An Unexpectedly Enlightening Conversation with Bill O’Reilly

[Are you all right? You look like you’ve been hit by a truck.]

Oh, I’m fine. I’ve just been guzzling too much media today. Overdosing on media, you know.

[Media poisoning, as the case may be. Do you need to lie down, or something?]

Yeah, that might not be a bad idea. Thanks.

[I don’t know why you soak up so much of that stuff. Does it really contribute to your development at all?]

Well, you might like to think of me as a detective, a detective investigating crimes that are already occurring. Diving into the media abyss is like driving downtown and visiting bars, where you can hear the wretched underclass discuss their criminal ambitions. You can hear—

[Stop. Call it quits at once, before you make a bigger fool of yourself.]

There’s no need to be sardonic. It’s just an analogy.

[A pointlessly melodramatic comparison, I might add. Why don’t you dispense with that stylistic claptrap and introduce the subject of this evening’s discourse?]

Well, it just so happens that this evening’s discourse involves a notorious discourse. Bill O’Reilly is back from the dead.

[Back? Implying he was gone? Bill O’Reilly never left. As soon as The O’Reilly Factor was taken off the air, he set up an independent show on YouTube, and he’s made occasional appearances on cable news. What? Did you rediscover him during your most recent media binge?]

Actually, I wasn’t referring to his departure from Fox. I was thinking about how, for the first time since I was in high school, I plan to write about something O’Reilly said.

[True, I don’t recall you mentioning him during any of our conversations. I would assume that this is because he was taken off the air long before you and I began this little journey, but suddenly, it seems like he has been off your radar for a while.]

I used to take an interest in Bill O’Reilly. I saw him as one of the great villains of the day, a force of political malevolence unrivalled by all but the most loathsome Republicans. Of course, that was when I was new to political analysis, when I was just starting out. Back then, I didn’t have much to go on, other than what I watched on YouTube.

[And what did you watch?]

Clips of O’Reilly being overpowered by a guest on The O’Reilly Factor, or The Factor, as we will refer to it hereafter. There’s a large market for political schadenfreude, for footage of a talk show host or commentator being humiliated in his own house. And this market came to my attention in 2007, long before Trump sublimated its petty inspirations and transformed it, made it art.

[Improvisational comedy, perhaps?]

Nothing less. Such was my introduction to Bill O’Reilly: extensive coverage of his pratfalls and blunders, the analysis of which was, and still is, gussied up and made glossy until it can be sold to indiscriminate consumers as highbrow political philosophy. That, then, is the extent of our political education: we watch our enemies fail and applaud ourselves for never having made such an error.

[We definitely see a lot of that in the left-wing media’s coverage of Trump: they pillory him when he says something false, as if nobody on their side has ever deceived the public.]

Right, and that is one of the reasons why their hysteria is never convincing: they’re fretting because a politician lied, which is only the most insignificant occurrence in human history. Stop the presses: a politician lied today. Is this an attempt at multidimensional satire, or something?

[If so, then the characters have become the storytellers. All right, so let’s get back to O’Reilly: you stopped writing about him shortly after high school. How come?]

Because I realized that he wasn’t one of the great villains of the day. He was certainly problematic: his political analysis was shallow, even sophomoric, and his program produced nightly propaganda for America’s imperialist policies, but after a time, I grew tired of criticizing O’Reilly, and I took a stronger interest in the political network, the political machine, for which he acted as an apologist. In short, I saw him as a symptom, not the illness.

[That’s an important realization, and one that is all too uncommon today, when the President seems to be both the symptom and the illness.]

And that is an even more important realization, one to keep in mind as we consider what O’Reilly had to say today—or, what he had to say on January 11th, when he appeared on The Glenn Beck Radio Program.

[Hold up: is that the real title of Glenn Beck’s current platform?]

Apparently so. I confess, this was my first time listening to it.

[And what did Mr. O’Reilly say to Mr. Beck?]

He said we are witnessing the incipient collapse of the American media.


Okay, he didn’t use such flamboyant language, but he did say that the American media is nearing a critical state of unwell. According to O’Reilly, the American viewing public is so surfeited and jaundiced by news of Donald Trump, they are finally beginning to turn from cable news. Each of the major providers has struggled to retain viewership as of late, or at least such was the case prior to the government shutdown. That little number has regenerated interest, at least for the time being, but spectatorship continues to be vulnerable to the future climates.

[Did he have any evidence that this shift resulted exclusively from a collective overdose of Trump-centered news?]

No, but obviously it’s a significant factor.

[How do you know?]

Because every piece of news inevitably refracts the President, somehow. You can’t read about an election in South America without enduring an unlettered commentary on Trump’s influence over the entire affair.

[Yes, there are remarkably few self-contained stories left these days, aren’t there? This isn’t to say that stories should be severed from all context, of course, but the perpetual resurrection of Trump, like some kind of phantom, is, as you say, mostly a distortion. Still, there may be other motivations to the public’s diminishing taste for cable news.]

I’m sure there are, not the least of which is the proliferation of alternative content, such as the radio show, the clip of which I heard not on the air, but on YouTube. Can you imagine anyone attempting a complete geography of the new media landscape? How would one determine scale? How would one determine rank?

[I don’t know if any single person could complete such an undertaking. You have to wonder if the complexity of the new world requires multiple minds, multiple writers.]

Can you think of an example?

[Not at the moment. Did Mr. O’Reilly ponder if this deepening distaste for Trump-centered news would culminate in a rejection of Trump himself at the polls in 2020?]

Not to my powers of my recollection. I’ve listened to the interview a couple of times in full, and several times in portion, and O’Reilly does suggest that Trump is vulnerable politically, far more so than I would have believed, but I don’t believe he ever suggests that the news is the problem.

