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Who's Looking Out For Bill O'Reilly?
Thursday, September 28, 2006

Anyone who’s ever watched the Fox News Channel knows it isn’t a news channel. It’s a sales pitch.

No one understands this better than FNC’s top-rated infotainer, Bill O’Reilly, whose QVC-like promotion of Factor gear single-handedly saved the windbreaker industry.

For years, O’Reilly has used his considerable shouting and desk-pounding skills to sell not just merchandise but the kinds of ideas that sell more merchandise. John Gibson used this strategy last year when he pushed a war on Christmas and published The War on Christmas. And now O’Reilly stands poised to test the formula once again, as he sells the idea of a culture war along with his new book, Culture Warrior.

If the systematic polarization of Americans were the only thing at stake here, there would probably be nothing wrong with O’Reilly’s Officially Licensed No-Spin Business Model. War was a racket before Smedley Butler wrote War is a Racket in 1935, and the military-industrial-Barnes-&-Noble complex has continued to pillage and plunder ever since.

After a recent 20/20 interview, however, it would seem Bill O’Reilly’s money-making tactics aren’t just destroying the country. Now they’re destroying something much more important: Namely, Bill O’Reilly.

In the interview, the man who popularized the phrase, “And that’s the memo,” informed Barbara Walters of two significant things:

1. That American culture consists of two warring factions: traditionalists and secular progressives; and

2. That the FBI told him al-Qaeda wants to kill him.

Right off the bat, the first statement is somewhat alarming. In a country of 300 million, you would expect there to be at least three kinds of people.

Furthermore, O’Reilly’s two warring factions are sort of confusing. On the one hand, you have secular progressives—people who “want drastic change.” On the other hand, you have traditionalists, who “want to keep the country pretty much the way it is.” If we assume, for the sake of argument, that traditionalists are conservative Christian Bush supporters—and if we assume, for the sake of argument, that secular progressives are basically everyone else—it would take a Clintonian stroke of logic for O’Reilly’s descriptions to make any sense here.

The way the country “is” isn’t the same as the way it “was” before nineteen men stole four planes and killed three thousand people five years ago. Only one group has used “9/11 changed everything” to justify these changes, and that one group would be the traditionalists.

Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Either way, on its own, O’Reilly’s culture war wouldn’t be noteworthy. What makes it worth noting is the claim that he’s on an al-Qaeda “death list.” We’ll never know how true this is, but, in truth, it doesn’t matter. With O’Reilly, image is everything. What counts is he thought to mention it.

Up until now, you always assumed Bill O’Reilly was a conscious exaggeration. You believed he meant what he said on the air. But when he said Al Gore lost because he ducked The Factor, you assumed he was overselling it. At one point, that was probably true. But when he told 20/20 al-Qaeda wants to kill him, it suggested a turning point. After years of needless screaming, playing up fears, and calling folks pinheads, your humble correspondent—constant victim of smear merchants—has finally bought into his own hyperbole.

He really believes this culture war stuff. And he’s passed one too many tests of allegiance. He isn’t scared of al-Qaeda. In a strange way, he welcomes them. From one set of so-called traditionalists to another, he would gladly die a martyr just to prove he loves the country a little bit better than you.

Of course, O’Reilly would dismiss this notion as moral relativity. He would call it the Most Ridiculous Item of the Day, and then it would be time for some of your mail. If that’s the case—hey, he’s entitled not to listen. But when this guy goes off the deep end and blows himself up in an Arab Foot Locker, don’t say we didn’t warn him.

Someone’s got to look out for the guy who’s looking out for you.

Jonathan David Morris is the author of Versus Nurture. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/readjdm.

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