Bill O’Reilly: Clowntime Is Over

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He was known by many many nicknames: Papa Bear. Bill O The Clown. The Frank Burns of Television News.

These are the polite nicknames I can write.

I don’t want to even bother with the rude ones.

Besides, we have to remember the television career of the one, the only, Bill O’Reilly.

Yes, darling readers, let’s remember the late ’80s.

There was a new thing called “tabloid news” and it was going to ruin America. O’Reilly was the replacement host for Inside Edition, after working at CBS and ABC news. For the life of me I can’t remember any specific interviews or stories he covered. Of course, I do remember the tantrum he threw when frustrated (“We’ll do it live!!!”). In 1995 he left the show to get a Masters in public administration at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Before anyone could miss him, he got his own show on a spanking new news channel: Fox News.

O’Reilly declared his show the “no spin zone.” Meaning, don’t try and make the news not as bad it seems. He had his “Talking Points Memo” with the highlights displayed on the screen. He also had the Word of the Day (he was very fond of the word “pithy”) would talk with guests (faves included Michelle Malkin, Bernard Goldberg, and Dennis Miller) then would read viewer mail (if you agreed with him and mentioned it several times, you could get a free book by O’Reilly himself).

O’Reilly considered himself a “serious” journalist. His hero was Mike Wallace. Like Wallace, O’Reilly did the “ambush interview” where the show would catch someone off guard, then ask them questions about a certain topic the person for sure didn’t want to talk about. However, there were differences between O’Reilly and Wallace: Wallace usually did the ambush interview himself and confronted pornographers, pedophile priests, and shady insurance people, while O’Reilly would send a correspondent to do the ambushing.

Wallace was trying to get to the bottom of a story, make a difference.

O’Reilly used the ambush interview to go after people who attacked him in the media.

Case in point: Amanda Terkel wrote an editorial critiquing O’Reilly when he said that if women dressed a certain way or had too much to drink, they were asking to be raped. In another editorial for for thinkprogress.org, Terkel was out of town for the weekend when she realized a stranger was following her. Having no idea who he was, she was understandably frightened. Only when Jesse Watters asked her about her comments about O’Reilly, and Watters demanded that Terkel apologize to rape victims, did she understand what was going on. Former 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman put it perfectly when talking to Brooke Gladstone’s On the Media: “He’s (O’Reilly) not interested in the other side of the story, and he makes that very clear in the way he conducts himself. And I don’t think you could say the same of Mike Wallace.”

He had a list of enemies: George Clooney. Rosie O’Donnell. Al Franken. Maxine Waters. Basically, anyone who disagreed with him. He walked out of an interview with Terry Gross when she asked about Franken. His exiting response was that she “should find another line of work.”

Fourteen years later, that remark is too ironic.

Then we have O’Reilly the “writer.” I use the quotes because heck, O’Reilly is too busy to write himself! He gets a ghostwriter to help him out! Yes, that’s right: All his “Killing” books and picture books (he’s written picture books, not making this up) were written by a ghostwriter. There was a teeny little problem with the book Killing Reagan, because well, Reagan wasn’t killed by John Hinckley Jr.

But hey! Why let a little thing like the truth get in the way?

The past year Fox News has been critiqued for their male news anchors sexually harassing women, including Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson. O’Reilly soon was accused as well, most recently by an African American woman he called “hot chocolate.”

Wednesday morning, O’Reilly was fired by the Fox Network.

I didn’t feel triumph when I heard O’Reilly was fired. I didn’t feel like celebrating. All I could think of was the closing monologue by Water Matthau in the classic film A Face in the Crowd:

Suppose I tell you exactly what’s gonna happen to you. You’re gonna be back in television. Only it won’t be quite the same as it was before. There’ll be a reasonable cooling-off period and then somebody will say: “Why don’t we try him again in a inexpensive format. People’s memories aren’t too long.” And you know, in a way, he’ll be right. Some of the people will forget, and some of them won’t. Oh, you’ll have a show. Maybe not the best hour or, you know, top 10. Maybe not even in the top 35. But you’ll have a show. It just won’t be quite the same as it was before. Then a couple of new fellas will come along. And pretty soon, a lot of your fans will be flocking around them. And then one day, somebody’ll ask: “Whatever happened to, a, whatshisname? You know, the one who was so big. The number-one fella a couple of years ago. He was famous. How can we forget a name like that?

People’s memories aren’t too long. Soon it will cool off. The only question is, will Papa Bear rise like the Phoenix?

I’m betting I’m not the only one that hopes he doesn’t emerge from the ashes.