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“Bill O’Reilly Is Not Going Anywhere, You Far-Left Pinheads”: Making Money, And Advancing The Goals Of The Republican Party

Bill O’Reilly suffers from the same malady as Brian Williams: a tendency to embellish stories of the dangers and horrors he has faced as a journalist (though in O’Reilly’s case, his career as a journalist was brief, before he discovered his true calling). They may have had a slightly different motivation; my interpretation of Williams’ tall-tale-telling is that he wanted to portray himself as heroically journalistic, in the center of the action, bringing people the most important news of the moment. I suspect that for O’Reilly, on the other hand, it’s more of a macho thing—he’s as tough as anyone, and if you doubt it he’ll shout you down like the pinhead you are.

But while Williams was suspended for six months and may never make it back to the anchor chair, nothing of the sort is happening to O’Reilly; Fox News has stood behind him, which won’t change no matter how much evidence emerges showing that he has lied repeatedly about his “war” record. The simple explanation for the difference many believe is that NBC News cares about facts and Fox News doesn’t. Which is true up to a point, but it isn’t the whole story.

To catch you up, last week David Corn and Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones published this article documenting all the times O’Reilly has claimed that he has reported from “war zones” and “combat.” In fact, the closest O’Reilly ever got to combat back when he was a reporter was filing dispatches from Buenos Aires during the Falklands war—1,200 miles from the actual fighting. When confronted with this fact, O’Reilly has claimed that he was in the war zone because he covered a violent protest in Buenos Aires. That would be ridiculous on its own terms, but it turns out that even his account of that protest is likely bogus as well; while the protest was certainly chaotic and violent, no other news report from the time, from CBS News (for whom O’Reilly worked) or any other organization, substantiates his claim of Argentine soldiers “gunning these people down,” and in the days since a number of his former CBS colleagues have challenged his description of the events.

So it’s pretty clear what’s going on here. Desperate to paint himself as a macho globe-trotting journalist who’s seen danger and laughed in its face, O’Reilly has for years been saying that he saw “combat” and served in a “war zone,” when the closest he got was more than a thousand miles away. During the time of the Falklands War. The Falklands. And as Lloyd Grove noted, O’Reilly has been caught lying about his own awesomeness before, as when he claimed falsely to have won two Peabody awards for his work on that paragon of serious journalism, Inside Edition. That didn’t hurt his career, either.

So why not? Let’s look at Williams again. NBC didn’t suspend him because their profound integrity and commitment to the truth demanded it. They suspended him because they were afraid that he had been compromised among his viewers, and if they had left him on the air those viewers would desert the network’s news program. In other words, it was a financial decision. Williams’ success depends on a combination of personality and credibility; viewers want to know they can trust him, but mostly they tune in because they like him. Take away the credibility, and they won’t like him so much anymore.

You could say that O’Reilly depends on the same two factors, personality and credibility. But his credibility comes from an entirely different place, and it’s the reason he not only wouldn’t but couldn’t apologize, or even admit that he had exaggerated his combat derring-do. For O’Reilly, credibility means not that he’s a source of truthful information but that he’s a source of information and opinions his audience finds pleasing. Almost nothing is more important for him than to standing up to liberals, sticking it to ‘em, fighting the secularists and the America-haters and the welfare coddlers with his usual brio. O’Reilly’s persona is all anger and defiance; he may be sitting behind a desk, but he wants viewers to believe that he’s ready at any moment to come out from there and punch somebody in the face if they need to be taught a lesson. He’s the person they want to be, channeling their rage and their resentments.

For O’Reilly, a loss of credibility wouldn’t come from being dishonest, it would come from showing weakness, from opposing liberals with anything less than maximal militance. As far as he and his angry old white viewers are concerned (the median age of O’Reilly’s viewers is 72), nothing shows weakness more than apologizing to your enemies. Which is why he has reacted to the charges with a stream of invective (calling David Corn a “far-left zealot” and a “guttersnipe”) and an insistence that he never made a single mistake. And the facts? Well, as Stephen Colbert said, the facts have a well-known liberal bias.

It isn’t just liberals who are O’Reilly’s enemies, it’s also the media—all of it. So when O’Reilly is being criticized, whether it’s from Mother Jones or The New York Times, it just proves how right he is about everything and how much of a threat he is to the craven comsymps of the liberal elite. So when a reporter from The New York Times contacted him about the story, he told her that if he didn’t like what she wrote, “I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat.” Just try to imagine Brian Williams, or anyone who wants to maintain a reputation as a journalist of any sort, objective or opinionated, saying such a thing and not losing their job.

