Friday, October 16, 2009

Bill O'Reilly - Day 1

[Note: Below notes were taken during my viewing of a 2:30 minute segment of Bill O'Reilly's Talking Points Memo (10/15) commentary on Rush Limbaugh’s ejection from NFL. This is a mere sampling of some of the logical and language-based problems on the show. Ideally, each day I will write up a response to his “Talking points memo.” Alternately, I plan on deconstructing the content of Shepard Smith’s reporting as well, though it seems important to note that Smith’s reporting is more tempered and less controversial.]

I. Opening Quote:

"Some people said Limbaugh made a series of racial comments and therefore does not deserve to be part of the NFL."

Topically, of course, Limbaugh isn’t part of the NFL. This is weird phrasing. But I digress… The primary problem here is that "Some people" is vague. I always stress this point to my students. Who are these people? (If it's just Al Sharpton, why not mention him singly?) How many said this? When did they say it?” What were Limbaugh’s comments? O’Reilly cites only Al Sharpton, which is basically doublespeak for "the crazy black man who protests everything." And this seems to suggest that Sharpton is the voice that represents a large community of outraged individuals, an assertion which is entirely false.

But back to vagueness…

The reason why ideas are intended to be vague usually is either 1) lack of real evidence/sources or 2) an attempt to manipulate conversation to one’s own ends. Both of the above "some people" and "comments" are kept vague to blur the reasons and what Limbaugh actually said to either warrant/not warrant his being kicked off the show. In addition, viewers aren’t told exactly who kicked Limbaugh off the show. If viewers don’t know what Limbaugh said, the assumption is that it probably isn’t much worth mentioning. (Although, to use the famous line that "actors should mix with politics," a line usually used in the context of Tim Robbins or Sean Penn.) Limbaugh’s sports announcing shouldn’t be peppered with controversial statements. In his role as a sportscaster, his job is to sportscast, not to offend viewers.

Furthermore, to use the term "witch hunt" is a historically charged and hypocritical exaggeration. The implication that Limbaugh is being hunted by a group of people whose moral compass is guided by fear (as in Salem), and who have no evidence of his wrongdoing, is patently false. There is no “group” hunting him and certainly the decision to fire him was motivated more by capital than by any ideological fright. [In fact, the one person responsible for Limbaugh’s firing is Dave Checkett’s, a Mormon business man, NOT a member of what most would associate with "the liberal elite."] The labeling of an executive's attempt to silence Limbaugh as a witch hunt while actively engaging in an attempt to root out "anti-Americanism" (O'Reilly's attempts to silence dissent go back to just after 9/11) is simple hypocrisy. Apparently, it's acceptable to ruin the lives of everyday Americans who happen to criticize the actions of their government but not to fire a celebrity who makes millions a year. This attempt to silence dissent from the ground-up while defending the right of privilege to make divisive comments about trivial sporting events should be frightening to those who claim O'Reilly represents the "little guy."

Example of Limbaugh’s comments?

"Look, let me put it to you this way: The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it."
[What seems interesting here is the supposed burden Limbaugh seems to suggest is being lifted from his conscience after he says this with his foot-stomping "There, I said it".]

Checketts can obviously be faulted for being obtuse— anyone who doesn’t understand what Limbaugh does is either lacking proper decision-making skills or living somewhere very remote.

Even O’Reilly’s word choice here is ridiculously hyperbolic: "That race theme quickly became used as a hammer against Limbaugh." A hammer? Really? To "break" him? So the fact that public outrage surrounds these statements is more of an inconvenience to Limbaugh's "right" to utterance than it is representative of a history of divisive commentary? There seems to be little objectivity here, but again, one could argue that most journalism is based on objectivity as a goal, not always as a result. However, my goal here is to show that O’Reilly’s lack of objectivity starts at the level of language and spreads into every aspect of his show.

