The 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.