Bye-Bye, Papa Bear
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when “broadcast” television was still dominant, two of the hottest shows on the air were A Current Affair and Inside Edition. It happened that I was teaching at Bronxville High School at the time and the father of one of my students was Maury Povich’s agent. Mr. Povich was the anchor for A Current Affair (produced by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox company) and kindly agreed to come in and talk to our student body. He explained that he was pioneering a new genre of television --- “infotainment” --- a combination of information and entertainment, a visual version of a good tabloid newspaper, as it were. His competition on Inside Edition was a new face to New York television, Bill O’Reilly. I bring this up because I think we should recognize Mr. O’Reilly’s roots in infotainment as we watch him depart Fox News this week, despite his shaking hands with the Pope.
Like his Fox News colleague, Geraldo Rivera, Mr. O’Reilly was once a credible source for information, covering the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the Los Angeles riots in 1992. He never claimed to be a journalist but he was not, initially, the full frontal caricature fighting “political correctness” and “the war on Christmas” that he morphed into. It took Roger Ailes and big ratings to “out” the real Bill O’Reilly and allow us to see how he came to embody the voice of white, male (Christian) privilege and a significant driver of the Trump train.
First and foremost, we need to understand that Bill O’Reilly is a small-minded bigot and a bully who would literally turn off the microphones of “guests” whom he could not launch a rational argument against. He is sure of his points of view and equally sure of their correctness. (In that sense, he and I may share a common trait) O’Reilly and I were born the same year (1949) and both of us grew up in the de facto segregation of the Long Island suburbs. Starting in high school, however, our biographies take different paths, as O’Reilly attended a private Catholic high school (Chaminade) and college (Marist) and clearly did not partake in the burgeoning “counter-culture” of the time. After several years teaching at a parochial school O’Reilly went to Boston University, getting a Master’s Degree in broadcast journalism. After that he worked in a series of broadcasting jobs in Scranton, Dallas, Denver, and Hartford before landing a WCBS position in New York. From there it was Inside Edition and then Fox News. What I would contend, however, is that Long Island parochial school boy is the essence of the O’Reilly we have seen on display for the last 20 years.
In the 1960’s the racism on Long Island, for a kid, was subtle and pervasive. It was all rooted in housing, of course, and O’Reilly grew up in Levittown --- known for its denial of mortgages to black families as the suburbs erupted after WWII. Bay Shore, where I grew up was no different. Going to public school in those days made a great difference, if you were in a mixed-race community, and if you were an athlete in particular. O’Reilly, a self-proclaimed “jock” (he was the goalie on Chaminade’s hockey team), missed out on all that “race-mixing” that public school sports brings by attending an all-white private, parochial high school and college. I would contend that the implicit racism all white Americans grow up with (like it or not) festered in O’Reilly as his inherent conservatism (reinforced by his conservative Catholicism) grew. Fox News gave him a platform to air his grievances as the eternally “wronged” Christian white man. The following quote from O’Reilly is an example of his clear racist bias. It is based on his own description of a trip to Harlem to have dinner at Sylvia’s with Al Sharpton.
You know, I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy. And he comes on The Factor a lot, and then I treated him to dinner, because he's made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice.
And I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship. It was the same, and that's really what this society's all about now here in the U.S.A. There's no difference. There's no difference. There may be a cultural entertainment -- people may gravitate toward different cultural entertainment, but you go down to Little Italy, and you're gonna have that. It has nothing to do with the color of anybody's skin.
That's right. That's right. There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, "M-Fer, I want more iced tea."
You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all.
September 21, 2007 2:24 PM EDT ››› Andrew Ironside
Media Matters for America
In Mr. O’Reilly’s world, like Donald Trump’s, the “inner-city” is a “war zone” with people charging around with loaded weapons and “screaming ‘M-Fer’” as they wreak havoc in their neighborhood. O’Reilly’s Kiplingesque view of Sylvia’s reveals the small world he has inhabited --- and also reflects who his 20 million viewers have been over these years. O’Reilly said, as recently as 2016 “the left wants power taken away from the white establishment” --- clearly revealing his worldview.
No doubt about it, Bill O’Reilly, with the support of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, is quite possibly the single person most responsible for the divisive schism we now see in the United States. His annual “war on Christmas” (and, therefore, Christianity), his early opposition to Muslim immigration (On the August 16, 2006, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly argued extensively for "profiling of Muslims" at airports, arguing that detaining all "Muslims between the ages of 16 and 45" for questioning "isn't racial profiling," but “criminal profiling”), his insensitivity toward a rape victim (“She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning.”) are all integral to what we now refer to as “Trumpism.” Like Trump, O’Reilly signed up for the Hugh Hefner “Playboy Philosophy” values in the 1960’s, not the Port Huron statement, and the fruits of his racist, parochial upbringing bore the strange fruit we are harvesting in the early 21st century.
As a final note, I’d like to “play us out” with what is now a famous video segment from O’Reilly’s days on Inside Edition and, even if you’ve seen it before, I’ll bet you will still get a chuckle out of it.