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Poor Pitiful Bill: The Factor's in a Funk



I know Newsday TV writer Verne Gay is a cool dude and a crack writer, so I'll forgive him for today's, um, charitable piece on Fox News firebrand Bill O'Reilly's laments about being the target of death threats and criticism.

(And not just because it features a quote from me about my long-standing friction with him)

(O'Reilly accuser Andrea Mackris)

In Verne's piece, O'Reilly ruminates on the 12-month anniversary of his infamous sexual harassment lawsuit (which officially fell Thursday), noting that each day he faces a mountain of paparrazi, must have a third party present when he talks on the telephone and spends "an enormous amount of money protecting myself against evil." He even tantalizes us with talk of the R-word: retirement.

Of course, some would say such problems are to be expected for a TV bully who trades in stereotyping, slanted arguments and unfair rhetoric to make his points (But what do I know? I'm "a dishonest, racially motivated correspondent writing for perhaps the worst newspaper in the country.")

My own disagreements with O'Reilly date back years to a withering critique I wrote of an hourlong primetime special he developed for the Fox broadcast network, "The Corruption of the American Child."

(O'Reilly with members of the Insane Clown Posse)

I sat, dumbfounded, during a press conference where he promised to go after shock rockers Marilyn Manson, the Posse and "black rappers" -- as if they weren't even deserving of specific mention. Upon viewing the special, I found O'Reilly working his typical blend of outrage and fear, coating legitimate concerns about the coarsening of pop culture with a thick layer of barely-veiled racial politics and slanted arguments. (Since the special aired on the home of such wholesome programming as Temptation Island and Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire, it was hard to gauge the impact).

This is O'Reilly's stock in trade. He needs big and not-so-big enemies to fuel his image as an embattled crusader for his audience. And because his ego is so large, even when a regional newspaper such as the St. Petersburg Times dares to resist his viewpoint, we are accused of corruption, ineptness and worse.

Fortunately, I found the last time O'Reilly attacked me that many of his fans are more open minded than the host. After checking out the piece which inspired his vitriol, about half of the 30 or so emails I received said I made legitimate points and appreciated my views.

Not so for O'Reilly, whose No-Spin Zone most often equals a no-dissent zone, where those who disagree are not only wrong but derided as seriously flawed human beings. (a suggestion for O'Reilly, who also complains he wishes the press would "stop the viciousness"; perhaps he should take his own advice)

One of the best results of the current focus on hard news that has come from cable TV's scramble to keep up with disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination, has been the marginalization of pundits such as O'Reilly, who seem to engage us most when everyday news just isn't exciting enough.

Still, as much as O'Reilly grouses about walking away from it all, it's hard to imagine him actually stepping out of the limelight. Bad pennies have a way of always turning up.

As always, I welcome your comments.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:34pm]


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