An episode like this plays right into the centerpiece of Fox’s ideology, its very raison d’être: the idea that Fox News is not just a brave outpost of truth-telling but the only place to get the real scoop uncontaminated by liberal bias. It tells its viewers that everything they hear from any allegedly non-partisan or objective source is nothing but a steaming pile of lies; the only thing you can trust on the TV dial is Fox. So when O’Reilly comes under fire, the viewers know two things: the substance of the criticism is bogus by definition; and the whole episode just proves what Fox has been saying all along. They are the righteous ones, which is why the forces of darkness are out to get them.

The bottom line for Brian Williams’ bosses at NBC News is money, and journalistic integrity is necessary to keep that money flowing. For Bill O’Reilly’s boss, Roger Ailes, things are just a bit more complicated. Ailes’s genius has always been his ability to make his network simultaneously serve two purposes: making money, and advancing the goals of the Republican Party. An on-air personality could lose his job if he threatened either of those goals, but O’Reilly hasn’t.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 24, 2015

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Journalists | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Handy Way To Shift The Discussion”: How Republicans Will Use Scott Walker’s Lack Of A College Degree To Stir Class Resentment

Since we’re now all fascinated by Scott Walker, there’s been some discussion in the past few days of the fact that Walker would be the first president in many decades who didn’t have a college degree. He left Marquette after four years, and though he apparently was quite a few credits short of graduating, most people would regard it as an unwise career move when you’ve come that far. Nevertheless, Walker did fine for himself, and some conservatives are now holding up his example as a triumphant rebuke to liberal elitism. Anticipating the scorn Walker will receive from those elitists, they rattle off lists of the high-achievers who didn’t get a degree, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

From what I can tell, the only liberal who has actually said that Walker’s lack of a degree is problematic was Howard Dean, in an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. But Dean’s one comment keeps getting cited (see Glenn Reynolds or Deroy Murdock or Charles C.W. Cooke or Chris Cillizza) as evidence that “liberals” are looking down their snooty noses at Walker, and by extension, at the majority of Americans who don’t have a college degree.

Which leads me to believe that this is a vein Republicans may be tapping into repeatedly, particularly if Walker becomes the GOP nominee. It wouldn’t be anything new, though if he himself indulged in it, Walker could come by resentment of pointy-headed intellectuals a little more honestly than, say, George H.W. Bush, graduate of Phillips Andover and Yale, who sneered in 1988 that Michael Dukakis represented the “Harvard boutique.” Walker also recently started battling the University of Wisconsin (beloved within the state, but about which voters in Iowa have no similar feelings, I’m guessing), which should help him portray himself as a crusader against the tenured enemies of real Americans.

Anti-intellectualism has often been an effective way for Republicans to stir up class resentment while distracting from economic issues. It says to voters: Don’t think about who has economic power and which party is advocating for their interests. Don’t aim your disgruntlement at Wall Street, or corporations that don’t pay taxes, or the people who want to keep wages low and make unions a memory. Point it in a different direction, at college professors and intellectuals (and Hollywood, while you’re at it). They’re the ones keeping you down. You got laid off while the CEO took home $20 million last year? Forget about that: The real person to be angry at is a professor of anthropology somewhere who said something mean about Scott Walker because he doesn’t have a degree.

There are going to be more than a few Republicans who see in that argument a handy way to shift the discussion away from economic inequality while still sending the message that they’re on the side of ordinary folks. Here, for instance, is Rush Limbaugh yesterday:

The stories are legion of all the great Americans, successful, who have not graduated from college. And of course the two names that come to people’s mind right off the bat are me and Steve Jobs. And then some people throw Gates in there. So there are three people who have reached the pinnacle, who have not gone to college, and those two or three names get bandied about all the time in this discussion.

But it doesn’t matter. To the elites, that doesn’t matter, it doesn’t mean that they are qualified to be in the elite group. And the elite group in Washington is what we call the ruling class or the D.C. establishment, both parties, or what have you. And it’s especially bad in the Drive-By Media. That is one of the most exclusive and I should say exclusionary groups of people that you can imagine.

If you look at it as a club and look at the admittance requirements, it is one of the most exclusives things to get into. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, doesn’t matter how much money you make, whether you’re more successful than they are, whether you earn more than they do, whether you have a bigger audience than they, doesn’t matter, you are not getting in that club.

