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O’Reilly will be missed; he bucked partisan ideology: James Miller

Posted 5/24/17

The King of Cable has been defenestrated.

After much fanfare, Bill O’Reilly has been tipped off his throne at the cable news giant Fox News. The irascible host of the eponymous “Factor,” …

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O’Reilly will be missed; he bucked partisan ideology: James Miller

Bill O'Reilly
Bill O'Reilly
Posted

The King of Cable has been defenestrated.

After much fanfare, Bill O’Reilly has been tipped off his throne at the cable news giant Fox News. The irascible host of the eponymous “Factor,” O’Reilly was handsomely paid out of his contract after multiple settlements stemming from sexual harassment came to light.

New York Times reporters Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt must have large grins glued to their faces after bagging their elusive prey. Their bombshell report on Fox paying out $13 million in harassment suits was the equivalent of David’s slingshot — it toppled a giant.

For years, rumors of O’Reilly’s mistreatment of women swirled around the Washington-New York media nexus. But little happened. Until his ousting, O’Reilly was cable news’s biggest draw for 15 years.

Then something changed. That something was leadership. Rupert Murdoch, the titan of News Corp., owner of Fox News and a plethora of press outlets, is reportedly readying to pass his media empire on to his sons, Lachlan and James. The two heirs are none too pleased with Fox’s reputation as a burlesque house doubling as a news outlet.

Last year’s removal of Roger Ailes, who was also plagued with multiple sexual harassment claims, after 20 years as chairman of the network showed the first signs of a new direction.

But back to Bill.

O’Reilly’s leaving marks the end of an era. I’m not going to sugarcoat the feeling: It hurts to see him go.

As someone who is sickened by what passes for news nowadays, I always held a good deal of respect for Mr. Patriot (or Pinhead, depending on the day). O’Reilly’s offering didn’t distinguish itself much from the media’s other offerings. Recycled platitudes, shopworn talking points, unctuous groveling, substance-free shouting that passes for informed debates — these and more have reduced the practice of information dissemination to a cruel circus game, high on flash, low on critical thinking.

O’Reilly’s show had all of these. But the one thing that set the host apart from the interchangeable crowd of opinionated ring leaders was his willingness to buck partisan orthodoxy.

In his memoir “A Bold Fresh Piece Of Humanity,” O’Reilly prides himself on being an independent thinker because, as he writes, “honesty always, and I mean always, collides with ideology.”

Ideology was something O’Reilly visibly lacked, despite his conservative disposition. And he never made bones about his decidedly non-party affiliation.

As he noted, “no matter what I say or write, fanatics will attack it because Kool-Aid-drinking ideologues on both sides resent my national platform and nonaligned analysis.”

Plenty of controversial stances taken over the year showed that O’Reilly was not a slave to favorable optics.

One of his more outlandish remarks came after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As television cameras showed poor minorities starved and sunburnt on New Orleans rooftops, O’Reilly offered what became an infamous analysis. “New Orleans is not about race; it’s about class. If you’re poor, you’re powerless, not only in America but also everywhere on Earth. If you don’t have enough money to protect yourself from danger, danger is going to find you,” he proclaimed.

The uproar was swift. O’Reilly was simultaneously denounced as being a racist, a poor-hater, and a victim-blamer — a conservative hat trick. The calumny didn’t deter O’Reilly. He stuck to his hard-nosed take, even during a dreadful situation.

That was the thing about O’Reilly opinions: They always managed to be honest, even when propriety would have interceded. The stilted atmosphere of today is not conducive to candid conversations about tough topics. O’Reilly’s frankness was a dying art. It became the victim of prim TV executives who care more about profits and respectability than truth in media.

I would be remiss if I didn’t hit on the host’s famous temper. O’Reilly was always forthcoming about the short fuse gifted to him by his Irish-Catholic heritage. And, when the time was right, it didn’t hesitate to rear its ugly yet entertaining head. From calling former representative Barney Frank a coward for refusing to take responsibility for the 2008 financial crisis, to verbally smacking around the late liberal Alan Colmes, O’Reilly’s raised voice and steely stare became the equivalent to crashes in NASCAR — something you don’t tune in for but secretly long to witness.

O’Reilly’s irritability reflected the truth about all great artists: Their strive to perfection lifts other unseemly characteristics to the surface. The anchor’s unacceptable behavior toward women was unfortunately another flaw that couldn’t be contained by talent.

I should also mention that Middletown was once given a shout-out on “The Factor.” During the show’s last segment reserved for viewer comments, I managed to get one answered. O’Reilly read off my name and hometown, and whatever drivel I believed to be genius at the time.

My comment proved that even though the world-famous host could take canned responses, he didn’t. O’Reilly’s viewers were normal Americans trying to make sense of the world.

His departure leaves a void at Fox, and cable news in general. Not knowing the “O’Reilly Factor” is on at 8 p.m. Eastern is yet another blow to our weakening sense of familiarity. Word is, O’Reilly will find a home on another conservative media outlet. But it won’t be the same.

Bill O’Reilly was, as they say, a still point on a moving world. But every still point must eventually succumb to the indomitable spin of the Earth’s axis.

So long, and good luck, Mr. O’Reilly.

James E. Miller , a native of Middletown, works as a digital marketer in Northern Virginia.