Bye, Bye Bill-O. Schadenfreude So Sweet.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3The deceptively lovely German word “schadenfreude” feels like it was made for Bill O’Reilly. If ever a guy deserved an ignominious demise, a real “Game of Thrones” shot-on-the-toilet departure, it is Bill-O, the biggest of cable TV’s braying, anti-PC “straight shooters”. A self-inflating TV “entertainer” whose Orwellian all spin-and-fantasy “No Spin Zone” was designed to inflame the self-pity, bogus victimhood and grievances of (mainly) aging white men, while piling up tens of millions of profits for his employers. So yeah, a lot of people are enjoying watching Bill-O take one to the chest and topple over, off the pooper (i.e. FoxNews), albeit clutching $25 million in bye-bye cash.

(Trevor Noah gets the overnight prize for the best of many gleeful takedowns.)

No offense to all the women he intimidated, pawed and leered at, but getting Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment is a little like jailing Al Capone for tax evasion. I mean, great. The deal got done. Whatever it takes. But O’Reilly’s barely disguised racism and siren call to his audience of confused and embittered whites, stoking their antipathies toward the truly less fortunate was a far worse pollutant in our cultural waters than hitting on every woman who found herself marooned in his domain, wittingly or otherwise.

It’s a wholly good thing that O’Reilly’s downfall generates another round of talk about sexual harassment. The piggish behavior of entitled bullies like Bill-O is a universal disease, even as the FoxNews “empire” raised it to the level of a brand ethos. But the greater cancer that O’Reilly and so many others of the Fox “team” normalize(d) was the extraordinarily cynical concept of white Christian male privilege, of a moral standing based entirely on gender, race and religious orientation. It’s always been repugnant, but it is so deeply baked into our popular culture today it’s almost like we don’t see it anymore.

I had two conversations with O’Reilly over my years covering the media. Once in Minneapolis when he was on tour hyping “Inside Edition” and then years later in Hollywood at some press dog and pony show. (The other notable at that event was singer Jon Bon Jovi. Proving what a nerd I am I — tried — to chat up O’Reilly.)

The impression the first time was, “One of those guys.” A Sammy Glick character hyping a cheesy tabloid show as the next coming of Edward R. Murrow. The second time the impression was simply, “a jerk.” A guy who, now feeling the cushion of real money, couldn’t bother to engage in a conversation about cable news … at a cocktail party organized for the sole purpose of schmoozing the press. Bill-O had clearly decided he was beyond that stage of life. Or maybe he was looking for someone with more cleavage.

At the Washington Post Ruth Marcus unloads on the Fox culture for creating and enabling the O’Reilly/Roger Ailes frat house within and projecting its corresponding message to its audience. But watching O’Reilly over the years and the events of the past week I was reminded again of author Susan Cain’s research for “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The experts she interviewed formed a consensus that big, narcissistic, possible sociopathic characters capable of dominating rooms and conversations hold sway over the more introverted among us purely because they talk the most and the loudest. Human nature lends undue credibility to such people, possibly because they are doing something most of us can’t, or won’t. Whether they possess better judgment or more valuable insights is secondary to the influence of their presence.

Hence a toxic flow of Bill O’Reillys, Rush Limbaughs, Donald Trumps and on and on … and on and on. (Many of the worst, the most toxic, appeal to the authoritarian personality, common people inordinately submissive to the rule of force, or personality in these cases.)

So as I say, “whatever it takes.” There’s delicious justice in women driving O’Reilly off the air, (until he reappears on Breitbart TV). But his piggishness toward women was only one facet of his and Fox’s sociopathic personality.

 

 

This Just In: Bill O’Reilly Full of [bleep]

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterMaybe the strangest thing about the still unfolding “Bill O’Reilly is a bullshitter!” story is that anyone with their wits still about them ever thought he wasn’t.

It is ridiculously entertaining to read David Corn’s Mother Jones piece, and now yesterday’s howler about Bill knocking on the door of a key JFK assassination figure at the very moment the guy inside blows his head off with a shotgun. Gripping stuff if not for the recordings of O’Reilly on the phone … from 1200 miles away. I mean, there’s a hilarious Ron Burgundy aspect to O’Reilly’s uber-manly tale of dragging an injured colleague to safety amid a murderous police rampage in Buenos Aires when in fact the “riot” was barely more than a routine demonstration, no one was killed and no CBS employee reported so much as a twisted ankle or required any level of medical attention.

