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November 21, 2002 7:59 AM   Subscribe

A pinhead editorial writer's adventure in the No Spin Zone. Not intending to post another partisan attack on Bill O'Reilly, but rather an interesting example from start to finish of how the host of a "fair" debate show calls every shot from minute one, and why, frankly, it's just not worth it to watch American news channels anymore. [More within...]
posted by XQUZYPHYR (46 comments total)

 
I'm not trying to attack specifically O'Reilly here- in fact, I attended a taping of Donahue a few weeks back that had the same unfairness- in a debate about the merits of executing minors Phil decides to bring out a stream of mothers whose children were executed in tragic, horrible, yet inarguable out-of-the-ordinary circumstances. The benefit of a live audience gave even more credence to the mob "anyone who is against what I'm saying is pure evil" mentality of the debate. (Donahue pulled a similar stunt earlier this year when he debated someone defending violence in video games by bringing on the mother of a Columbine massacre victim.)

The question I'm wondering is this: why is this still going on? For an example, does the New York Times really need the publicity or marketing that one of its writers appearing on, say, Crossfire would generate? We're talking about a niche cable market that has astronomically lower overall viewership in comparison to any music or entertainment-based network. Yet O'Reilly "invites" a guest on to attack his opinions, and does essentially everything he would do if the person didn't come on at all- declare their opinion worthless, degrade them using his position, and advocate a slew of e-mail attacks on whoever he just degraded.

In other words, shouldn't the guests have the clout over the producers? When one of these talk shows does a segment about how horrible a newspaper was in some story they covered, why hasn't a major print media outlet come of with the idea yet to enact a de facto boycott of any talk show they object to, rather than the exact opposite of going on the show in an attempt to defend themselves- something that, as this article exemplifies, the host of said show specifically does not want them to do? Or is it a fantasy to suggest that enough entities would actually threaten to boycott programming to affect it?

The argument might be raised that if none of one side of the political table comes to the debate it will be dominated by the other… but those complaints already exist: just as many claim there is a liberal media as they do remind us of the near-total dominance of right-wing voices on American talk radio… so if both sides believe there is a bias, why not just drop the damn act? Admit a political leaning, acknowledge that 90% of your programming has become "opinion" forums anyway, and run with it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:00 AM on November 21, 2002


That said, best line of the article:

This would be more amusing than disturbing but for the fact that suddenly we were inundated with calls from O'Reillyngs threatening to cancel their [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] subscriptions -- because of an editorial that had been published two weeks earlier without causing any great controversy. Some of these people were even from Pittsburgh.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:03 AM on November 21, 2002


not worth it to watch American news channels anymore
not since cronkite retired.
posted by quonsar at 8:18 AM on November 21, 2002


Was this posted for political purposes, news purposes, to troll or just as a rant really? Just curious.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:23 AM on November 21, 2002


I am surprised hardcore O'Reillyngs would have a subscription to post-gazette in the first place.
posted by Recockulous at 8:25 AM on November 21, 2002


Personally I can't tolerate O'Reilly. That said - it's a free market, let the shows/newspapers live and die by their ratings/circulation.

I wouldn't expect fairness from a TV show any more than I would expect the local paper to reprint a letter without exercising editorial discretion.
posted by revbrian at 8:25 AM on November 21, 2002


As I'm not from the US, can somebody explain O'Reilly to me?
I gather he is some kind of right-wing talkshow host?
posted by sebas at 8:27 AM on November 21, 2002


You gather correctly sebas. A hypocritical lying one at that. Not worth a channel change. A real favorite of the knuckle draggers though.
posted by nofundy at 8:33 AM on November 21, 2002


Here's a thought.
posted by UKnowForKids at 8:39 AM on November 21, 2002


Was this posted for political purposes, news purposes, to troll or just as a rant really? Just curious.

