If you know me at all, then you know I’m no fan of Fox News. But I love watching it because (1) it gets my heart rate up, burning some calories in the process, and (2) it continues to hone my bullshit detector. As a typical example, I’m going to eviscerate Bill O’Reilly’s “Talking Points Commentary” from 7/30/2009. Here it is.
If you’re a Fox News fan, and especially if you like demagogues such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and the like, then before reading further I entreat you to watch the video in its entirety. See if you can spot all the baloney for yourself. Maybe you’re more credulous than you think.
O’Reilly’s monologue is centered around the controversy Bill Maher stirred up after he called America a “stupid country” on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. Now, I don’t think America is a stupid country. I do think the average citizen is seriously uninformed, but not stupid. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, stupid means “lacking intelligence or common sense,” and intelligence is defined as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” I think many people don’t make use of that ability, but this doesn’t mean they don’t have it.
Let’s begin with the substantive critique, shall we? At time 1:02 in the video, Bill’O says
“Why do uber liberals believe the USA is a dumb country?”
STOP! Who said uber liberals believe the USA is a dumb country? BILL MAHER said we are a stupid country, but don’t characterize the entire left wing as agreeing with Maher’s unkind remark. Of course, this sort of verbal prestidigitation does help your campaign against the left, but if you want to call yourself a news anchor, please stop distorting what you report.
At 1:09, O’Reilly says
“But the truth is, the governor (Palin) did a pretty good job on Alaska. Her approval rating when she left office was 54%. Despite spending a lot of time outside the state, Mrs. Palin is portrayed by the left as dumb, but how does that square with her solid performance in office? No, she didn’t study at an Ivy League college, graduating from the university of Idaho, but again, she did the job she was elected to do.”
First of all, favorable approval ratings are not evidence for doing a good job in office. They are evidence that you have a good public opinion, but that can be explained in other ways (say, having a shrewd public relations manager). Secondly, Bill’O keeps insinuating, just about every time he’s on the air, that graduating from top schools means you’re smart. Nope. It likely means you have a decent education, but I submit there are many folks who didn’t attend top schools that are nevertheless smarter than others who did. It’s well known that some who attend top schools get in (over better qualified applicants) because they know somebody important, they come from a long line of alumni, or their family members are generous benefactors. Finally, and this is not really germane to the discussion at hand, but I find O’Reilly’s inconsistent “reasoning” (if you can call it that) distressingly irritating: President Bush had the lowest approval rating when he left office in the nation’s hisotry, yet Bill’O thinks he did a bang-up job. Are approval ratings correlated with job performance or not? This is trademark O’Reilly style, arguing a point in two opposite ways when it suits his purpose.
Moving on, at 1:28 O’Reilly says
“So let’s compare her (Palin) to a darling of the left, (democratic) Massachusetts’ Governor Deval Patrick, Barrack Obama’s good friend. Governor Patrick has a law degree from Harvard, so obviously he’s a smart guy, but his approval rating now stands at an embarrassing 36%, and the state’s in chaos. So Pailn is dumb but Alaska is fine, and Patrick is smart but Massachusetts is failing. Don’t you hate it when the facts get in the way of the stupid theory?”
STRAW MAN ! Bill is presenting a distorted view of the opposition’s argument and then attacking that distorted view, as if doing so proves his point. Maher never said “Palin did a bad job because she’s stupid.” But this fabricated soundbite is what Bill’O is arguing against. Classic straw man. Next, why the “Barrack Obama’s good friend” reference? It has nothing to do with the discussion, but it does link Obama to what O’Reilly is characterizing as a failed governorship. Subtle and pernicious propaganda, as I’ve come to expect from Bill’O. And again, we see O’Reilly claiming that graduates of top schools are smart. I won’t bother to repeat myself in rebutting this point. But I will point out one possible explanation for why O’Reilly keeps putting this forward: Bill’O is fond of reminding his viewers that he has a masters degree from Harvard, so what should you conclude using his reasoning?
At 1:57 into the video we find the real disingenuous zinger. Bill’O says:
“87% of U.S. adults ages 25 to 64 have graduated from high school or college compared to 85% in Britain and 67% in France. Obviously, we the people are fairly well educated. The far left ignorance meter, I think, is simply driven by ideology. If you disagree with their policies, you’re a moron. Now, some on the right do that as well.”
Notice this carefully crafted statistic, in particular the or in “high school or college”. Pretty much anybody who’s graduated recently from high school in the U.S. will tell you their diploma isn’t worth its weight in toilet paper. Bill knows our college graduation rate is well behind the rest of the west, so he throws in “high school” in his statistic to bring our numbers up. Clever, but that won’t slip past the discerning viewer (did it slip past you?). If we focus on just college graduation percentages instead, arguably much more important, then we find that America is well behind Europe. Regarding his ideology comment, may I point out O’Reilly’s characteristic hypocrisy again? Bill’O frequently labels his interlocutors as “pinheads” if they disagree with him. Pot. Kettle. Black. I think O’Reilly’s pinhead meter is driven by his ideology.
For the record, Bill’O reveals what he’s really worried about in the next clip, namely America losing her “white Christian male power structure.” All at once, he’s racist, theocratic, and sexist. Sound outrageous? Don’t take my word for it:
As you’ve just seen above, “news” from Fox is anything but fair and balanced or spin free. Yet Fox News keeps chanting a mantra about how they deliver “fair and balanced news,” and O’Reilly’s program is outrageously subtitled “The No-Spin Zone.” Why the need to constantly remind us that they’re fair and balanced? Maybe they’re betting if you tell a lie often enough that people will start to believe it. Sadly, many already do.