By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The foolishness Factor

I rarely watch “The O’Reilly Factor” — for that matter, I rarely have the TV on at 8 p.m. — but I tuned in tonight to catch Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate, who was on to talk about the NSA wiretapping story and his related essay in last week’s Boston Phoenix.

O’Reilly was unusually respectful of Silverglate. But next up were Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Marvin Kalb, Jones’ predecessor, who now heads up the school’s Washington branch. The ostensible subject was why the Shorenstein Center has gone “far left.” But the subtext — actually, it was right on the surface — was O’Reilly’s continued resentment of the fact that Al Franken researched his bestseller “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” while he was at Shorenstein a few years ago.

O’Reilly, himself a K-School alumnus, referred incessantly to Franken’s “defamation” book and to the fact (I guess it’s a fact; maybe it isn’t) that Franken used Shorenstein research assistants and misused Shorenstein letterhead in gathering material for his book, of which O’Reilly is one of the main targets. O’Reilly also claimed that his own research shows Shorenstein currently has 22 Democrats on board and just one Republican. (I’m using the ambiguous “on board” because O’Reilly seemed unable or unwilling to distinguish between fellows, faculty and staff.)

Where it really got weird, though, was when O’Reilly began attacking former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll, who recently joined Shorenstein as a visiting professor, as “far left.” His voice rising, O’Reilly claimed that both Carroll and editorial-page editor Michael Kinsley, whom Carroll brought to the L.A. Times, were forced out because of their “far left” views. What?

Carroll, who turned the Times into a Pulitzer machine, is well-known for, among other things, criticizing his staff for its alleged liberal bias. In May 2003 he wrote a memo that began:

I’m concerned about the perception — and the occasional reality — that the Times is a liberal, “politically correct” newspaper. Generally speaking, this is an inaccurate view, but occasionally we prove our critics right. We did so today with the front-page story on the bill in Texas that would require abortion doctors to counsel patients that they may be risking breast cancer.

The apparent bias of the writer and/or the desk reveals itself in the third paragraph, which characterizes such bills in Texas and elsewhere as requiring “so-called counseling of patients.” I don’t think people on the anti-abortion side would consider it “so-called,” a phrase that is loaded with derision.

Was Carroll sincere? Consider the words of conservative pundit Catherine Seipp, writing in 2004 for National Review Online:

The longstanding leftist orthodoxy of the Los Angeles Times has improved noticeably under editor-in-chief John Carroll, a respected newsman who moved here from the Baltimore Sun four years ago. Carroll has made a real effort to rein in the paper’s liberal bias, at least in straight news stories. Earlier this year, Carroll wrote a famous (in media circles) in-house memo scolding a reporter for a story about a Texas abortion law; the piece had implied anyone against abortion is obviously nuts.

As for why Carroll left, it’s been pretty widely reported that he could no longer put up with the cost-cutting ways of the Times’ corporate owner, Tribune Company. His hand-picked successor, Dean Baquet, is now in charge, so it’s not as though the Carroll era has been discredited. As for Kinsley, well, he just didn’t work out. Kinsley has always been the most tepid of liberals, and his problems at the L.A. Times appear to have had more to do with his refusal to move to Los Angeles and to his embrace of ridiculous notions such as wikitorials.

I know that pointing out O’Reilly’s misrepresentations is pretty cheap entertainment. Still, I haven’t done it for a while, and I’m not planning to tune in again any time soon. So there you have it.

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  1. Rick in Duxbury

    “(I guess it’s a fact; maybe it isn’t) that Franken used Shorenstein research assistants and misused Shorenstein letterhead in gathering material for his book, of which O’Reilly is one of the main targets. O’Reilly also claimed that his own research shows Shorenstein currently has 22 Democrats on board and just one Republican. (I’m using the ambiguous “on board” because O’Reilly seemed unable or unwilling to distinguish between fellows, faculty and staff.)”1.Either it’s a fact or it isn’t. If it is, how does a progressive doing it make it less reprehensible? If it isn’t, call him on it and make him look like a fool.2. Presume, for the sake of argument, that O’Reilly is exaggerating by a factor of 3. So 7 to 1 balance is OK, (while claiming objectivity)? Personally, when I trust the validity of an idea I put forth, I’m not ashamed to admit where I stand. If I’m proven wrong later, I admit that as well. Why is it so impossible for there to be a scintilla of truth in what O’Reilly says? Must the messenger always trump the message?

  2. mike_b1

    The thing is, these are easy things to prove or disprove.In Franken’s book — which I read — he lists names and has a group photo of the undergrad and grad students who worked on his project. He didn’t hide anything. And it seems to me that if anyone who contributed wasn’t credited, they would have stood up long ago.But what O’Reilly is famous for, besides writing skin novels and sexually harrassing assistants, is making shit up.In journalism, usually, the onus is on the reporter to prove what he/she says. For talk shows, it’s more like: “I’m throwing this out there, and I know no one is fact-checking it, and even if they do it will take so long to get the real story that everyone will have forgotten about what I said anyway.” Too often, lazy listeners will think, “If he’s allowed to say that then it must be true, you know, like the National Enquirer.” And you, Rick, are falling for the ruse.

  3. Anonymous

    Dan,Too bad you didn’t turn in to that Letterman show…the one where letterman said he believes 60% of what O’Reilly said was crap….I loved the handshake in the end, where dave said to bill, “nice to have you on.”

  4. Anonymous

    BO recently said that Jon Alter was afraid to bet him, that Bush had broken any privacy laws:not accurate. The proposed bet to Alter was that Bush would eventually be impeached,which Jon wanted no part of: big difference,and typical of BO.

  5. Rick in Duxbury

    Mike,I guess I lack your intellectual rigor. For the life of me, I couldn’t find an answer to either of my questions in your post. However, I am glad to discover that “not hiding” one’s acts makes them appropriate. We are now entering the “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it” era. James Frey and Oprah are pure of heart and know better than we do, so the end justifies the means. If people like O’Reilly and the Enquirer are lying, (you actually read that rag?), Judge Ernie Murphy can give them the name of a good litigator. If they are telling distasteful truth, whining about it isn’t terribly productive.

  6. mike_b1

    If people like O’Reilly and the Enquirer are lying, (you actually read that rag?), Judge Ernie Murphy can give them the name of a good litigator.Hmmm…Why doesn’t George Bush sue CBS over the National Guard stories? According to your logic, lack of a lawsuit means they must have been true.And that’s the point. They can pretty much say whatever they want, and no one’s whose not a lawyer or a judge going to spend the money to prove they made it up.

  7. Anonymous

    I like socks!

  8. mike_b1

    Me too!

  9. Anonymous is a very slight hint of truth to what O’reilly said.But as this link will show, it was merely a practical joke.Franken is a bit too politically DLCish for my tastes, but I find him rather funny. And you have to admit: If O’reilly had to cite his sources as Franken does, he would not have a show.And Dan, dont apologize for the “cheap entertainment.” It may be easy, but every bloger in the wrold could not keep up with O’reilly misinformation, so consider your post a valuable service. And dont be afraid to watch “the Factor,” it will remind you why this world needs media critics, and give you endless fodder.MC

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