On April 19 of last spring, Fox News Channel officially fired Bill O’Reilly by cutting ties with him and canceling his long-running live news/debate program, The O’Reilly Factor. Only nine months earlier, the network’s CEO, Roger Ailes, also exited the network. In both cases, O’Reilly and Ailes were being investigated for the same reason: allegations of sexual harassment.
Earlier in the year, news surfaced that O’Reilly had settled with at least five other women (to the tune of an estimated $13 million) while continuing to maintain his innocence. This prompted a mass exodus of advertisers who no longer felt comfortable sponsoring The O’Reilly Factor. Despite the findings of Rupert Murdoch’s investigation into the allegations, O’Reilly maintains his innocence to this day.
The motivations behind this decision were clear: despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that O’Reilly had generated for Fox News over the years, Murdoch and his board were more concerned about preventing the bad PR that would have undoubtedly arisen from a perpetuation of these investigations.
And who was the lone woman whose claims ultimately brought O’Reilly down? Perquita Burgess, a former Fox News office assistant, alleges that O’Reilly began making lascivious grunting noises toward her back in 2008 when she worked in his newsroom. Burgess maintains that O’Reilly’s harassment of her gradually escalated, becoming both verbal and animated.
Since Burgess is a black woman whose accounts of O’Reilly’s abuse contained racial overtones from him, Team Murdoch clearly felt that cutting O’Reilly loose was the preferable cost-benefit alternative to allowing a racially-charged scandal to snowball. They got rid of O’Reilly not due to altruism or moral indignation – they did it out of sheer self-preservation.
Katelyn Beaty of The New York Times observes the apologism on behalf of O’Reilly from many of his self-identified Christian fans. She likens this phenomenon to evangelical institutions that fail to take seriously the sexual harassment claims from within their own ranks. This epidemic, Beaty maintains, has also extended to the military, corporations, and universities. She points to religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and David Brody who write off O’Reilly-esque behavior under the mantra of “Oh, but everybody is a sinner.” Sometimes they and their followers will take this even farther, by engaging in victim-shaming or emphasizing reverence for misogynistic puritanical standards.
Shortly after this story originally broke, the editorial board of The Los Angeles Times shared my position that Murdoch sacrificed the financial gains from a short-term ratings spike after doing a cost-benefit analysis that O’Reilly’s reputation – much like that of Ailes before him – had just become too tainted to remain sustainable. Humans, they write, enjoy watching and perpetuating conflict – and those who declared their allegiance to O’Reilly are emblematic of the current polarization and toxicity that divides Americans.
Furthermore, the editorial board points out how O’Reilly’s replacement, Tucker Carlson, employs a lot of the same deceptive tactics that his predecessor pursued. Debate programs from previous decades – such as The McLaughlin Group and Crossfire (of which Carlson himself is an alumnus) – were precursors to this epidemic. However, in my opinion, Carlson hasn’t mastered it with the same seamless degree of sociopathic glory that O’Reilly tended to bask in.
In some ways, Bill O’Reilly was even worse than Donald Trump: whereas Trump’s delivery is sloppy and haphazard, O’Reilly had a calculated method of on-air delivery that suggested he was intentionally lying to the public – and savoring every moment of it. His signature approach on The O’Reilly Factor would be to mischaracterize his opponents rather than having a rational, thoughtful debate.
O’Reilly exhibits the worst traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder – all rolled into one ravenous ball of amalgamated spittle.
Here is a laundry list of the behaviors and mannerisms that O’Reilly regularly employed during broadcasts of The O’Reilly Factor, as a way of always getting “the upper hand” over his primetime guests:
1.) He would make overly-simplistic arguments with a matter-of-fact demeanor.
2.) He’d pepper his monologues with folksy word choices, or the occasional off-color joke; then, a few seconds later, he’d shift to a more serious tone as though he was delivering some statesmanlike speech at a podium.
3.) His descriptions of current events were often melodramatic, usually with a sneer of derision toward whichever party he believed to be in the wrong.
4.) He would constantly talk (or shout) over his guests, increasingly raising his voice; often topping it off with a condescending sigh whenever a lull in the conversation occurred.
5.) He’d act as though he was putting himself in someone else’s shoes, out of some inflated sense of empathy….but would then follow it up with a ridiculous fallacy.
6.) He demanded instantaneous responses from his guests, while then making snarky comments under his breath
7.) He’d address someone’s argument by uttering the filler word of “alright” in a patronizing tone…before erratically jumping to a new topic.
8.) He’d emphasize the numbers (statistics), as though that automatically made his argument more persuasive – sometimes followed up with an audible scoff if a guest tried to counter with statistics of their own.
9.) He avoided his guests’ counterarguments by frequently trying to respond to another hypothetical argument that wasn’t actually made during the segment.
