Who are You Calling a Conservative?
The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'ReillyPeter Hart
(Seven Stories Press · paper · $8.95)
Why would anyone want to write a book about Bill O'Reilly? I mean, isn't he just another Rush Limbaugh clone, one of the hundreds of bullying, loud-mouth, narcissistic, right-wing jackasses who pollute our public airwaves every hour of every day with their juvenile reactionary hysterics?
In some ways, yes, he is exactly that. But certain aspects of O'Reilly's televisual attack-dog shtick definitely set him apart from the crowd.
O'Reilly is just like Limbaugh & Co. in that he spends more time promoting himself as a conservative messiah and spewing vitriolic personal attacks than he does actually analyzing current events. The thing that makes O'Reilly different from the rest of the right-wingers, though, is that he refuses to admit he's a right-winger.
His popular show, The O'Reilly Factor, is the flagship program on the FOX News Channel, a right-wing cable channel that sells itself as centrist, moderate, and "fair and balanced." O'Reilly, likewise, pretends to be a centrist, calling his show a "no-spin zone" in which liberals and conservatives alike get the skewering they both so richly deserve.
One can't help but notice, though, as Hart ably demonstrates in this book, that liberals almost always get a one-step-from-death beating while O'Reilly routinely jams his nose up his conservative guests' butts. In The Oh Really? Factor, Hart reveals how seldom O'Reilly lives up to his own principles. He is in almost every sense a biased right-wing extremist who ludicrously poses in moderate clothing.
The best parts of the book give direct quotes from O'Reilly, showing ways in which his loud-mouth blathering habitually contradicts both the factual record and O'Reilly's own pronouncements. The way he skews statistics would be hilarious if it weren't so intellectually dishonest. Like most people with a penchant for presenting themselves as apostles of truth, you can rarely trust what comes from O'Reilly's mouth. In this way, he's exactly the same as Rush Limbaugh. What sets him apart is that he pretends to be a political centrist, lending an Orwellian cast to his bizarre public persona.
Hart's book isn't perfect. It's kind of flimsy and thin. It feels rushed. And many of the examples in the book seem like nitpicking. In other words, Hart engages in the same kind of semantic word-parsing from a left-wing perspective that O'Reilly habitually engages in from the right.
Mostly, the book presents some legitimate insights into this oddball media figure. But why take this guy seriously at all? This is, after all, a man who refutes arguments by calling his opponents pinheads or telling them to shut up. For all O'Reilly's seeming blockheadedness, though, his propagandizing routinely fools the dumbest members of his audience into believing he represents the political center. It's an Orwellian tactic that right-wingers use more and more frequently these days, and one that both liberals and centrists should pay very close attention to this election year.