No, no, oh gimme a fucking break considering what everyone else wrote in this thread, and no. I went out of my way to emphasize that I'm not trying to make a partisan attack on the specific leanings of a news channel as much as noting the frustration that these news channels continue to pretend that they don't have a leaning, or that they, as this article shows in example, go out of their way to limit the very independence they claim is the selling point of their network.

My question was if the American media would be better just admitting a bias, or is it still "worth fighting" to eliminate that bias? It wasn't a question of "boy, I hate Fox News, don't you?" It's more a question of which would be easier/better- striving to have a legitimate balanced media, or striving to have an openly partisan one? I feel that either way it shows more respect for the intelligence of the American viewer than the current format.

However, in openness: Uknow, I'm aware of that site because, ironically, I FPPed it here. So I enjoy the joke, but I honestly am NOT trying to make this an "attack Bill O'Reilly" thread.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:51 AM on November 21, 2002


How can any news channel be truly unbiased? Computers don't choose news stories, people do. Not that it makes it right, or makes it what should be occurring, but I'm just trying to put some different perspective here. I'm all for unbiased reporting, but I just don't think it can happen.

So, in a way, I think that makes admitting a bias somewhat unnecessary. If you dislike a media outlet, choose a different one, I say.
posted by angry modem at 9:00 AM on November 21, 2002


why is this still going on?

because his show is the highest rated nightly show on cable. It is that simple. Last time I checked, he had the ratings of the next two competitors combined. If you are selling a 'book/newspaper/point of view' the easiest way to get it out to a large number of people is to appear on the 'Factor'. The reason his viewer ship is so large is because just as many people who love him watch, as those who hate him. But that doesn't matter, they are watching.

As for why he is the biggest fish in the sea? Well have you watched Larry King lately? People tune in to see guests be 'challenged' in their ideas, not just have a hour long chat. It is this confrontation that draws views.

This sums it up best:
I don't think people have grasped why CNN is being overtaken in popularity stakes by Fox News. I don't think it's because the former is more liberal than the latter. True, CNN has somewhat of a liberal bias, but in more subtle ways than Fox's rampant conservatism. The reason:
Fox News actually talks about the issues in a smart engaged way. However much you may loathe the self-righteousness of O'Reilly, he at least talks about the pertinent topics of the day. Personally, I can't stand the man, but find myself strangely drawn to his program. What do I get on CNN? Mindless balderdash, pathetic "human interest" stories with Larry King and Connie Chung. How can anyone under 60 find such drivel interesting? Well, maybe they don't, and now they have an alternative. So rather than play it down, maybe CNN should play up the liberal card, and debate the issues in a spirited manner. They don't get it: they can only win back viewers with substance, not Paula Zahn's breasts. Strange it took Fox News to teach it this lesson.

posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:04 AM on November 21, 2002


OK, if you promise its not just a rant... (boy have I been snarky lately, sorry folks, I'll cut down on the caffeine, or maybe increase it)

However much you may loathe the self-righteousness of O'Reilly, he at least talks about the pertinent topics of the day.

Yeah Ludacris and VH1 specials are really pertinent news of the day. Please let's call a spade a spade here, just because a media "personality" (such a BS word) rants in a way you more politically subscribe towards does not make their coverage "talks about the issues in a smart engaged way" He's just as full of crap as the next guy, the point is if they admitted to how much crap they were full of the mystique of the "intelligent" news anchor would be lost and they would have no viewers anymore!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:17 AM on November 21, 2002


What is immoral about Bill O in this instance is that he is mere entertainment. He is paid very well to take a conservative stance on issues. Yet, this entertainment has forced the prisoners, described within the article of simply sharing music as some sort of solace at best, or at minimum a social activity, to be stripped of this function entirely.

So, Bill Os money maker has made the lives of of others several degrees more miserable.

The Marx brothers provided intelligent, ridiculous entertainment. It's a burden and a shame that Bill O in a sleazy and filthy way, employs dogma and self interest to not only entertain, but to injure and aggrieve for the sake of profit.

