of them attacked Bush aggressively. Instead of a White House propaganda organ, Fox News was serving instead as the medium for a full-frontal assault on the President.

Much as I disagree with Malkin and Tancredo, I have to say that O'Reilly's cross-examination of the two was not very impressive. On the one hand, O'Reilly does have to go on the air five nights a week, so you can't expect him and his staff to be as well-prepared as their counterparts on Meet the Press. On the other hand, I think O'Reilly's performance was lackluster enough to say that his command of the issue was pretty deficient for a major pundit.

But one thing I really like about O'Reilly is that his opinions are never a secret. In contrast, Russert & Co. never dare to expose their actual positions on an issue, an evasive tactic that puts much of what they say beyond the reach of public criticism. Although there is a decent argument to be made for straight-up news correspondents not injecting their personal opinions into their coverage, I see no reason why talk-show hosts should be granted that privilege.

Finally, after dedicating most of his show to immigration, O'Reilly did a segment on three recent deaths that resulted from alligator attacks. Even though O'Reilly spoke to an official from the Florida state government responsible for fish and wildlife, there was something surreal and sensationalistic about the whole segment. But Washington is a swamp, so I guess the 'gators deserve their fifteen minutes.
(10) opinions -- Add your opinion

Your assessment comes too late to be valid. O'Reilly and Fox News is not the voice of the Bush administration, but the Republican establishment. This establishment can no longer afford to call Bush its champion. His incompetence has left him as the poorest of representatives of conservatism, and his occasional appeals to the middle and unwillingness to toe the conservative line at all times--or at least to do all within his power, beyond rhetoric, to achieve social conservative and fiscal conservative goals--have made some of his positions quite unpalatable.

Conservatives, including the audience and perhaps some of the vested interests in Fox news now begin to paint him as a liberal--to delegitimize him insofar as he is too far to the left. This is a brilliant act of framing: it places the debate mainstream between "Conservatives" and the "Liberal" Bush, forcing Democrats--centrist democratic positions--to the rhetorical fringes, and it simultaneously divorces Republicans and conservatives from Bush's quickly universalizing unpopularity by providing an alternate "true" conservative position. See Berube's thoughts for a more in-depth commentary.

O'Reilly's taking of a 'moderate' position that is only moderate to the extent that Bush makes it moderate further diminishes your point that he is more than a populist rabble-rouser. If you do not accept the above for Fox News, then O'Reilly speaking as a supporter of Bush Administration policy regardless of consistency, ideological justification, etc. perhaps says that he is a populist rabble-rouser but a dishonest one: that is, his primary goal is to maintain support for the Administration line, whatever and wherever this happens to fall on the political spectrum.
O'Reilly is temperamentally a member of that nearly extinct species, the conservative democrat. Death penalty, No. Corporate tax breaks, No. Put bigshots against the Little Guy and he'll define both parties and take the Little Guys' side every time. But he's also hostile to minority claims of victimization and hostile to the idea of 'regularizing' the gay lifestyle.
This was the democratic party in 1964.
If I understand you correctly, your point is that Bill O'Reiley is not as bad as your liberal friends make him out to be because he could be a lot worse than he actually is?
On the other hand, I think O'Reilly's performance was lackluster enough to say that his command of the issue was pretty deficient for a major pundit.

I think that if you watched his show a few more times, you would find this to be the rule rather than the exception. O'Reilly is occasionally badgered into surly humility when interviewing guests who know more than he does about some issue - or by people he is just afraid of like Michelle Malkin. But once he has the set back to himself, he launches again into his comically smug routine of incongruous, from-the-hip bloviating, composed of equal parts ignorance and arrogance. This has nothing to do with which side of an issue he happens to come down on - it's just clear that he does little homework wherever he happens to be. And that's what makes him either an irritant or a joke, depending on one's taste.
I think you underestimate O'Reilly's sense of showmanship. O'Reilly has a shtick: play the part of the average Joe struggling with the issue, getting part of it wrong, getting part of it right, blowing off parts out of hand. It is a form of entertainment. It is tragedy for the informed; drama for the uninformed; and comedy for the careless.

This is business for these people, don't forget. O'Reilly is not above purposely getting it wrong for the sake of universal pundit drama described above.
"Is George Bush Over?" Illustrated, graphically. (Guidance suggested for minors.)

ps O'Reilly is a traditionalist who gets attacked more frequently and more viciously from the Left than from the Right.
As a first ime viewer what you missed in O'Reilly's responses is that these are guests who have been on many times before and a topic he has beaten to death. There was simply no need to go into detail as everyone knew everyone's position. O'Reilly had to cover the speech but it was in many ways a placeholder.

And one of the other comments is spot on - O'Reilly is not the GOP shill on Fox [that is Hennety]. O'Reilly is an old fashioned kitchen table social conservative. His big issues are traditional values and exploited children not red / blue food fights.
Ten years later and the Left still can't come to grips with the fact that there is a single non-Left wing news channel. For all of its faults Fox News is still the best place to go for news because it actually has a diversity of opinions. There are as many Leftist analysts and guests on Fox than there are conservatives on CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC and CNN combined. And while the conservatives hosts usually agree with Bush, in no way do they march in lockstep to the degree that a person would see on CBS News cheering for the Democrats, for instance.
For all of its faults Fox News is still the best place to go for news because it actually has a diversity of opinions.

Dear Anonymous:

Fox News has gone to court to defend its right to lie and call it news.
"Instead of a White House propaganda organ, Fox News was serving instead as the medium for a full-frontal assault on the President."

Fox News serves as a vehicle for unhinged conservative extremists (Malkin and Tancredo). Film at 11.

By all means, it's highly startling and out of character. Who could believe it?
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