Something tells me that somewhere at the RNC there’s an intern who just got an assignment to monitor every bit of mainstream and social media she can for any moment where a liberal says something condescending about Walker. Then Republicans can wave it about like the bloody shirt of liberal elitism. It’s a lot easier than coming up with an economic plan that doesn’t involve upper-income tax cuts.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, February 17, 2015

February 20, 2015 Posted by | Education, Republicans, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Keeping Desperation As High As Possible”: Why The Greedy Upper Class Loves The GOP

Last week, Reihan Salam took a whack at America’s upper class in Slate. His charge? That the upper class uses its considerable political clout to protect itself from competition and keep its own incomes high, thus making life harder on everyone else further down the economic ladder. And he’s not wrong!

But Salam is also a conservative, with a conservative’s standard desire for low taxes, few regulations, and a skimpy social safety net. And what he conveniently leaves out of his screed is the fact that these preferences are themselves the ultimate expression of upper-class greed and self-dealing.

Let’s start with what Salam gets right. He points out that licensing and accreditation laws protect professions like dentists, lawyers, electricians, hairstylists, and the like from competition, which raises the costs of services they provide and prevents other workers from breaking into the market. The local land-use restrictions and zoning regulations that many in the upper class favor drive up housing prices, which makes it harder for the lower class to live in good neighborhoods with good schools, or to benefit from the economic development that comes with gentrification. The upper class seems implicitly content with an immigration status quo that maximizes competition in working-class jobs while minimizing it among high-skill professions. And of course there was the recent collapse of President Obama’s proposal to raise new tax revenue from 529 college savings accounts, a self-interested revolt of the upper class if ever there was one.

However, if you read between the lines, Salam isn’t really talking about the upper class writ large here. He’s talking about the liberal upper class. The issues he cites are mainly a big deal in cities, where liberals cluster. And conservative commentary in general these days has a tendency to talk about the American upper class as if it’s populated entirely by liberal yuppies who love yoga, organic food, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and abortions, and who think that guns are barbaric and that religion is backwards.

As it happens, however, the GOP relies on the upper class even more than Democrats. Median household income in the United States is $52,250, and if you look at the 2012 election, voters below that mark broke hard for Obama, with those above going for Mitt Romney by lesser margins. This trend of the Democrats getting way more votes below the median income level has roughly held for decades. These days, strong support for Republicans really doesn’t kick in until you get close to $75,000, or roughly the top third of the income ladder.

The difference between the parties is not that one relies on the wealthy and one doesn’t. Both parties lean heavily on those voters and divvy them up in various ways. (Mainly through cultural and social issues.) But the Democrats’ coalition also includes a fair portion that’s lower and working class, that’s still fighting for attention in the party, and that occasionally gets it. Conversely, lower- and working-class voters are mostly just absent from the GOP.

This matters because the upper class also has a pretty distinctive set of economic policy preferences. According to a recent study by Pew, the most financially secure Americans — roughly a fourth to a third of the population, by Pew’s definition — disproportionately say that government can’t afford to do more to help the needy, and that poor people “have it easy” thanks to government benefits. The less financially secure think the opposite. Large majorities of those making below $75,000 say the thing that bothers them the most about taxes is that the wealthy don’t pay their fair share. Large majorities of Americans oppose cuts to everything from Social Security and Medicare to aid for the poor. They support making union organizing easier and more federal spending on education.

Hell, 57 percent of the Republican or Republican-leaning voters who do make less than $30,000 think government doesn’t do enough to support poor people.

The reason the GOP can get away with being on the opposite side on all these matters is the fact that the voting population skews upper class: Even Democrats in the top third of the income distribution are noticeably more economically right-wing than poorer Democrats or Republicans, and Republicans in the top third are really economically right-wing.

There’s a pretty straightforward argument for why the upper class tilts in this direction. As Salam notes, the policy preferences of the upper class that really stick in his craw boil down to protecting their incomes and thus making the goods and services they provide more expensive for everyone else. But the flip side of that is making sure the goods and services everyone else provides — and thus their incomes — come cheap. That’s where the GOP comes in.

The essence of worker bargaining power is the ability to tell an employer “no.” That forces business owners to offer a better deal, driving up wages and benefits. A broad and generous welfare state gives workers leverage in that regard. It also helps boost aggregate demand, getting us closer to the full employment that really gives workers an edge. In short, the income of the working class is inversely proportional to its level of economic desperation. The effect of conservatives’ preferred economic policies — from slashing spending to imposing work requirements for aid — is to keep that desperation as high as possible. And of course, the upper class certainly doesn’t want to shoulder the taxes necessary to make such a system work.