[You don’t believe that Trump is vulnerable politically?]

I don’t think he would struggle against most of the rumored Democratic candidates, and I think he would win re-election breezily, permitting a peaceful economy—in fact, I believe that, even if the economy declines, Trump should be favored for re-election. O’Reilly has a different perspective: while he agrees that many of the potential nominees pose only minor threat, he believes that, if the economy fizzles, then Trump won’t be re-elected. In addition, he believes that Trump can’t, under any circumstances, submit to the Democrats in these sporadic negotiations to reopen government, as this, too, would ensure that he isn’t re-elected.

[He’s that pessimistic, huh? I would have thought he’d be more enthusiastic.]

I’m not sure where Beck falls on the political spectrum these days, especially where he stands on the “Trump question”, but O’Reilly never struck me as a guy who would throw up his pom-poms for Trump. That’s just not his style, though of course he’s not above taking this opportunity to jab at MSNBC.

[Well, we can’t exactly condemn that behavior, can we? Hell, we’re jabbing at O’Reilly right now. Speaking of which, what is the point you’re trying to make with this?]

Honestly, I wasn’t trying to make a point. I was just trying to clear some of the space in my head.

[Well, you’ve called us into your presence, so you’re going to have to bring something to the table. Do you think we should listen to O’Reilly? Do you think we should take his opinion at face value?]

What do you mean?

[Is it possible that he’s trying to give the Democrats destructive advice? Could it be that he wants them to put forth a particular nominee—]

No, that’s paranoid, that’s conspiratorial, in large part because hardly any liberals would ever even try to listen to the Program. Part of the reason I wanted to discuss this piece is because it’s never going to be picked up by any other media outlets and considered nationally. But in any case, no, I don’t think he’s trying to sabotage the Democrats. I simply happen to agree with him that Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris are not serious contenders, probably not even for the nomination.

[Not even for the nomination?]

Look: we really need to forget about our petty political preferences for a minute and recognize that the Democratic Party has become the Tea Party-Left. The Leftie Party, maybe? I don’t know, but I do know that these candidates, who are ostensibly advocating for all sorts of elaborate and costly social programs, are talking about things that won’t come to fruition, at least not in the immediate future.

[You wrote about that in your piece on Elizabeth Warren. You suggested that she is insincere, and that, by extension, Bernie Sanders is, as well.]

This morning, I was thinking about Bernie Sanders and his viability as the eventual nominee. Part of me thinks that he is the heir apparent, that the progressive voters of this country would love to see him rise from the ashes of his sabotaged 2016 campaign and claim the nomination that Hillary Clinton clumsily swiped from him. He would have the backing of the hard-left zealots, even those who would prefer to see a woman or a person of color in the starring role, and you know as well as I do that, in time, the party establishment will fall dutifully in line. But then another part of me can’t stop thinking about Ron Paul, whose 2012 campaign, as inspirational as it was to so many people, was, in hindsight, quite clearly doomed from the start. If Sanders runs, and I believe he will, then I think it’s going to be a bittersweet samba, culminating in defeat, but perhaps in a Vice-Presidential slotting.

[Is there any chance of Warren taking the backup position?]

Not a chance. She’s prone to contretemps like a home-schooled girl on prom night. However, we should mention that O’Reilly says that Kamala Harris is a potential VP pick. In fact, O’Reilly goes as far as to say that Harris understands she will not headline the ticket and is campaigning merely to prove that she could be the Vice-President.

[Or take a spot in the Democratic cabinet, at least. But if we go back to Sanders, it doesn’t sound like O’Reilly has a lot of respect for your position.]

Probably not, but if so, then he’s neglecting to consider the impact of the new progressive voters, the youthful, fertile people who support Ocasio-Cortez. Keep in mind that Ocasio-Cortez would, I imagine, back Sanders forthwith, and while that will obviously be a sickening turn-off for every conservative voter, it will also gin up that fanatical portion of the base that—

[The same fanatical portion of the base that could not elevate a Tea Party candidate to the driver’s seat in 2012. The Republican voters eventually went with Mitt Romney, passing over radicals like Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann. If your analogy holds true, then wouldn’t the Democratic vetting process eventually reward someone like Joe Biden?]

That’s what O’Reilly said. He believes that Biden would have a completely realistic chance to take down Donald Trump, which seems preposterous to me: if the previous election was a referendum on the eight-year Obama Administration, then why would Obama’s second-in-command be of any interest to the American people? Talk about warmed-over leftovers, no?

[Do you believe the election of 2016 was a referendum on Obama?]

Yeah, I’d say so. The election of 2008 was definitely a referendum on Bush.

[Maybe, but I’m not so sure that 2016 was really about Obama. It seemed to be more about Hillary Clinton, don’t you think?]

Let me put it to you this way: a few weeks before the election, Obama told crowds of Democratic voters that, despite their uncertainty about Mrs. Clinton, it was urgent that they get out and vote, because nothing would be a greater insult to his legacy than a victory for Trump.

[Well, he said there would be no greater insult to his legacy than for people not to vote, although it was undeniable to everyone what he really meant to say.]

And his critics heard the message loud and clear: if there would be no greater insult to Obama than four years of President Trump, then they couldn’t get themselves to the polls fast enough to deliver that parting blow.

[It’s an interesting point. In any case, the election of 2020 is obviously a referendum on Trump, which is not to say the Democrats wouldn’t have some authorship of their own destiny.]

Could it be that O’Reilly has given us the first of many keys to the upcoming election?

[We’ll have to see. We’ll have more of this discussion after you get some rest.]

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