TAIL-GUNNER BILL! Men like OReilly subvert the discourse when men like Tim Russert are cowards:
TUESDAY, AUGUST 10, 2004
TAIL-GUNNER BILL: All right—to be continued, Tim Russert said, at the end of the hour-long program. But was that a threat or a promise? Russert had just concluded an appalling session of his weekly CNBC program—a session in which his guest, Bill OReilly, showed the world whats wrong with the devolving American discourse. OReilly appeared with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman—and Russert ought to be disturbed by what occurred on his show. OReilly name-called freely; made blatant false statements; and generally blustered and bullied throughout. The problems with democratization of media were on display throughout the hour. Inexplicably, Russert was eager to sign up for more when the session was done.
To be continued, Russert said. But why would anyone want more of this? Lets break OReillys woeful performance into three troubling parts:
PROBLEM ONE—SHEER DUMBNESS: To be continued, Russert said. But who would want to extend a discussion as dumb as this one? Early on, to cite one example, OReilly attacked Krugmans views about the Bush tax cuts. The Fox host blustered and bullied. But Mr. O was astoundingly dumb:
OREILLY: You know, Mr. Krugman is a smart guy, but Mr. Krugman was absolutely dead 100 percent wrong in his columns two years ago when he predicted the Bush tax cuts would lead to a deeper recession. You can read his book and see how wrong he was.Here we see the essence of the evenings discussion, with Krugman—who knew what he was talking about—routinely cut off by OReilly, who didnt. To OReilly, the difference between a deeper recession and lousy job creation is, somehow, a matter of semantics. The blustering Foxman soldiered on, but the dumbness only got worse:
KRUGMAN: Find a place where I said that they were going to cause a recession.But what did this have to do with the question at hand—whether Krugman had predicted recession? OReilly behaved like a floundering schoolboy. The hopeless discussion ground on:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): I—Lets face it—having OReilly debate Krugman on economics is like having Pee Wee Herman wrestle The Hulk. Laughably, OReilly played this segment on his program last night, apparently thinking that victory goes to him who speaks the loudest.
By the way, how thoroughly does OReilly talk down to Fox viewers? Last night, he played the tape of Krugmans request: Find a place where I said that [the tax cuts] were going to cause a recession. Find a place where I said it. Days had gone by since the session occurred—but OReilly still gave no example! Why on earth would a man like Russert want his viewers to get more of this?
PROBLEM TWO—INVENTION: OReilly wasnt simply dumb; he also seemed to make stuff up. When Krugman discussed the run-up to war in Iraq, OReilly cited a conversation—a conversation that doesnt seem to have happened. Krugman argued that Bush rushed to war—that pre-war inspections should have continued. In reply, OReilly recalled what UN weapons inspector Hans Blix flat-out told him on his program:
KRUGMAN: Remember, we went to war when there was an effective inspections regime back in place. We did not have to actually go to war. We were doing, we were—we had Saddam pretty effectively caged.From this statement, you might even think that Blix came on OReillys show and flat-out told him about the scientists. Just in case there was any doubt, OReilly described the occasion again:
OREILLY: Blix came on the program and said to me flat-out, They aren't cooperating. We can't interview the scientists, and we can't go where we want to go. They gave him all kinds of time, Saddam, to stop the nonsense. Seventeen violations of the Gulf War cease-fire, 17. The guy obviously was defiant.For reasons that must be fairly obvious, this claim seemed to strike Krugman as odd. A back-and-forth battle ensued:
KRUGMAN: I'm gonna wager that Blix—I don't have the record, but I'm gonna wager Blix told you that a number of months before the war.But in fact, Blix doesnt seem to have said that to OReilly, before or after the war. According to every record we can find, the blustering talker never had that discussion with the UN gumshoe. OReilly may have been thinking of Joseph Wilson, who appeared on The Factor on January 13, 2003—two months before the war began—and discussed the question of interviews with Iraqi scientists. On that occasion, it was OReilly who raised the topic, paraphrasing what Blix had told the UN Security Council on January 9, four days earlier.Hans Blix told the U.N. Security Council that Saddam Hussein will not allow his inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists out of the country, OReilly told Wilson. Blix said flat-out, his guys, his inspectors, can't talk to these scientists.
