Fx’s “The Bridge,” Bill O’Reilly, and Me—Another Odd Coincidence


This afternoon I heard a radio announcement that the season premiere of Fx’s “The Bridge” airs tonight. I thought I might tune in. So I settled into my easy chair and flipped on the TV. Bill O’Reilly was waxing eloquent and I was reaching for my TimeWarner Cable guide to find the Fx channel. I paused, however, to listen to O-Reilly’s customary interview with Dennis Miller, often the only worthwhile segment on “The Factor.”

Dennis signed off and I recalled my task—to find where I can get Fx on my TV. I scanned the column of station numbers. And just as my eye landed on “Fx,” I heard Bill O’Reilly actually say “Fx.” I’m not making this up. O’Reilly then went on to remind his audience—that would be me (in a manner of speaking)—that “The Bridge” airs tonight.

Bill O’Reilly is a talented man. But his ability to read my mind, and his inclination to say something about it on national TV, is uncanny.

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Footnote: Speaking of coincidences, the timing of tonight’s premiere of “The Bridge” could not be better. This is a series about border crossings between Mexico and the U.S. Today there’s as much coverage of our urgent border dilemma as there is of the imminent threat of an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza. Border crossings are making news in more ways than one. And that’s a memo.

Stock Market Responding to Japan’s Nuclear Crisis—The Role of American Media


The stock market is responding to Japan’s nuclear crisis, and the picture isn’t pretty. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 242 points today. The Nasdaq dropped by 51 points.

This is because the stock market doesn’t like uncertainty. And uncertainty is the hallmark of the current situation. Japan is in crisis. The American media are trying get to the bottom of things. But they have resorted to sheer speculation on the basis of doubtful evidence. I hold the irresponsible media partly responsible for our stock market malaise.

Japanese officials are holding their cards close to the vest. Is this because the news about their damaged nuclear reactors is far worse than they want the world to know? Or is it because the Japanese culture favors patient and cautious reporting rather than minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow updating? Who knows?

Here’s something we do know. When the American media bring the experts in to speculate about events unfolding in Japan, they are compelled to reflect “two sides” to the “issue.” (Maxim: “There https://douggeivett.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpare two sides to every issue.”) What’s the issue? “Just how bad is the situation and how much risk of spreading radiation is there right now?” So one expert is selected precisely for his relative optimism and another is selected for her more negative outlook. This does not ensure that the media retain individuals on each side who are equally competent to evaluate what little is known.

Case in point: Bill O-Reilly (Fox News) interviewed Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at UC Berkeley, and Rita King who, bless her heart, is a “former nuclear industry journalist.” Speculation without benefit of good data is bad enough. But speculation from a former journalist is painfully specious.

Gunther Oettinger

Cameras with direct feed into some American broadcast studio are an invitation to loose lips. Have you heard what Gunther Oettinger said today? Who’s Gunther Oettinger, you ask. He’s the European Union Energy Chief. Gunther said that Japan’s nuclear plant crisis is “out of control.” This was during a European Parliament committee meeting in Brussels. The stock market went nuclear; the sell-off in equities plunged deeper. Read about this here, where we’re told:

The EU energy commissioner’s spokeswoman, however, later clarified that Oettinger did not have any special or extra information on the situation in Japan.

There you have it. An escalation in alarmist talk with no correlative change in data.

Let’s face it. We don’t know what’s happening on the ground in Japan. Our typically American demand for immediate information and quick fixes isn’t getting us anywhere. Poor Shepard Smith, of Fox News, flew out to Japan to get first-hand information, and he’s learning more about what’s happening in Japan during his conversations with Fox anchors at home than he is from officials in Japan.

In American news reporting, there’s no such thing as keeping your powder dry and your mouth shut. But if there isn’t any more specific real news from Japan soon, the media may have to start covering other important issues and events happening in the world, like our national debt and the Congressional failure to produce a budget, the war in Afghanistan, and Muammar Gaddafi’s goofy and perilous antics in Libya.

Bill O’Reilly’s Brilliant Interview with President Obama


Bill O’Reilly interviewed our president on Sunday morning for about fifteen minutes of live television. Bill (it’s all first-name basis these days) has been collecting reactions from “the regular folk” and from everyone else who will favor him with an evaluation. Some of his guests have been on his show to talk directly about his interview performance: Brit Hume, Bernie, and Charles Krauthammer.

This seems very odd to me. O’Reilly comes across like a giddy kid who just returned from the candy shop with pockets full of free confection. The last thing he wants to hear is that his interview was inconsequential. Notice how he talks about it. He asserts that probably no live TV interview has been so widely disseminated. (That may be true.)

