The Fox News
Channel caters to a conservative audience. Itâ€™s no
surprise and itâ€™s no secret. But Fox and Oâ€™Reilly are very defensive about this, and Bill Oâ€™Reilly claims to in fact not be a
conservative. Itâ€™s sort of implied in his slogan, and I think thatâ€™s the biggest spin about his show. He’s a
passionate advocate for Bushâ€™s tax cuts, war with Iraq, drilling for oil in Alaska, nuclear power, prayer in school,
Reaganomicsâ€”he said Ronald Reagan ran huge deficits and then in the 90s it all whiptailed into a great economy. Itâ€™s hard to
find areas where Oâ€™Reilly actually disagrees with the Bush administration, and in fact at one point he said that, “George W. Bush is the closest modern president to what the
founding fathers had in mind,” which, you know, is certainly an arguable point, but I think itâ€™s kind of absurd to
contend that you donâ€™t have politics when youâ€™re saying things like that.
[Peter Hart is a co-host and producer of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting’s radio show CounterSpin. He also handles
administrative duties and coordinates FAIR’s media activism work. He was a member of the Paper Tiger Television
collective in New York City for a number of years. The following remarks are from his presentation of 2003.10.21, in New York
Thanks for coming and I hope you can hear everything. The subject of the book [The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel’s Bill
O’Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003)] is Bill Oâ€™Reilly. I assume everyone here is familiar with him. If youâ€™re not,
this is a strange place for you to be tonight, but play along and hopefully youâ€™ll continue avoiding him as youâ€™ve done so
The Oâ€™Reilly Factor is the number one show in cable news. Bill Oâ€™Reilly also has a radio show and he writes syndicated
newspaper columns. He has a new book. Iâ€™ve read it so you donâ€™t have toâ€”very expensive but well worth it. And my book which
is also on sale, and probably selling at a slower pace than Bill Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s, is an attempt to catalogue the inaccuracies and
the inconsistencies and some of the deceptions that are served up every night on the Oâ€™Reilly Factor.
Part of the trick of doing something like this is that you hope that the flow of misinformation continues after you write the
book so youâ€™ll have new examples to talk about, and thankfully Oâ€™Reilly has not disappointed. A couple nights ago on his
show he was talking about a double standard. The LA Times was investigating the allegations against Arnold
Schwarzeneggerâ€”sexual assault and groping, that sort of thingâ€”and Oâ€™Reilly said, “Do you think the LA Times sent a squad
of reporters to Arkansas to investigate Bill Clintonâ€™s problems with women? No, it did not.” That was October 8. Now
this would be a great example of a double standard if it were true. The LA Times did investigate what became known as the
Troopergate story, the Clinton sex stories in Arkansas. They did a 4000 word piece on the front page of the paper in
This is sort of par for the course on the Oâ€™Reilly Factor. The show has a clever marketing scheme. The showâ€™s called the No
Spin Zone. The idea is that guests who come on, who try to pull a fast one or are deceitful, are stopped cold by Oâ€™Reilly,
and heâ€™s guided by truth. The reality of course is much different. To give you one example, this time from the book, there
was a fellow from the Economic Policy Institute who came on the show to talk about bushâ€™s tax cutâ€”the dividend tax cutâ€”and he
said to Oâ€™Reilly, “Most of the people who benefit from this are going to be those people in the upper 20 percent,
perhaps even the upper 5 percent [incomes].” And thatâ€™s a factual statement. I donâ€™t think anyone would disagree with
it. Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s response was, “Listen, youâ€™re either lying or canâ€™t read, one of the two.” Thatâ€™s sort of how the no
spin zone works. Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s usually not correcting falsehoods or people who are trying to pass off misinformation. Heâ€™s
arguing with people he doesnâ€™t agree with.