O’Reilly insists that allegations against Limbaugh suggest that he (Limbaugh) is a supposed "race baiter." O’Reilly does not define what he means by this. Does he mean that Limbaugh baits other races by saying things that he knows to be offensive and then hides behind some vague notion of Freedom of Speech when he’s penalized for his statements? Or does this mean that Limbaugh uses the topic of race to stir controversy. If the former is true, said Amendment doesn’t cover speech meant to incite panic or fear and hatred against a group of people; if the latter is true, then controversy is what he got, and there’s no case here.

At this point in the Memo, O’Reilly recycles old statements that Limbaugh supposedly made about James Earl Ray. (This is of course used as information that can be clearly disproved and thus, by O'Reilly's logic, disproving all further allegations of bigoted comments.) Adding to the suspicion that Limbaugh can't be innocent of all comments due to the origin of some comments, this information is specious and outdated. It had already been reported Limbaugh didn’t make that statement (see, But this is not important to O’Reilly, who rightly assumes that his main audience doesn't Google much. His main concern is to lump the James Earl Ray incident (which started with one person, an anonymous blogger named Cobra) in with any other instance of Limbaugh's proclivity to make racially-divisive comments. There’s a logical problem here, and this is that just because Limbaugh didn’t make one comment doesn’t mean he didn’t make any comments about race. In fact, Limbaugh is known for making comments that are racially controversial, which you can see in the above-linked quote, and all it takes is a quick Google search to see well-documented examples of comments he’s made regarding the topic of race. But O’Reilly doesn’t mention these comments. Instead, he uses comments made from "the far left" (I’m sure the "far left," whoever they may be, has more important things to worry about than taking down Rush.) With these digressions from his own lead story, O’Reilly clouds the waters by offering—without citation—an example of his own persecution which, according to his telling of it, seems like a fairly innocuous story that took place in Sylvia’s Restaurant here in Harlem. By virtue of its very innocuousness, this anecdote is meant to refute all arguments against Rush Limbaugh and to introduce a logical parallel between O'Reilly and Limbaugh: if I am not guilty, he is not guilty. We are one no slant, no spin, fair and balanced blob.


"Fair Americans know that playing the race card is easy and hateful."

Who are these "fair" Americans? Does he mean "fair" as in "just"? If there is truly a "witch hunt" currently happening in America, where are these legions of "fair Americans"? Does O'Reilly mean to refer to those Americans who know the sense of right and wrong? How many are there? Did he survey all of the Americans he considers "fair" to see what they think? Have these Keepers of Fairdom been allowed to weigh in on the matter? The insistence on using terms like this is, once again, vague and extremely groupthink-esque. Instead of even using an actual survey or *gasp* research, it posits that there is a group of "common sense" holders out there who are constantly stormed and attacked by "wackos" of all stripes, who, in contrast with the "Fair Americans," don't use common sense. That some people have more common sense seems a fair assessment. But however true this may be, if we were to research what criteria make for common sense and "fair," there is certainly no evidence 1) that this group knows what O'Reilly claims they know or that they agree with him 2) of their numbers, and 3) whether this really has anything to do with race-baiting or the previously-mentioned Limbaugh case.

This statement's real purpose is to flatter viewers—I’m fair, they’re not—while united them as one group. Any angst-ridden and alienated viewer looking for a sense of belonging just found it. O’Reilly seems more interested in simultaneously flattering viewers while insulting their intelligence. Mix the "You viewers are lovely" with "I will always be more informed than you but use my cat-like agility and salty intellect to inform you of what others hide" together and voila! You’ve got the recipe for a successful show.

I'm not saying that O'Reilly's show isn't entertaining, which it certainly is, especially viewed ironically as one work in the larger oeuvre of his terribly written books imbued with his trademark pedantic and cringe-worthy tone. His charm of late seems to stem from the toning down of his more divisive rhetoric and ire, probably due to some late administrative decision to make room for Beck's more vitriolic delivery style. But the problems of this show are numerous: the catering to sensationalistic and vague reporting, the logic jumps and mis-connections O'Reilly practically elicits between "facts," the general non sequitor/short attention span reporting style which doesn't inform as much as it confuses viewers, and the veiled subjectivity and opinions of one man which masquerade as objective and to-the-minute breaking journalism.

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