The only thing that makes Bill O’Reilly angrier than arguing
with him, it turns out, is refusing to argue with him.
The Fox News host lashed out Monday at Jason Whitlock, a
Foxsports.com columnist, who declined to appear on his show. O’Reilly took
umbrage at the racially tinged language the writer used — which was unnecessary and provocative — but my guess is he was
equally irked by Whitlock dismissing him as “a TV entertainer.”
Because here’s a newsflash: O’Reilly’s program, and indeed a
lot of cable news, is theater, built on conflict. And if O’Reilly can’t get
people who have angered him to come on the show so he can confront them, he’s
stuck talking to Bernie Goldberg, Juan Williams, and the other Fox talent he
regularly brings on to talk for as long as he can endure the sound of their voices.
Whitlock didn’t state all of his column very artfully, but he was spot-on regarding one key point: “The O’Reilly
Factor” isn’t a courtroom, and there’s nothing that says its host has a
God-given right to confront his critics. Moreover, if you do venture into the
lion’s den, the game is rigged, since O’Reilly and his producers control
every aspect of the appearance.
I say all this as someone who has been on “The Factor,” and
more recently turned down an invitation (or a “summons,” if you prefer) because it seemed so utterly pointless. You’re not there for your insights, but rather as a prop. (Another disclaimer: Although I wrote a
column in the past for Foxsports.com, I have never met Jason Whitlock, and
don’t share much with him other than our apparent fondness for food.)
Frankly, whatever the motivation, I wish more people would
adopt a “Just say ‘No’” policy when it comes to such shows. Trust me, the five
minutes on air are seldom worth the aggravation. Nobody’s mind will be changed.
I doubt your book sales will go through the roof. And about all you usually have to show for it is the moment when a neighbor
says, “Hey, I saw you on TV,” and then inevitably struggles to remember what
you were brought on to discuss.
Although Glenn Beck nearly got away with it, cable talk is
hard to sustain as a monologue. So racial language aside, Whitlock hit O’Reilly
right where he lives by telling him to go it alone, with no one to talk to
except a monitor. And that’s why in this latest mini-fracas, the person
O’Reilly is looking out for, at least in part, is himself.