10.) He’d create ludicrous anecdotal comparisons in order to “discredit” his guests; for example, taking one unique circumstance of something that really disgusts him, and then harping on that as though it’s the norm.
11.) He would challenge someone’s patriotism if they even remotely criticized the U.S. government’s actions…or if they failed to characterize terrorism in the same way he does.
12.) His favorite words to overuse included: “coward,” “despicable,” “vile,” “fringe,” “shameful,” “lunatic,” “entitlement,” “liberal,” “socialist,” and “vicious.”
13.) He directly addresses people by only their surnames (which is something that people tend to do when they’re trying to either intimidate or fraternize with another person – either way, it’s a not-so-sly act of deception on his part).
14.) He’d regularly interrupt his guests while they were trying to articulate their positions.
15.) As a former educator himself, he tended to talk down to his rivals as though he was “educating” them during a classroom lecture (watch any exchange he’s had with Joy Behar or Tavis Smiley).
16.) He would accuse his guests of having taken something he’d once said out of context…but then he would turn right around and do the exact same thing to other guests who appeared on his show.
17.) As a live segment was winding down, he’d claim to give a guest “the last word” – but then, at the final second, he’d sneak in the actual last word himself.
18.) He had a tendency to point at his guests with an accusatory finger while claiming that they were trying to “smear” him; yet, he would then proceed to essentially smear and distort their own words or motivations (hypocrisy much, Bill?). And then he’d call them some more names, like a cherry on top.
For someone who so adamantly claimed to be running a “No Spin Zone” on the air, O’Reilly himself was never above spinning each and every narrative in his own favor.
As with most pundits, O’Reilly would occasionally take certain positions on which I happened to agree with him…at least, for the first half of his argument. But even then, he always seemed to qualify that with his own flavor of pompousness and bigotry – as though it was some tawdry tuft of whipped cream topping off a cappuccino. He points out how accusations of cultural appropriation can sometimes be unwarranted; nevertheless, that doesn’t stop him from openly flaunting ageism against younger generations. Prior to the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, O’Reilly had showed a base level of support for the secular legalization of same-sex civil unions; however, he emphatically rejected giving it the title of “marriage,” and still accompanied it with a ton of personal disdain toward homosexuality itself. He presented a $10 national minimum wage standard as an alternative to the $12-per-hour or $15-per-hour proposals; yet, he declined to point out the overlooked detail as to how any hypothetical minimum wage increase would need to be done incrementally rather than overnight. He has rightfully pointed out (during his many interviews with Richard Dawkins) how atheism requires a leap of faith in the same way monotheistic and polytheistic religions do; but he flaunts Christianity (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Judaism) as being somehow morally superior.
Perhaps the most egregious interview Bill O’Reilly ever conducted was his 2003 ambush of Jeremy Matthew Glick – whose father, Bruce, was a Port Authority worker who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The younger Glick had signed an anti-war petition and was an activist against U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. O’Reilly began his takedown by presenting an argument with schoolmarm-style grandiosity; but once Glick began to respond in kind, the interview devolved into the following chain of events:
A.) upon hearing Glick’s first argument, O’Reilly shifted into a measured rant of hyperbole steeped in condescension – having the gall to proclaim how Glick’s late father would supposedly disapprove of his son’s words and actions…
B.) when Glick corrected O’Reilly as to his own father’s actual political ideology, O’Reilly then accused Glick of equating the U.S. response to 9/11 with terrorism…
C.) when Glick bit back by questioning O’Reilly’s own motivations, O’Reilly proceeded to brag himself up by touting how much he has personally done for the 9/11 families…
D.) as Glick continued to try to respond, O’Reilly stuck out his finger at Glick – talking down to him by telling him to keep his mouth shut, and accusing Glick of having a “warped” worldview…
E.) then, O’Reilly started yelling at Glick, proclaiming how he wasn’t going to continue that debate with him any longer…
F.) but then, O’Reilly proceeded to “debate” Glick some more by questioning Glick’s character due to Glick’s opposition of military intervention in Afghanistan – within moments, becoming increasingly unhinged as he escalated his yelling…
G.) when Glick tried to bring some historical facts into the debate, O’Reilly then jumped to the association fallacy of “I hope your mom isn’t watching this”…
H.) then, O’Reilly paused as though he was consciously restraining himself, and said “out of respect” for Glick’s father he wasn’t going to continue their discussion…
I.) yet, mere seconds later, O’Reilly began barking at Glick (who couldn’t get a word in edgewise) to “SHUT UP!”…
J.) another few seconds later, O’Reilly audibly reined himself in and once again declared his intention to calm down “out of respect” for Glick’s father, while paying a compliment to the late Bruce Glick…
K.) and finally, O’Reilly told a producer offscreen to cut Glick’s microphone, and assured Glick, “I’m not going to trash you anymore, out of respect for your father”…
L.) then, once the cameras were off, Glick claimed that O’Reilly had threatened him by saying, “Get out of my studio before I fucking carry you to pieces!” – and when Glick retreated to the Green Room to get some coffee, a senior staff member highly encouraged Glick to leave the building because their staff was afraid that O’Reilly might cause physical harm to him…
M.) the next day, O’Reilly proceeded to slander Glick (in abstentia) on-air, carrying on about how Glick was supposedly “out-of-control,” spewing hatred for Fox News and the United States by using “vile propaganda,” behaving in a “loony” manner, and engaging in “defamation.” O’Reilly’s allegation that Glick was somehow trying to “defame” him was particularly insulting given how O’Reilly was clearly attempting to defame Glick himself in that very moment.