Lastly, the distress he causes others is not a by-product of something larger, such as Shell in Nigeria. For Bill O, misery is the product alone.
posted by four panels at 9:20 AM on November 21, 2002


It's a valid argument, Steve, but this Pittsburgh reporter's entire article is sort of about how Sullivan's opinion is completely untrue: outside of the scant chance that this reporter is fabricating the most detailed of lies, O'Reilly blatantly went out of the way to prevent a smart, engaging debate.

And the spin of "most popular nightly program on cable" is just that- spin. The category of "nightly cable program" means cable news, being the only non-rerun program on cable that actually airs nightly. In other words, Fox News is currently the most popular out of three networks that fit in that category. Umm... wow? A weekly cable wrestling program beats all three of them, so why don't the pundits promote themselves in that ad space? Cable news is among the smallest of niche markets ratings-wise, so I find it hard to believe ratings is the primary motivation for the guests... it's something only the networks themselves care about (as well as posters on DUG and FreeRepublic for bragging rights.)

I think it's equally ridiculous to use one network's review of another's schlock against the other. I'm amazed at how often and how frequently Fox News now takes swings at Paula Zahn, as if they didn't, you know, have her as one of their own respected anchors for several years. Sullivan is also very hypocritical in stating CNN as "mindless balderdash" as if that's supposed to be a fact, while fabricating this myth that Fox has never, ever done human interest or fluff pieces. (Boy, I REALLY needed five hours of debate in one day about the merits of a Celebrity Boxing show that "coincidentally" was on another Fox network.) I don't mind accusing a network of a bias in a specific piece, but to virtually canonize another when the majority of its new stories are identical coverage of the same item makes no sense.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:28 AM on November 21, 2002


Computers don't choose news stories, people do.

Not always.
posted by piskycritter at 9:28 AM on November 21, 2002


bah, that's the exception to the rule, and you know it. Besides, they still link to human-written news stories. ;-)
posted by angry modem at 9:42 AM on November 21, 2002


Sullivan's opinion
Actually it is the opinion of an unnamed reader of Sullivan's blog, posted under the 'letter' section. Just giving credit where credit is due....

As for the article that you posted, Yes I watched that episode of the the show, and Bill was an ass. And he received a gigantic amount of hate mail over it, and apologized the next night.

In other words, Fox News is currently the most popular out of three networks that fit in that category. Umm... wow?

Well I tell you what, If I was selling my a book, I would not mind having that kind of exposure that you dismiss out of hand...

Considering that there is a large portion of the population that does not watch network news, that makes the rating significant by itself.

I'm amazed at how often and how frequently Fox News now takes swings at Paula Zahn

The author of that letter may have, but I am yet to hear anyone from FOX take a swing a Zahn. Bill actually interviewed her and plugged her CNN show...

But I digress, I am not a cheerleader for FOX News.

four panels: I will not argue with you at this point in time, if prisoners should have right to "share music" but do not give me a pity story for some sum-bag who shot and killed to random female college student for no reason, because now he can't hold a rock show for other prisoners.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:54 AM on November 21, 2002


correction: two random female college student
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:56 AM on November 21, 2002


Media celebrities like O'Reilly love nothing more than being the news themselves and therefore they live for discussions like this one. For those of you who watch him, keep an eye out for how many times he puts himself into the story.

He promises things we all want to hear and things we all would love modern media to be: a fair place where all sides of an issue get a fair and unbalanced hearing. (Which is why people watch him, to see if he really is the next Howard Beale).

In the end he turns out to be the worst of modern media: a one-sided celebrity shouting match.

And eventually the story will be "whatever happened to..." -- maybe VH1 will do a cheap, exploitative version of it. Film at 11.
posted by victors at 10:15 AM on November 21, 2002


"What I'm going to need here Bill is a little more cowbell!"
posted by Pollomacho at 10:59 AM on November 21, 2002


To think that this show glamorized prison life is to have not watched this show. It was brutally depressing in my opinion. Imagine all the lameness of a lame metal band playing in a bar to 10 people in the midwest. Now envision that scenario played out in prison, and that one lame show was the one thing these guys had too look forward to all year. Then back to the cell.