The No Partisanship Zone
The biggest spin about the whole show is probably about Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s politics. If you know Fox News Channel, if you watch
itâ€”Iâ€™m sorry first of allâ€”but you know that the channel caters to a conservative audience. Itâ€™s no surprise and itâ€™s no
secret. But Fox and Oâ€™Reilly are very defensive about this, and Oâ€™Reilly claims to in fact not be a conservative. Itâ€™s sort
of implied in his slogan, and I think thatâ€™s the biggest spin about the show. You know: the line of what Oâ€™Reilly is for,
what he advocates. Weâ€™re talking about a passionate advocate for Bushâ€™s tax cuts, war with Iraq, drilling for oil in Alaska,
nuclear power, prayer in school, Reaganomicsâ€”he said Ronald Reagan ran huge deficits and then in the 90s it all whiptailed
into a great economy. Itâ€™s hard to find areas where Oâ€™Reilly actually disagrees with the Bush administration, and in fact at
one point he said thatâ€”and people think I made this one up, but itâ€™s trueâ€”he said that, “George W. Bush is the closest
modern president to what the founding fathers had in mind,” which, you know, is certainly an arguable point, but I think
itâ€™s kind of absurd to contend that you donâ€™t have politics when youâ€™re saying things like that.
Some of Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s opinions I think border on the bizarreâ€”theyâ€™re not exactly politically partisan but theyâ€™re certainly very
conservative. Oâ€™Reilly tried to defend his support for a congressional ban on flag burning this way: he said, “Freedom
of speech does not allow a person to intentionally inflict pain on someone else. Flag burning is disrespectful to Americans
and seems to be an intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Now, if your position is that first amendment rights
are suspended when you inflict emotional distress on someone, I think you could make a pretty compelling argument that Bill
Oâ€™Reilly doesnâ€™t deserve to have first amendment rights himself, that he inflicts emotional distress every other night.
These are the opinions that he has and these are the ones that I think come through loud and clear. He supports the
privatization of Social Security. He doesnâ€™t think the government should be in that, but the reason he gives is kind of
interesting: he thinks the money can be diverted, and he said, “The actual money that they take out of the Social
Security fund flows right into the general fund and itâ€™s spent on Jesse Jacksonâ€™s tax exempt organizations.” Now what
does Jesse Jackson have to do with Social Security? Very little, but it does bring up another point about Oâ€™Reilly: that the
show is sort of defined by his animosity and the targets that he picks. Jesse Jackson is probably the most prominent one.
Secularists, the Clintonsâ€”that would be Bill and Hillary, he doesnâ€™t have anything against Chelsea for all I knowâ€”the
Hollywood Left, the ACLU, Amnesty International, the liberal media, Tom Daschleâ€¦and these are opinions that are expressed
with a certain amount of nastiness. One of his early insights into Jesse Jacksonâ€™s career is that Jesse Jackson never had a
job, according to Oâ€™Reilly. He thought tom Daschle should be excluded from an investigation into the September 11 attacks
because he, “has a major ax to grind and is a champion of partisan bickering. So with all due respect Senator, shut
up.” And he actually does wonder why Daschle doesnâ€™t come on the show.
This would be understandable if conservatives and Republicans got similar treatment on the show, and in fact they donâ€™t. He
did comment recentlyâ€”again this is another one that is too recent for the bookâ€”but he was commenting on the stories about
Arnold Schwarzenegger and he said, “I cringe when I hear some woman claim a man verbally offended her 25 years ago.
There isnâ€™t a man on this earth who hasnâ€™t done something inappropriate in his life, not one.” So, you know, a novel
description of sexual assault I suppose. Oâ€™Reilly also I think copped to this when he was on NPR one time. A caller called
and wondered why Judicial Watch, which traditionally was sort of a conservative legal group, wasnâ€™t on the Fox News Channel
anymoreâ€”primarily because they were now criticizing the Bush administration, which doesnâ€™t serve Fox very wellâ€”and Oâ€™Reilly
explained it this way: “Itâ€™s hard to give a balanced report when the other side is unavailable. You can say, â€˜Oh, when
Dick Cheney was at Halliburton and he did X, Y and Z.â€™ Well how do I know? Iâ€™m not there. I know Iâ€™m not going to get Cheney
on to back it up, so itâ€™s almost irresponsible for me to just put on one side.” Now, itâ€™s a very inventive description
and definition of what journalistic ethics are, but nonetheless you have to wonder why when the subject is Dick Cheney the
rules are this, and when the subject is say, Jesse Jackson, the rules are very different.
