“If your brains were made of dynamite, you couldn’t blow your nose…”-Jack Webb, “The D.I.” (1957)
The millions who watch Bill O’Reilly every night at 8 p.m. on the Fox News Channel know he is different things to different people. He’s obnoxious, smart, smug, annoying, fast on his feet, a right-wing zealot, an experienced journalist, a best-selling author, self-righteous, fair and balanced, a hard head, a tough interviewer and a serial interrupter.
But the one constant-the thing that made “The “O’Reilly Factor” the highest rated cable news show for the last dozen years-was its hard edge. In his interviews with dozens of leading newsmakers, including Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama, O’Reilly asked tough, incisive questions and demanded straight answers.
But that was mostly then, and this is now. Of late, “The O’Reilly Factor” has become flaccid and weak. In addition to relevant, timely, newsy segments that inform, stimulate and educate, much of his show has morphed into “who cares” irrelevancy.
These days, the 62-year-old O’Reilly rarely builds on the strength of his opening “Talking Points Memo” with news that people care about. He gets bogged down in soft, irrelevant features better suited to daytime TV. Examples are “Body Language,” “The Great American Culture Quiz,” “Is It Legal” and “The Great American News Quiz.” Ugh!
I give a pass to comedian Dennis Miller’s hilarious segments because caustic political opinions by this acerbic observer of the passing parade are spot-on. As a matter of fact, his stuff reminds me of O’Reilly’s well-placed shots at the rich and powerful before he let much of his show slip-slide into gobbledygook filler.
Perhaps one reason O’Reilly misses the mark is by often taping during the day rather than airing live at night; he fails to assess timely news. Recently, he was a day late and a dollar short on fast-moving events in the Herman Cain sexual harassment smears.
As a result, two other highly rated, live FNC programs that follow O’Reilly-hosted by Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren-have inherited his mantle of relevance and become far more worthwhile. Both feature hard-hitting interviews with important, current newsmakers and eschew the cutesy-pooh features that turn off discerning viewers.
In the mid-1990s, I co-hosted a Milwaukee morning drive-time talk show on Black radio station WNOV, “The Carter-McGee Report.” My colleague was fiery ex-Alderman Michael McGee. We reveled in pulling the covers off important issues and people. Billed as “tough talk,” we earned high ratings in the Black community, as well as citywide.
Our radio “tough talk” was similar to O’Reilly’s TV show in the old days, but he began to change after finally sitting down with candidate Obama in 2008, making him squirm in the only tough interview Obama has faced as a candidate or president.
As a lifelong Democrat who was turned off by the party 23 years ago to become an independent, I am turned off by O’Reilly’s determination to score a second interview with Obama. This has turned him into a softy who regularly kisses the president’s ass.
O’Reilly has forfeited his villain card. He calls Obama “a smart guy” and often gives him a pass despite the president’s plunging poll numbers. He’s losing his hard edge.
Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, a syndicated radio talk show host who frequently sits in for O’Reilly, noticed his softening and mentioned it to him. So has Dick Morris, the ex-Bill Clinton confidant-pollster turned Republican. And so have disappointed viewers according to emailed letters O’Reilly sometimes reads on camera.
I recall when watching O’Reilly was like being transfixed by flickering flames in a fireplace. Despite despising him, I couldn’t stop, but he has punked out. I wish he’d return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when I tuned in for the same reason I read the New York Post: I need to know what the enemy is up to. Think about it.
If I want good, clean fun, I’ll watch an Abbott and Costello movie or an Amos ‘n’ Andy or Three Stooges short subject-of which I have many in my collection of vintage cinema fare. The last thing I want from O’Reilly is plain vanilla platitudes like the minor league Obama sycophants, cheerleaders and Bush-bashers on MSNBC and CNN offer.
Of course, despite O’Reilly’s seemingly softening persona, some things never change. For example, he continues his annoying interruptions of guests, which I can’t abide. This often prompts me to scream at the TV, “Let him talk, will you?”
Ironically, one thing the able-bodied O’Reilly and the able-bodied Obama have in common is that neither served in the military. I simply cannot respect any American male who fails to serve our country in peace or war unless unfit physically or mentally.
This was a litmus test for O’Reilly, a big-mouth blowhard, and it’s sacrilegious for Obama, the commander-in-chief. At least one year of military service-voluntary or otherwise-should be mandatory for every man, but that’s a story for another day.
Finally, O’Reilly should stop dissing Harry Belafonte, whose recent HBO historical special, “Sing Your Song,” was the most, to say the least. O’Reilly has savaged him for pointed anti-Cain remarks and for sounding on Bush, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Worse yet, O’Reilly called him “that Belafonte guy” and minimized the legendary singer-actor-civil rights activist’s long career by saying “he had a hit record 40 years ago.”
Bottom line: Get another TV life, O’Reilly. And that’s the name of that tune.