It was hardly glamorous or appealing.
posted by glenwood at 11:05 AM on November 21, 2002


news.google.com may be the exception for now, but it's also the solution. Sure, the individual stories are written by people, but the easy overall view that news.google.com can provide is something that will only gain popularity. At least with people who have intellectual curiosity.
posted by jragon at 11:19 AM on November 21, 2002


four panels: nothing you say makes any sense. I don't see anything immoral about what Bill O'Reilly is doing, unless sharing your opinion is immoral (you don't seem to have any qualms with this one, nor do I).

I personally like him because of his up-front personality, though I disagree with him politically quite often (he scared the hell out of me when he said once there should be Federalized neighborhood watch programs). Immoral? I guess if making money is immoral, then stone him, I say.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:48 AM on November 21, 2002


I am yet to hear anyone from FOX take a swing at Zahn.

Steve, if you never saw any of this, you don't watch Fox much. Roger Ailes was practically instructing anchors to attack Zahn on-air. (All stories culled from Free Republic, truly a bastion of the anti-Fox News establishment.)
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:52 AM on November 21, 2002


insomnyuk - I think 4 panels was not saying that HIS opinion is immoral, but that what he says on the air is the opinion of the right-wing pundit played by Bill O'Reilly. He's playing a character, much like Rush or any pundit. Its infotainment, not real news and yet it still has the power to cause misery, THAT is immoral. The 3 Stooges only hurt each other with their schtick, Bill and his ilk hurt others with theirs.

Not to speak for you 4 panels...
posted by Pollomacho at 12:06 PM on November 21, 2002


Xquzyphr: None of your three links worked...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:13 PM on November 21, 2002


I've wondered why O'Reilly has appeal, and I think the answer is aggression. It's the up-front personality that insomnyuk admires. Can you imagine a left wing liberal running a show like O'Reilly's? No way, because no liberal would have the aggressiveness to tell a guest to "shut up" and then continue their rant. Liberals appear soft in the arena of cable news.
posted by letitrain at 12:18 PM on November 21, 2002


Xquzyphr: None of your three links worked...

The links work, the server is very, very slow...
posted by victors at 12:22 PM on November 21, 2002


Odd, 15 mins ago a I got 404s, now they work...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:37 PM on November 21, 2002


Jragon:

You might be interested in Cass Sunstein's slightly different take on internet news (my apologies if you've seen this already).
posted by singmesomething at 12:43 PM on November 21, 2002


I don't have cable, and I would never dream of listening to right-wing talk radio, so my only exposure to O'Reilly has been through a couple episodes of Politically Incorrect on which he appeared (I had a real love-hate relationship with that show, but I'm finding that I miss it now that it's gone...). I wasn't impressed by him at all: this "attack dog" of the right was reserved and apparently hesitant to speak up. He said a couple authoritative-sounding but uncontroversial things, but he was mostly ignored. I'm guessing that a good bit of his aggression on his own show comes from knowing he's in charge. He doesn't seem nearly as willing to stick his neck out in someone else's forum.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:54 PM on November 21, 2002


Politically Incorrect... I'm finding that I miss it now that it's gone...

Mr Roboto, you will have to get cable now, Maher is getting a one hour uncensored show on HBO starting this Feb...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:59 PM on November 21, 2002


Sunstein's Republic.com describes the dangers of MeFi to a tee but his ultimate point is that news outlets (like Fox tries to be) are required.
posted by victors at 1:02 PM on November 21, 2002


Great. Just what I need. "It's Bill Maher, but now he can say 'fuck' as much as he wants!" Truly we have filled the post-Miller void. (Kills self)
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:13 PM on November 21, 2002


I wonder how pissed Dennis Miller is. From what I understand, he didn't want to leave.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:25 PM on November 21, 2002


Well, according to Dan Savage, even tightly controlled shows like O'Reilly's No Spin Zone provide some delightfully unexpected entertainment every so often.
posted by tyro urge at 1:26 PM on November 21, 2002


Liberals appear soft in the arena of cable news.

