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“Fox ‘News’ Proof Of Old P.T. Barnum Adage”: Fox Is A Belief System, Not A News Network

Every once in a while the universe arranges itself to make you look smarter than you are. Lucky me, I am having such a moment now.

Last month, when NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ career imploded as he was caught in a high-profile, self-aggrandizing lie, I suggested in this space that there would be much less angst or fallout if someone from Fox “News” were caught lying.

Enter Bill O’Reilly.

Shortly after I wrote that, the liberal Mother Jones magazine ran a story questioning his claim to have been in the combat zone in the Falkland Islands while covering that war for CBS. From his Fox podium, O’Reilly dismissed Mother Jones as the “bottom rung of journalism in America,” which was gushing praise next to his takedown of reporter David Corn, a “liar,” an “irresponsible guttersnipe,” a “far-left zealot” and “dumb.”

Since then, however, other news organizations have reported other instances of questionable assertions on O’Reilly’s part.

For instance, he has long said he was outside the home of a figure in the John F. Kennedy assassination and heard the shot when the man killed himself. That suicide happened in Palm Beach. Former colleagues say O’Reilly was in Dallas that day.

He has claimed he was “attacked by protesters” while covering the 1992 Los Angeles riots for Inside Edition. Former colleagues say he is exaggerating an incident where an angry man took a piece of rubble to a camera.

O’Reilly has said he witnessed the execution of a group of American nuns in El Salvador. That happened in 1980. O’Reilly apparently did not reach El Salvador until 1981.

For the one falsehood, Williams received a six-month suspension without pay. For a handful of apparent falsehoods, O’Reilly has received unstinting support from his bosses at Fox.

This rather neatly makes the point I sought to make a month ago. Namely, that Fox — the window-dressing presence of a few bona fide reporters notwithstanding — is not a real news-gathering organization but, rather, the propaganda arm of an extreme right wing that grows ever more cult-like and detached from reality as time goes by. Fox is a belief system, not a news network. Exhibit A is the fact that O’Reilly is not now fighting for his professional life.

To anticipate what his believers will say in his defense: Yes, he is a pundit and yes, pundits are entitled to their opinions. But that does not release them from the obligation to be factual.

It is telling that Fox recently responded to sharp questions about all this from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow by sending her a statement noting that O’Reilly’s ratings are up despite the controversy. To act as if ratings answer, or even address, questions of credibility is to express contempt for the very notion of credibility. It suggests Fox’s full-body embrace of the old saying, often attributed to Barnum, about the birth rate of suckers.

But why shouldn’t Fox be sanguine? People who mistake it for a news outlet will never hold it accountable for failing to be one, because in the final analysis, news is not really what it promises them, nor what they seek. Rather, what it promises and what they seek is an alternate reality wherein birthers make sensible arguments, death panels are real, Trayvon was the thug, Sarah Palin is a misunderstood genius, and all your inchoate fears of the looming Other are given intellectual cover so they no longer look like the scaredy-cat bigotry they are.

It gives its viewers what they need. It tells them what they want to hear.

Because it does and because that’s all they ask, O’Reilly’s troubles will soon very likely blow away. Yes, he is apparently a serial fabulist. And yes, that would disqualify you from most newsrooms.

But this is Fox.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 11, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Journalism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tough-Guy, Manly-Man Magical Thinking”: There’s Only One Thing That Could Actually Get Bill O’Reilly In Trouble, And It’s Not Lying

Why is it that when Brian Williams makes up war stories he loses his reputation and six months of his career, but when Bill O’Reilly spouts the same sort of chest-pounding bull, he ends up even tighter with his audience and his network?

It’s not as if O’Reilly’s fabrications were less outrageous than Williams’s. O’Reilly has claimed he was a heroic network correspondent in the “war zone” (meaning Buenos Aires) at the end of the Falklands war while his CBS colleagues were “ hiding” in a hotel. More Zelig-y than Williams, O’Reilly has repeatedly placed himself at the Florida front door of a shady figure in the investigation of JFK’s assassination just in time to hear the self-inflicted gunshot that ended the man’s life (when there’s a cascade of evidence that Bill was in Dallas at the time).

