Bill O’Reilly is a little bit like the Hulk, only in reverse: The louder he gets, the weaker his arguments get.
By the end of his interview with Jon Stewart on Monday night, the Fox News Channel host was being very, very loud, and not even resident sycophant Bernard Goldberg could prop him up.
Stewart appeared because he had derided Fox’s hysteria over the rapper Common’s appearance at the White House on “The Daily Show.” O’Reilly asked him to come on to debate the issue, then kept talking about the Obamas giving such an imprimatur to someone who had tacitly embraced convicted cop killers.
As Stewart noted, however the response more than anything illustrated Fox’s “selective outrage machine.” He didn’t overtly say the outrage was racially motivated, but he didn’t really have to. His examples of artists who have written similar material and still visited the White House — Bono, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen — clearly made the point. It was another case of FNC seeking an African-American bogeyman to stir up the conservative fringes.
The most interesting part of the exchange was that while O’Reilly insisted that Stewart confine the argument to what O’Reilly has said — excluding the most histrionic fringes of FNC — Goldberg registered thinly veiled criticism of Sean Hannity, albeit without ever uttering Hannity’s name. Goldberg cited hypocrisy on the left, naturally, but also on the right, singling out people working for Fox who have embraced rocker Ted Nugent despite some of his more outrageous statements — a direct broadside at Hannity.
Of course, Goldberg is too much of a wimp to actually say Hannity’s name with O’Reilly discouraging him from doing so, and he accepted O’Reilly’s argument that Fox features “gazillions of opinions from all sides.” Well yes, I suppose that’s true if “moderate right,” “right,” and “way far right” sounds like “all sides” to you.
Meanwhile, over at MSNBC, O’Reilly’s timeslot competitor Lawrence O’Donnell again bashed not only Donald Trump for his aborted candidacy, but the media for indulging the fantasy that Trump was going to run.
Alas, O’Donnell’s criticism — and he’s been brutal on NBC Entertainment — wasn’t brave enough to go after NBC News, which featured a weak “Today” show interview with Trump and dutifully bought into the “will he or won’t he” speculation. In addition, NBC’s upfront featured anchor Brian Williams touting a new newsmagazine, immediately followed by Trump’s newsmaking “I’m not running” announcement — a juxtaposition that only made Williams look bad: Here was “news” right under his news, and the anchor was nowhere to be found.
Stewart won’t win over many hearts and minds on Fox, to be sure, but I assume it’s satisfying after wading through all those clips for his show to take the message directly to Fox’s door. And O’Reilly similarly benefits by taking on an icon from the left.
The net result is more heat than light, true, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s the fuel cable news runs on.