I’d add that this is the stuff of full-on parody if it weren’t for the fact that Stephen Colbert built a career doing exactly that. (Can you imagine the delirium Colbert’s writers would be in with this run of red meat?)

Comparisons to Brian Williams’ self-immolation miss the central difference here pretty badly. Williams was employed with the explicit understanding that he was credible, trading only in the facts as best as NBC could report them. Bill O’Reilly is the key mouthpiece in Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes’ enormously profitable political campaign masquerading as a news organization. Williams’ viewers were justifiably disappointed to learn of his bizarre embellishments. O’Reilly’s viewers, I strongly suspect, do not care in the least what he has embellished or flat-out invented, as long as he continues to attack Murdoch and Ailes’ and their designated enemies.

With that in mind it’ll be easier to understand why FoxNews not only isn’t going to “investigate” O’Reilly’s superhero imaginings, and is instead gleeful at a fresh opportunity to attack the “guttersnipe liberal media” and threaten straight news pinheads with bodily harm. It plays directly into the fascinating psychology wherein ardent zealots confronted with information that unambiguously contradicts their beliefs double down on their erroneous thinking rather than concede and align themselves with reality.

Prediction: O’Reilly’s ratings will spike over the next month.

This incident brings two things back to mind.

1: Liberals take FoxNews far too seriously, and I fully admit my complicity on that point. For years I’ve fulminated myself into apoplexy at Fox’s shameless absurdity and cynicism, convinced that the network was an aggressive form of cancer soon to terminate all higher brain function among the credulous masses. But somewhere after the 2012 elections, when all of Fox-think was revealed to be astonishingly incompetent at both campaigning and campaign analysis, I settled down. Their bona fides, such as they are, are all but completely limited to an old, embittered demographic of rapidly diminishing electoral significance.

Here’s Frank Rich not long ago on the topic.

I suspect the irrelevance of FoxNews to the 300 million Americans who are not lapping it up 24/7 has something to do with Jon Stewart bailing on “The Daily Show”. FoxNews as a punchline is a settled, cliched commodity.

2:  Blogging colleague Joe Loveland passed this on yesterday. It’s the annual Pew survey on America’s most and least-trusted broadcast news operations. In the realm of what we’ve come to expect the survey’s authors write:

“Fox News is both the most trusted and least trusted name in news. 35% of Americans say they trust Fox News more than any other TV news outlet, followed by 14% for PBS, 11% for ABC, 10% for CNN, 9% for CBS, 6% each for Comedy Central and MSNBC, and 3% for NBC. It leads the way because of its continuing near total support among Republicans as the place to go for news- 69% of Republicans say it’s their most trusted source with nothing else polling above 7%.”

Think of that. 69%. Pretty well proving Murdoch and Ailes’ show biz genius at giving their people the campaign message they want.

But in the context of Bill O’Reilly’s naked bogus-ness, it also explains why he’ll suffer no reputational damage. Fox’s world is designed as an “us v. them” battlefield. O’Reilly is the high profile field marshall under constant attack from common enemies. To support Bill without equivocation is to be a loyal soldier.

Contrast that, as Joe pointed out, with the dismal all-in loyalty liberals have to their alleged message-bearer, MSNBC.

“It’s interesting that while Fox News and MSNBC are often thought of as equivalent, Fox News is by far and away the most trusted source of GOP voters while MSNBC is only tied for 4th among Democrats.”

The underlying point here is that liberals and conservatives affiliate with and consume partisan messaging in vastly different ways. Other psychological studies note conservatives’ far higher levels of trust in authority, e.g. Bill O’Reilly, and liberals’ elevated levels of skepticism toward leadership/herd thinking. One group embraces the minister-to-parish relationship. The other tolerates it in small doses.

Second prediction:  Bill O’Reilly will soon reveal that it was he who shot Osama bin Laden and to thunderous applause will vilify any left-wing guttersnipe who says otherwise.