The thing to remember is that, when it comes to what to do with the working class, the interests of the upper class and the super-rich cohere. Whether you’re a corporate CEO, a small-business owner, or just a well-heeled professional who consumes a lot of high-end goods and services, it benefits you to keep the labor of everyday Americans as cheap, compliant, and disposable as possible. It’s true, as Salam notes, that the truly rich aren’t quite as desperate to defend their interests as the upper class is; if you’ve got Mitt Romney’s dough, you can put up with more taxes, regulations, and workers demanding dignified pay and good benefits.

But that just bolsters the point that the fervent bastion of the economic right is the upper class. They’ve got the most to gain by slashing taxes, cutting regulations, scrapping government aid programs, and busting unions.

As Salam acknowledges, he doesn’t want high taxes on the wealthy, or for America to go down the road of the big European welfare states. His fellow reform conservatives and the Republican Party agree with him in this regard. Salam then says of the upper class: “I sensed that their gut political instincts were all about protecting what they had and scratching out the eyeballs of anyone who dared to suggest taking it away from them.”

But aren’t conservative economic policies the perfect expression of that exact impulse?


By: Jeff Spross, The Week, February 3, 2015

February 6, 2015 Posted by | Economic Inequality, GOP, Upper Class | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Who Cares About Ideology?”: Why Jeb Bush Is Taking Big Risk In Pandering To Conservative Primary Voters

It’s never too early to start questioning the assumptions that guide presidential campaign coverage, whether they concern what candidates do and why they do it, what impact their decisions have, or how voters actually view the whole sordid extravaganza. And there are plenty of those just waiting to be unpacked and cast aside.

Today Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist writing for the New York Times, has what looks like some good news for Jeb Bush. She looks back at weekly polling data from 2012, and declares that if Mitt Romney moved to the right to win the primaries, the public seems not to have noticed. This might suggest that Bush — who has a couple of issue positions that conservative voters don’t like — is free to pander in the primaries to his heart’s content, without worrying about whether it might hurt him in the general election.

But I fear that Vavreck may be forgetting about a myth far more important than the one she’s trying to debunk. Before I explain, here’s the heart of her argument:

Because we have data every week, we can assess changes in average placements of the candidates over the course of the primaries and the general election. The data show that people’s views about the candidates’ ideologies didn’t move over the course of 2012. The lines are essentially flat.

For example, most people started and ended the election year believing, on average, that Mr. Romney was conservative, but not too much so. Any shifting, message-adjusting or pandering that Mr. Romney did during the primaries in 2012 did not hurt him in the general election by making him seem more conservative than he was earlier in the year, and it’s not at all clear it helped him in the primaries either. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, started the election year twice as far away from voters, on average, than Mr. Romney was and got farther away over the course of the year….

These three pieces of evidence — that Mr. Romney was thought to be no less conservative before the primaries than during or after them, that his average rating didn’t shift much at all during the entire year, and that he was ideologically closer to most voters than Mr. Obama — bust the myth that Republicans lost the 2012 election because of ideological shifts in the primaries.

This would appear to tell us that that Romney suffered not at all from his often comical attempts to pander to the Republican base in the primaries, and therefore such pandering poses no danger for Jeb Bush. But is that really true? To believe it, we’d have to believe that this poll question — asking voters to place a candidate on an ideological scale — captures the pandering phenomenon.

But there’s reason to believe it doesn’t. First of all, it’s possible that the pandering registered with many voters as something more like “Mitt Romney is running around telling people what they want to hear,” rather than “Mitt Romney is more conservative than he used to be.” It’s absolutely vital to remember that most Americans are not like those of us who care deeply about politics. Because politics isn’t something they think too much about, they don’t necessarily have a firm grip on even some of the most basic distinctions between the parties. Many don’t even know what it means for one candidate to be a “liberal” and another to be a “conservative.”

That may sound like an elitist thing to say, but it’s true. The National Election Studies has been asking respondents for many years which is the more conservative party. In recent years about two-thirds have been able to provide the right answer, which is actually an improvement over the 1980′s and 1990′s, when barely half could tell you. Think about that for a moment: a full third of Americans don’t know which is the “conservative” party.