And notice how he interprets what the president said. He asked whether Obama agreed that he had moved toward the political center since the November election, when so many Democrats were turned out of Congress. Obama said he hasn’t moved. O’Reilly keeps saying that he (O’Reilly) believes the president “really thinks” he has not moved toward the center.

I doubt that Bill O’Reilly knows better than the rest of us what the president believes. I can’t tell from the interview that O’Reilly is in a better position to know than we are. And from what the president said in the interview, I can’t say with confidence what the president believes—certainly not with O’Reilly-styled bravado. I feel more confident saying what the president wants us to believe. And he wants us to believe that he hasn’t moved politically. After all, that’s what he said. What he said is what he wants us to believe.

Of course, as long as it’s unclear what Obama meant by what he said it will be to that extent unclear what we are supposed to believe. The politician’s specialty is to answer a direct question ambiguously, but to disguise its ambiguity so that it is confidently interpreted one way by one group of constituents and is confidently interpreted another way by another group of constituents. If you can get disagreeing constituents to believe they have the correct interpretation of your words and they happen to like what you say on that interpretation, then you have acted the political genius.

The evidence of Obama’s political genius is that O’Reilly thinks he knows what the president believes based on what the president said.

What Obama said is probably supposed to mean one thing to those of us who are troubled by his leftist political outlook, and something else to those of us who are cheered by his leftist political stance. (It may not mean anything to those of us who think he isn’t a leftist.) To the first cohort, it should mean that he has never been the insufferable leftist that many have feared. To the second cohort, it should mean that he is every bit the leftist that many have hoped, and that he will continue to resist insufferable conservatives.

I can’t take seriously any interview where a politician makes it necessary for me to read between the lines in order to “know” what the politician believes or means. This is because one can’t really know what a politician means when what he says is ambiguous—and hence deniable. When the ambiguity is evident, then we should know that we don’t know, and we should know better than to think that we do know. But skillful ambiguity may fool us into thinking that we do know what we don’t know.

So, did O-Reilly discharge his duty as a journalist and press for the kind of clarity needed for his interview to matter? That’s for you to decide.

Bill O’Reilly Goes Over the Top on the Angry Factor


Bill O’Reilly is “looking out for you.” This, of course, presupposes that he knows two things about you: what you care about—your values, your priorities, that sort of thing—and what’s good for you.

Recently he’s been interviewing (interrogating?) guests about the economic fiasco brought down on us by recent events and the agents behind those events. He now suggests (“suggests” is too mild here) that “the people” are angry. They’re angry at the government and all those CEOs who get paid scandalous amounts of money, because we now have to pay for the bailout we didn’t choose. In fact, “the people” are so angry that the economy is pretty much the only thing that matters to them right now. And “right now” is an election period.

OK. Time for a deep breath. Are people angry? I suppose so. Are they seething with anger? Are they so preoccupied with the state of the economy that anger is their dominant emotion right now? I don’t see signs of that among the people around me. It’s possible, of course, that O’Reilly knows “the people” better than I, though I am one of “the people.” I suspect, however, that O’Reilly’s schtick self-selects for people who fit a certain profile and who may be as angry as O’Reilly says they are.

I like it that O’Reilly pursues his guests with decent follow-up questions and exposes the “spin” for what it is. There isn’t enough of that in the media. I often cringe at the way O’Reilly conducts business on his show, and there are times when I wish he would ask more penetrating questions than he does. That’s right, more penetrating. But I digress.

I don’t presume to speak for “the people.” Speaking only for myself, I acknowledge my frustration with government and with this bailout/rescue idea. I’m not pleased with the way my family has been and will continue to be affected by the screwball decisions that have been made and will continue to be made. But Bill O’Reilly goes too far in representing the level of my frustration. Call it anger if you like, but my feelings about this are not so viscerally combustible that the economy is the only thing I care about in this election. I’m beginning to think it’s a media ploy, oddly endorsed both by Bill O’Reilly and by those he calls “the mainstream media.” I hope I’m not alone in this. I hope our economic woes have not lit such a fire that we are blinded by them and indifferent about other major challenges that we face in this country, other issues of long-term significance. I refer to the conduct of war with our enemies, the character and experience of our leaders, the future composition of the United States Supreme Court, and much else besides.

We’re at a place today where the media are telling us, “It’s the economy stupid.” And when the media are telling us what we’re supposed to think and feel, in that inimitably condescending way of theirs, I get suspicious. I don’t like being told how I feel when it’s not how I feel, and I don’t like being called stupid—especially by the media.

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