SHUT UP! CONSERVATIVE SCUMBAGS ARE ALWAY YELLING ALL THE TIME. RARELY CLOSING THEIR MOUTHES ENOUGH TO THINK- WHICH EXPLAINS THEIR POSITIONS.

there, can I have the job?
posted by drezdn at 8:30 PM on November 21, 2002


but I am yet to hear anyone from FOX take a swing a Zahn
Fox Slings Mud at CNN's Paula Zahn
" Ailes set a tone for the post-Zahn era with a comment that quickly became legendary, in part with the help of Fox's on-air personalities. In an article about Zahn's firing, he minimized how she had improved ratings in her time slot while at Fox News Channel.
"I could have put a dead raccoon on the air this year and got a better rating than last year," Ailes told The New York Times. "That's all just the growth of our network. All our shows are up."
Subsequently, the "Fox & Friends" anchors talked about Zahn on the air with a stuffed raccoon toy on the table in front of them.
Fox anchor Steve Doocy, cameras in tow, presented Zahn with a gift basket including the stuffed raccoon after the new studio opened. "
Not that I give a crap about Miss Zahn. I think she's a perfect nonentity in the 24-hour news biz.

Conservatives are better on cable because they know how to work the medium. Liberals are more along the side of the Donahues of the world who mistake 60seconds of time as the venue to make a reasoned stance on the world. The only liberals who seem to have half a brain about how to work cable news/talk radio are James Carville and Paul Begala. Until the left comes up with its own Sean Hannitys and Rush Limbaughs, they will be doomed to purgatory.

That said, I have an opening on my schedule.
posted by owillis at 9:34 PM on November 21, 2002


Hhhmmm ... writer goes on show. Moderator of show - being, as he is, in total control of the show, uses show to make the point he wants to make. Writer, being in total control of his column, uses column to make the point he wants to make.

Difference? Writer was on moderator's show. Moderator not even interviewed for column. Moderator, however, is being taken to task for hanging up - cutting short the interview. Writer can't be accused of the same thing ... since no interview was even offered.

A well-played hand ... almost well-played enough to mask the distinct smell of sour grapes.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:35 PM on November 21, 2002


How soon the conservatives forget Rush and Dr. Laura's non-cable failures.
posted by drezdn at 10:16 PM on November 21, 2002


Difference?

the writer didn't treat anyone discourteously, or squelch anyone's opinion.
posted by mcsweetie at 5:46 AM on November 22, 2002


Would Mike Moore be a good liberal 'answer' (what's the question, anyway?) to Bill O'Reilly? I could imagine him verbally kicking the crap out of right-wing guests/victims. I might even enjoy that, if only as a nice change :). The question is really how fast he can think on his feet, how stingingly caustic he can be, and how well he can project moral authority. Those are all the skills required for the position. Actual knowledge and willingness to think seem to be a distinct disadvantage to a talk show host, to our general cost.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:59 AM on November 22, 2002


The question is really how fast he can think on his feet

He can't... His trick is to edit film to his advantage to make others look stupid (See Roger & Me)
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 8:28 AM on November 22, 2002


How do you know how fast he can think on his feet?

In the live interviews and public appearances of Moore's I've seen, he does a pretty good job of thinking on his feet and reacting quckly. Not that I always agree with him (bleeding-heart liberal though I am.)
posted by Vidiot at 1:01 PM on November 22, 2002


Michael Moore resembles a punching bag when faced with folks on the right that know tv bluster - see any of his appearances on Politically Incorrect for evidence. He does have a Limbaugh-esque truth deficiency though.
posted by owillis at 12:38 AM on November 23, 2002


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