It’s also vital to remember that when you look at all of them together, the public always perceives the Democratic presidential candidate to be farther to the left than the Republican candidate is to the right when they’re forced to answer the question. This is a phenomenon driven almost entirely by Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, who tend to describe the Democratic candidate as an extreme liberal, almost irrespective of who he actually is. The more partisan loyalties harden, the clearer the effect becomes. Here’s an excerpt from a 2003 article I wrote in my former life as an academic, citing NES data:

Republicans always perceive the Democratic candidate as much more liberal than Democrats and independents perceive him to be. Bill Clinton is the clearest case: while Democrats and independents placed him at about the same ideological position as most other Democratic candidates, in 1996 strong Republicans thought Bill Clinton was more liberal than previous strong Republicans had found Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, and even George McGovern.

That’s obviously not a judgment based in some kind of rational assessment of what a candidate stands for. More recently, you can see the phenomenon in this Gallup poll from the 2012 primaries. Democrats, Republicans, and independents all rated the Republican candidates about the same on an ideological scale, but Republicans saw Barack Obama as being far, far more liberal than Democrats or independents saw him. That ends up pulling the candidate’s overall rating toward the perception of Republicans. So when Vavreck tells us that Barack Obama was perceived as farther from voters ideologically than Mitt Romney was, she’s actually describing an old phenomenon that tells us little about what actually happened in 2012.

What’s the lesson here if you’re Jeb Bush — or, for that matter, some other Republican who feels the need to genuflect before conservative primary voters? It isn’t that pandering will have no cost. Wherever they put Mitt Romney on an ideological scale, voters rated him as less honest and trustworthy than Barack Obama, and his performance in the primaries probably had something to do with that. The lesson is probably that “ideology,” at least as political junkies understand it, is something that doesn’t matter all that much to most voters.

They aren’t going to say, “Well, I thought he was a 2.4 on the ideology scale, but I’ve concluded that he’s actually a 3.1, so I’m voting against him.” If Jeb Bush can pander and shift about ideologically while still convincing voters he’s a man of principle who can be trusted — no easy task — then if nothing else he’ll have one less thing to worry about. But if he can’t, then he’s much more likely to wind up like Mitt Romney.


  1. By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 2, 2015

January 5, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Election 2016, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In The Wrong Line Of Work”: Justice Scalia’s Unfortunate Entry Into The Torture Debate

When it comes to the issue of torture, it’s been a discouraging week. Not only was the Senate Intelligence Committee report a heartbreaking indictment of an American scandal, but the argument surrounding the revelations started breaking far too much along partisan and ideological lines.

Antonin Scalia isn’t helping. The Associated Press reported today that the far-right Supreme Court justice joined the debate, such as it is, “by saying it is difficult to rule out the use of extreme measures to extract information if millions of lives were threatened.”

Scalia tells a Swiss radio network that American and European liberals who say such tactics may never be used are being self-righteous.

The 78-year-old justice says he doesn’t “think it’s so clear at all,” especially if interrogators were trying to find a ticking nuclear bomb.

Scalia says nothing in the Constitution appears to prohibit harsh treatment of suspected terrorists.

The interview took place at the court on Wednesday, the day after the release of the Senate report detailing the CIA’s harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists. Radio Television Suisse aired the interview on Friday.

I think some caution is probably in order. The AP ran a five-paragraph article, and it seems entirely plausible, but there’s exactly one, six-word quote in that piece. Everything else is a paraphrase, and to offer a detailed response to Scalia’s take, we’d need to know exactly what the justice argued.

That said, if the AP report is accurate, Scalia’s perspective is deeply ridiculous.

For one thing, opposition to torture need not be the result of self-righteousness. Brutally abusing prisoners is about humanity, basic decency, and the existence of a moral compass. For another, the “ticking bomb” argument is childish and unserious.

As for the Constitution, it’s true that the document is silent on the issue of treating suspected terrorists, but it’s not silent on “cruel and unusual punishment.” And according to the CIA’s records, rectal feeding and hydration were forced on detainees without medical need – and the leap from that point to “cruel and unusual” seems quite small.

I’d still like to see a more detailed transcript of Scalia’s comments, but let’s just make this plain as part of the larger conversation: torture is wrong, it’s immoral, it undermines our security interests, and it’s illegal.

If Scalia is prepared to publicly argue otherwise, he’s in the wrong line of work.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 12, 2014

December 14, 2014 Posted by | Antonin Scalia, CIA, Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment


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