These microaggressions are consistent with O’Reilly’s behavior toward other guests. When political analyst Kirsten Powers scoffed at one of O’Reilly’s more conservative guests during a debate on institutional racism, O’Reilly accused her of “snorting” and told her to knock it off (even though it was the exact type of rude behavior that O’Reilly himself regularly engaged in). O’Reilly downplayed the Eric Garner murder by stating (three different times!) how he found the NYPD’s treatment of Garner to be “extremely troubling” (aw, how compassionate!) – all while expressing pity for Garner being “obese,” and boasting about how he himself would have lightened his grip on Garner if he had been the police officer on duty. During an interview with pro-athlete Jalen Rose, O’Reilly insisted that Black Lives Matter was a “hate group” because of despicable actions from some individuals within its ranks…yet, O’Reilly categorically denied that any of the Tea Party movement is fueled by racism.
Like a classic “faux-moderate,” Bill O’Reilly never hesitates to cherry-pick controversial figures – ranging from Neil Boortz to Cornel West to Donald Sterling to David Silverman – against whom he’ll attempt to juxtapose himself as a more “reasonable” commentator. But, when it comes to the ageist practice of denigrating GenXers and Millennials and Centennials, O’Reilly acts just as disingenuously as those whom he purports to criticize.
He once challenged actor Ben Affleck as to how someone who is Affleck’s age could possibly make a movie about the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis (Affleck’s 2012 historical drama Argo) when Affleck was “not even conscious at the time” (actually, Affleck was nine years old in 1979). He repeatedly accused Bernie Sanders supporters of merely wanting free stuff. And he rants on and on about how teens and college students abuse texting and marijuana. Oh, and rap and hip-hop.
O’Reilly isn’t nearly as hard on the older (usually white male) public figures who call him out on his bullshit. Jon Stewart once accused O’Reilly of engaging in “selective outrage” (which he does) and displaying inconsistency in his positions (which he also does). John Stossel called O’Reilly “an obnoxious bully” (which he is) to his face. Ted Koppel made perhaps the most salient allegation – framing O’Reilly’s punditry as a flavor of infotainment-disguised-as-hard-news that gave journalism a bad name. This, prophetically, set the stage for Donald Trump’s camera-whoring tactics throughout the 2016 presidential election cycle.
He’s been off the air for almost five months, now…so far, however, the heavens haven’t collapsed into the ocean to create floods that will cleanse Earth of us “sinners.” Bill O’Reilly may be gone (for now)…but we should never forget the appalling conduct he was allowed to get away with, over the national airwaves, for so many years. Vox correspondent Carlos Maza lists (along with Carlson) Jesse Watters, Brian Kilmeade, and Eric “Boobs-on-the-Ground” Bolling among the other Fox News pundits against whom we need to serve as watchdogs.
In fact, last week, Bolling himself was more quietly dropped by Fox News in order to stave off a sexting scandal in which Bolling was about to find himself embroiled. Too bad Fox News didn’t take such swift action against Bolling when he’d initially displayed misogyny toward Mariam al-Mansouri back in 2014.
Whenever we see anyone “pulling an O’Reilly” (e.g. embellishing the words and actions of others through a mix of theatrical narration and cherry-picked statistics), we must loudly denigrate and socially-shame whoever uses that approach to achieve “news coverage.” Our failure to do so will only encourage others to pick up O’Reilly’s acid-spewing torch and run with it themselves.
The same way people on the Left need to disavow the toxic rhetoric of Bill Maher and Peter Daou, conservatives who want to be taken seriously do themselves a great disservice when they make excuses for blending the worst tents of neoconservatism and paleoconservatism, as Bill O’Reilly incessantly did – trying to package oneself as a so-called “moderate” while riddling one’s speech with the most oppressive ideals of traditionalism.
Featured image by Kevin Trotman: Flickr.