The No Racism Zone
There are a host of other incidents you can talk about when you want to think about where Oâ€™Reilly is coming from. The fact
that Oâ€™Reilly used the term â€˜Wetbacksâ€™ on the air, and actually did the same in a speech shortly prior to that. Oâ€™Reilly did
have the decency to blame it on the guest, which I thought was courageous of him. Oâ€™Reilly commented that you canâ€™t bring
Western reasoning into Africa at one point. He does sort of have an interest in the African American community, so much as he
can point out the flaws in that community, saying at one point, “I donâ€™t understand why in the year 2000, with all of
the media that we have, a certain segment of the African American community does not understand that they must aggressively
pursue their childâ€™s welfare. They have to stop drinking, they have to stop taking drugs and boozing. And whites do it
too.” This was a nice addition. Oâ€™Reilly also has suggestions on how the black community can improve itself, which you
know again is nice to hear, and one of those ideas is new leadership. And Oâ€™Reilly recommended to one guest that African
Americans should follow a new leader and he chose J. C. Watts, the Republican congressman. No word yet on how thatâ€™s going.
Oâ€™Reilly also I think kind of meets the dictionary definition of homophobic, in the sense of being afraid of gay people in
some way. Oâ€™Reilly did tell one guest, a lesbian activist, that he wouldnâ€™t let her anywhere near his children, and has gone
on and on about that sort of thing from time to time. He did say on one show, “My advice to all homosexuals, whether
theyâ€™re in the boy scouts, or in the army, or in high school, is shut up. Donâ€™t tell anybody what you do. Your life will be a
whole lot easier.” For Oâ€™Reilly that passes for just common sense, wisdom, but other people might see it differently.
Oâ€™Reilly actually also has flirted twice with the idea of running for office as a Republican. In 1989 the first Bush
administrationâ€”certain officials from the administrationâ€”wanted to talk to Oâ€™Reilly about running against Barney Frank as a
Republican from Massachusetts. And then, in 1994, when he left Inside Editionâ€”his previous journalism experienceâ€”he talked
openly about wanting to move back to Long Island and run as a Republican. So I think all of this kind of sets up a pretty
clear idea of where heâ€™s coming from. You can kind of see through the marketing and I think some of the bluster, but Oâ€™Reilly
goes to pretty great lengths to deny heâ€™s a conservative. On one show he was complaining that the Boston Globe called him a
“conservative attack dog” in the newspaper that day. In fact, they just call him an “attack dog,” he
invented the accusation against him.
Tim Russert one time asked him whether or not he was a conservative and Oâ€™Reilly told him, “If you want to think that go
ahead, our audience, according to the Pew Research Center, is 47 percent Democrat on the Oâ€™Reilly Factor.” Now if you
actually took the time to find the research in question, itâ€™s almost the opposite of that. The study wasnâ€™t about party
affiliation. It was actually about whether viewers considered themselves conservative, moderate, or liberal. Foxâ€™s audience
was 46 percent conservative, 32 percent moderate, 18 percent liberal. The Oâ€™Reilly Factor was a little bit more to the right,
actuallyâ€”56 percent conservative and 5 percent liberal. And this kind of struck us as odd behavior, you know FAIR [Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting] is a
media watchdog group and part of our job is to do this sort of thing, and these seemed rather flagrant errors and they were
always errors that were made with the intent of convincing the audience that Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s position was correct. So, in the
book, we run through a number of cases where he does just that.
He was trying to drum up more support for his boycott of French goods before and during the war with Iraq and one of the
reasons he gave: he did a little bit of history and said that France opposed bombing Serbia and didnâ€™t back us in that. And
this is strange because France participated in that bombing. They were the second largest air force behind the United States.
So it would be hard for them to oppose it when they were doing it.
Author: Peter Hart
News Service: theExperiment