Bill O’Reilly is a hack.
A recent Mother Jones article outlines various inconsistencies in the FoxNews talk show host’s account of his time covering the war in the Falklands. The criticisms were not denied with supporting facts or conflicting accounts, but with the rhetorical flair O’Reilly has become known for. Who else responds to professional criticisms by calling the critic a “despicable guttersnipe?”
But, unsurprisingly, new developments show that the Falklands war tale isn’t the only credibility gap O’Reilly has to combat. A report by CNN claims that a personal anecdote in O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Kennedy,” contradict other accounts of his whereabouts.
While calling out O’Reilly’s credibility is great sport, the path to reconciling his continued appearances on air while Brian Williams sits home on suspension for similar circumstances is less clear.
The problem remains that Bill O’Reilly never deserved to be held to a journalistic standard in the first place. He gave that up years ago, when he decided to work for FoxNews. Now I know that Fox still gets great ratings and that Bill’s words do carry weight for millions. But that doesn’t mean FoxNews can’t also be described as an Orwellian, hate-spewing, bile-inducing, propaganda tool of a 1-percenter billionaire masquerading as a populist. Any media individual who works for them is choosing to sell their credibility to support a partisan agenda that treats facts as inconveniences.
The whole organization is right out of “V for Vendetta,” or an older example, “1984.” Is Bill O’Reilly that different in his discursive method than Commander Prothero? Don’t the logical pivots during debates with Fox correspondents seem more like Newspeak than news speak? Isn’t O’Reilly literally rewriting parts of history, books that have been called into question by the historical community? Does the fear of other groups, like immigrants, Muslims and homosexuals drive the Fox machine?
Not really, yes, yes, yes. Great, now that we’ve answered my rant questions, we can talk about why all this matters. The news feeding frenzy on Fox and O’Reilly isn’t really going to change much for FoxNews, since they respond to financial and owner concerns as opposed to preserving journalistic integrity, and their audience doesn’t trust what any non-right wing media source says. Their credibility outside of that limited group is abysmal — their slogan “We Report, You Decide” is the laughingstock of serious journalists.
The good thing in all of this is that each organization handles the controversy in a way that tells viewers what they value. NBC’s and most media business’ models work when viewers trust them. The lack of trust toward media is what FoxNews feeds on. Hence, Brian Williams is suspended for lying, while Bill O’Reilly and his superiors shrug it off when he does the same thing.
Know the agenda of your information providers, not by their mission statement, but by how they respond to outside stimuli. Cynics may see the “no-spin zone” tomorrow and think about how unfair it is that this man can lie without consequence. It isn’t fair, but in the context of the network he works for, it’s just another day at Fox.
Collegian Opinion Editor Zack Burley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zackburley.