Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News. If you happen to be one of “The O’Reilly Factor’s” 3.5 million or so nightly viewers, his departure is probably a real bummer of a letdown – especially if you think O’Reilly was the victim of a George Soros-funded left-wing campaign to topple the cable news network’s top ratings earner.
And if you happen to hate “Faux News,” then the development must have been cause for some celebration. (Although, forgive me for saying so, but if your day is made by the defenestration of a media personality, maybe you should rethink some life choices.)
The rest of America was too busy Instagramming and tweeting and Snapchatting to pay the news much mind. That’s a different facet of the same problem: We’re drowning in an ocean of entertainment and information with little wisdom to be found.
It’s a remarkable fact that CNN and MSNBC practically gave O’Reilly’s ouster wall-to-wall coverage on Wednesday. O’Reilly was undone by allegations of serial sexual harassment. The payouts and settlements with his purported victims totaled somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million. O’Reilly, in a statement on Wednesday, said the claims against him are “completely unfounded.”
Whether or not the allegations are true, this much is certain: O’Reilly was terrible.
My sense always was that O’Reilly’s idea of an argument derived from Monty Python’s “argument clinic” sketch, except with more shouting.
My octogenarian parents were fans, but I couldn’t tolerate more than a few minutes of his shtick. O’Reilly lost me early on when my former boss, now Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn, was a guest on the program. Arnn is often great on radio and TV, but with O’Reilly he could hardly get a word in edgewise.
Oh, he was terribly successful, too. O’Reilly was earning $18 million a year with the network. His “Killing” series of pop history books were huge best-sellers even though they were badly researched.
Moreover, even though he wasn’t an ideologue, his “no-spin” pretensions wore thin quickly. What is “no spin” if not spin? Still, he tapped into the nation’s populist zeitgeist long before Donald Trump seized the political moment.
But did anyone come away from O’Reilly’s program – or just about any cable news chat show, for that matter – better informed or edified on any subject of importance in a way that stuck? Who remembers anything but the shouting? And what were they shouting about anyway?
About 10 years ago, I stopped watching cable and network news regularly. Fifteen years before that, I heard a lecture by Ray Bradbury, the late, great novelist and author of “The Martian Chronicles” and “Fahrenheit 451.” I don’t remember what the lecture was about, but one digression stuck with me:
“Never, ever watch television news,” Bradbury said. “Especially local news. You’ll think the world is coming to an end.”
“The problem is not with our national full-coverage news, which can be mildly depressing,” Bradbury wrote in a 1998 essay. “It is with the assault of your local TV paparazzi who machine-gun you with forty decapitations, sexual harassments, gangster executions, in fifteen-second explosions for the full half-hour.”
Bradbury wasn’t quite correct about national news. In the end, it’s all “infotainment.” Was that not O’Reilly’s stock in trade? Isn’t it true of cable news generally? The beast must be fed.
Fox came on the scene in 1996 as an alternative to the mainstream media, which had been dominated for decades by a kind of mindless establishment liberalism. In time, Fox came to embody its own brand of mindless establishment conservatism. The rise in recent years of alternative media is an answer to both. In time, the alternative will become mainstream.
But it’s still just eye candy. O’Reilly’s ouster in and of itself isn’t important. It’s merely another opportunity to be reminded that Ray Bradbury was right.
The world isn’t ending. Go ahead and switch off the TV. Read something. Think. Reflect. Live.