So it seems that Blix didnt flat-out say this to OReilly; according to the talkers paraphrase, Blix flat-out said this to the UN. But we think you know how that can happen. You know: Someone says something to the UN—and you end up thinking he said it to you? According to all available records, Blix has appeared on The Factor once—on March 15, 2004, one year after the war in Iraq. The question of interviews didnt come up. Bill did challenge Blix at the start of the session. This is the no-spin zone, the tail-gunner blustered, so youre going to give me it straight, all right?
Did Blix appear with OReilly before the war? We can find no record of such a session, nor can we find any instance in which OReilly discussed such an event (although he often discussed Blix on his program). Were certainly willing to be corrected, but it seems that Bill just made this one up. If so, why would Russert want more conversation with a man as inventive as this?
PROBLEM THREE—NAME-CALLING: But the biggest problem on Russerts show was OReillys incessant, nasty name-calling. To be continued, Russert said at the end of the show. But in the previous several minutes, OReilly had name-called loudly and crudely, jabbing roughly at Krugman as he did (he raised his voice and glowered at Krugman throughout the program). Heres a taste of what transpired when Krugman cited something OReilly said on his radio program—a quote transcribed by David Brocks Media Matters:
O'REILLY: And where did you get that little evil quote, by the way? You don't listen to The Radio Factor.And yes, as a matter of fact, there we went—straight into the dumpster of democracy, as a loudmouth successor to Father Coughlin ranted loudly, wagged his finger, and refused to deal with the issue at hand. For the record, OReilly never answered Krugmans question. (What have I said that is false?) Nor did he ever try to explain what context was missing from the quote Krugman read. (The quote is given below.) Instead, OReilly staged another loud rant. Brock was compared to Castro and the Ku Klux Klan. Krugman was suddenly Mr. Propaganda. The unexplained quote was left-wing garbage. But what was actually wrong with the quote? What kind of context was actually missing? OReilly, ranting, never said. And Russert knew not to ask him.
Indeed, OReillys name-calling continued to the end of the show. Here is the inspiring work that Russert wants to get more of:
O'REILLY: You call the left-wing hate groups up to get your propaganda. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Do your own research.But who would want to continue that? Throughout the hour, OReilly showed whats wrong with American discourse. Why on earth would a man like Russert subject us to more trash like that?
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Tail-Gunner Joes are always with us; their instincts are hard-wired in the human gene pool. Once, our culture kept them on the fringes. Now, theyre thrown onto cable TV, where theyre encouraged to clown, spin, name-call, jab and rant. Endlessly, they fool the rubes, misleading them, spinning them, abusing their decency. These people will always prey on democracy—if theyre given a spot center stage.
Of course, its always been up to men like Russert to exercise a bit of discretion. But Russert likes being rich and famous. He put Matt Drudge on Meet the Press; he also panders to the great Limbaugh. In short, Russert is happy with Tail-Gunner Joes. They bring more viewers to his table. They help to make him more rich and famous.
Indeed, the breezes are cooling on Nantucket. All right. To be continued, Russert said. As long as Russert makes his home with the swells, hes sure to be true to his word.
WHAT THE TAIL-GUNNER ACTUALLY SAID: A bit of background on that disputed quote which was left-wing garbage and taken out of context. The dispute began when Krugman discussed Michael Moores Fahrenheit 9/11:
KRUGMAN: Bill has said on air that Michael Moore believes that we are an evil country, and if you saw the film, you know that's not true, and actually you denied in the same program that you'd said what you just said. But anyway, I think that's a little bit of something to look out for with credibility.Eventually, in his one constructive moment, Russert asked Krugman to read the quote. Heres what happened:
O'REILLY: Media Matters! Oh, my—that's like me calling some Klan operation. Why don't I call the Ku Klux Klan?Now Krugman was compared to Hezbollah as the incessant name-calling continued. But one thing didnt happen—OReilly never supplied the alleged missing context, nor did he deny the accuracy of the text Krugman read. And, of course, something else never happened; the trembling Russert never asked OReilly to say what was wrong with the quote. How was the quote taken out of context? This was the worlds most obvious question—and Russert was too frightened to ask. A tough-talking bulldog purred and mewed in the face of his Tail-Gunner O.
Our country has gone through troubling times when men like OReilly took over the discourse. It always happens because cowards permit it—cowards who live on fragrant islands and talk about how honest they are because of their Buffalo days.
MORE DUMBTH: OReilly also lacked the first clue about the 2000 Florida recounts. Of course, Russert pretended he didnt know too. Want details? See Media Matters.