When Media Matters debunked O’Reilly’s claims to have seen four nuns “get shot in the back of the head” in El Salvador in 1981, he slickly skated away, saying he meant he had seen images of that slaughter and that “no one could possibly” misunderstand his sterling intentions. The latest of O’Reilly’s fairytales to fracture is that protesters bombarded him with rocks and bricks during the 1992 LA riots; not so, say colleagues who were there.

Not in spite of, but because of all this, O’Reilly’s TV ratings this week have surged, as fans rally to him and the curious tune in to see if the cable news giant will admit to even one substantial fib. Of course, he won’t. After countering the Falklands charges on Sunday with a misleading clip, he’s been brushing off the other charges as baseless political assaults from “liars,” “far-left zealots,” and “guttersnipes.”

Unlike NBC and the other networks, which at least aspire to fact-based reporting, it’s in Fox’s DNA to re-invent reality by massaging facts and destroying context, because, as Jon Stewart said, all that “matters to the right is discrediting anything that they believe harms their side.” One of the central tenets of Fox News is that conservative white men are under constant attack from the liberal media, and the O’Reilly flap, which was initially kicked off by Greg Grandin in The Nation and then David Corn in Mother Jones, fits that narrative all too well. (As Grandin and others point out, O’Reilly’s personal pufferies are the least of his reportorial sins.)

No matter how accurate the hits on O’Reilly’s false machismo are, they only make him seem more righteous to his audience. Liberal attacks on right-wing manliness—like pointing out the chicken-hawk status of Cheney & company—have no standing with Fox viewers. “O’Reilly has been given an opportunity to wage war against a phalanx of liberal media aggressors,” Gabriel Sherman writes in New York magazine. “This is what his audience expects.”

Is there nothing that could turn their audience away from them? Doesn’t Fox, like the rest of us, have an Achilles Heel?

Actually, they do, and it’s related to that tough-guy, manly-man act. Conservatives can bluster and bully like steroidal hysterics on any topic, but when they turn their scorn on an individual, usually younger, woman, they risk the ire of Christians, Republican women, and anyone with a working creep detector. As Sherman writes:

One indication that O’Reilly is waging a calculated media campaign is to compare his ferocious response to a true scandal with career-ending implications: the 2004 lawsuit by a Fox News producer named Andrea Mackris, who accused O’Reilly of having lurid phone sex. In my biography of Ailes, I reported how Ailes and Rupert Murdoch were furious at O’Reilly for creating the humiliating mess. Ailes instructed O’Reilly that if he spoke out in public, he was in danger of losing his show. Aside from a handful of muted comments, O’Reilly remained silent about the allegations. His ratings held, and O’Reilly hung on to his job.

Likewise, Rush Limbaugh was seen as pretty much invincible until he, too, attacked a younger woman. In 2012, he called the then–Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a ”slut” for supporting mandated contraceptive insurance coverage. “She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex,” he said. In return, he added, he wanted Fluke to post videos of her having sex “online so we can all watch.” Advertisers began to flee the show, to the point where, according to Media Matters’s Angelo Carusone, “the commercial viability of Rush Limbaugh’s radio program has collapsed and remains that way.”

From O’Reilly and Limbaugh to Todd (“legitimate rape”) Akin and James O’Keefe (the GOP prankster whose plans to lure a CNN reporter onto a boat, and seduce her, in 2010, signaled his serious fade-out), sex and gender snafus appear to be one of the few reliable forms of white male kryptonite. You catch a right-winger making his sexual appetites overly vivid or venting them on an identifiable woman instead of an abstract policy, and boom!

That’s the burden of being “the Daddy Party,” and if it faces a “Mommy Party” headed by Hillary Clinton in 2016, it will be a particularly heavy one. If they launch a sexually aggressive campaign that backfires, they’ll surely feel victimized all over again.

Until then, Bill O’Reilly is safe (contrary, I think, to Maddow’s take). He and his viewers are in this together. They need just a drop of plausible deniability (Bill couldn’t have lied—he showed us a tape!) to go on accepting his nightly rants. Part of Fox’s contract with conservative Americans is the right to think magically and to (as Karl Rove told Ron Suskind) “create our own reality.”

Bill can hear a magic gunshot. He can experience war in an upscale downtown neighborhood. He can get hit by make-believe bricks.

And, for now, he can Houdini himself out of all the traps he’s set for himself.

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, February 27, 2015

February 28, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Brian Williams | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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