Friday, October 17, 2008

Times reviews O'Reilly: World Yawns

In today's New York Times, Janet Maslin reviews Bill O'Reilly's new book, A BOLD FRESH PIECE OF HUMANITY. Now, when I saw the link for this review, I was intrigued. It's hardly a secret that O'Reilly has little respect for the Times, and the paper itself doesn't think much of O'Reilly. O'Reilly has declared the Times as "in the tank" for Obama, and insulted Bill Keller while taking tremendous glee at the paper's fading stock price (when O'Reilly says he's looking out for 'You', he means unless 'You' work for the 'Liberal Media'. To be fair, there are plenty of portly hypocrites on the left who love employees but hate employers, forgetting that even massive conglomerates employ regular people with bills to pay and families to feed). 

In a 2006 Times review of O'Reilly's CULTURE WARRIOR, Jacob Heilbrun delcares the host to be an "apostle of mediocrity and banality." So frankly, this could have been a fascinating review, since despite what the Times thinks about O'Reilly, he's inarguably one of the most popular and influential hosts on air. That he and the Times seem to have diametrically opposite worldviews makes the new book--a memoir--potentially interesting material for one enemy to truly understand the other.

It's safe to say that the audience that reads the Times and the audience that watches O'Reilly are for the most part on opposite ends of the political spectrum. But instead of offering real analysis into the book, the man, or why someone the left decries as a "bully" and a "dim bulb" has an audience triple that of Keith Olbermann, it offers up bloody red meat for liberals, a review that will make the left smile, cause O'Reilly to no doubt bash the Times on his program (he's called them out for slotting Times columnist Thomas Friedman's new book at #1 on the bestseller list despite O'Reilly's claims that he's outselling Friedman by 35%), and leave nobody else caring. I don't think it's too much to ask that a review offer insight that could potentially change minds. This review will not sell one more copy, nor will it prevent one person from buying it. It does not attempt to offer liberals any insight into why O'Reilly is a cultural phenomenon, nor does it try to convince conservatives that it's all smoke and mirrors. Rather it takes a piece from each side, telling hardcore liberals what they already believe: that the phenomenon is all smoke and mirrors (very, very angry smoke).

Now, I listen to O'Reilly's program on a fairly frequent basis. Despite being a registered democrat and someone who considers himself left of center, I need my palate cleansed from time to time since regular media coverage (let's be honest) tends to skew heavily left. A little righteous indignation (even though sometimes misdirected) is good to get the blood pumping.

Two things I believe about Bill O'Reilly: he is not nearly as dumb as the left thinks he is, but he is every bit as egotistical (perhaps more so). He has an uncanny ability to frame nearly every political and cultural debate within the context of himself (he believes that John McCain would win the presidency if McCain simply went nuclear on financial 'villains' like O'Reilly did to Barney Frank). Sometimes this righteous indignation hits home. He rages against Frank, Christopher Dodd and Chris Cox who spent more time deflecting blame than taking accountability while our economy sunk lower and lower. Sometimes it seems like his show is merely a forum to grind axes. If you write a negative print article about O'Reilly, it's a safe bet that an "O'Reilly Factor" camera crew will show up in your driveway within the week. 

Back to my point. Statements like "Mr. O’Reilly, who either works with a collaborator or was born with a ghostwriter’s gift for filling space with platitudes" are more mean-spirited than critical. And the review devotes more space to criticizing pop culture mistakes in O'Reilly's book than it does covering crime fiction in a month.

This could have been a fascinating article, helping to inform both sides of a political debate by illuminating arguably the most polarizing cable host alive. But it's basically the equivalent of one of Olbermann's self0important "Special Comments": it will have hardcore liberals nodding their heads, hardcore conservatives shaking theirs, and the millions of people closer to the middle wondering what the point of it all is.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Bill Cameron said...

I just gotta take issue with one comment. The media does not skew heavily left. It doesn't even skew slightly left. Even the appearances of Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman on cable nooz isn't enough to shift the pervasive and unrelenting right wing tilt of the media.

On the whole, the media is center right, finding "balance" to be found in hysteria-laced personality journalism and false-equivalency reporting. Independent media surveys have shown this to be the case for years, and even leading conservatives have admitted in rare moments of candor that the media isn't liberal.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Rick Baker said...

Jason, I found your blog entry to be very insightful, and agree with pretty much everything you said.

There is little doubt that the media has bias toward the left. One simply has look to both the tone and types of questions asked during interviews with the politicos.

It would be nice to see the major media outlets (CBS, NBC, ABC) start asking hard questions of liberals delivered with same righteous indignation, and to see them highlight the gaffes made by liberal candidates with as much glee as they typically do with conservatives.

Negative news regarding conservatives takes top story/page one priority. If it's a liberal in trouble, the story gets buried or simply repudiated.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Thanks Rick and Bill. Regardless of political persuasion, I do wish there was more reasoned discussion from both sides. Too often it seems like commentators on the far end of both political spectrums try to get their point across by basically saying "So and So is an idiot." Not exactly the kind of argument that's going to change minds. I'd be much more persuaded by a liberal who makes a rational discussion about a conservative, and vice versa.

10:13 PM  

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