Those of you within range of radio stations that carry The Radio Factor and The Mark Levin Show, who are masochistic enough to actually listen to both programs, got a treat yesterday. It started with Bill O’Reilly’s opening monologue on the Radio Factor, where he lit into “right-wing ideologues” with the kind of sanctimonious fury he usually reserves for invited guests on his show. A few hours later, O’Reilly’s rant was answered by one of those very right-wingers he had been going on about, Mark Levin, who mocked the size of O’Reilly’s radio audience and promised O’Reilly would be off the air in a few weeks and that he (Levin) would quickly pick up any of his decent affiliates.
O’Reilly and Levin — peas in a pod as far as bigheaded blowhards go — were ostensibly fighting over the federal bailout of the mortgage crisis. O’Reilly sees the bailout as undesirable and a certain drag on the economy, but necessary; Levin labels it socialism and rejects it on principle. But the relative merit of the bailout was really just an excuse for the two of them to engage in a good old fashioned dick-measuring contest.
Let’s have a look at the tale of the tape, as it were.
First there’s Bill O’Reilly, the self-appointed, unelected Sheriff of the World. As the host of a news analysis program on basic cable and a syndicated radio show, keeping powerful people in line and watching out for all us regular folks is his job. His TV and radio audiences combine for a reach of about ten million people. He is what happens when you hand a megaphone to the village idiot. Though he avoided naming names in his rant against right-wing commentators (while specifying Democrats Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and threatening to kick their asses), he pointedly referred to those who cry “socialism” in response to the bailout, an obvious jab at Levin, who cries “socialism!” more frequently than that kid who was the protagonist of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” cried . . . whatever he cried.
O’Reilly also took a thinly-disguised swipe at conservative capo dei capi Rush Limbaugh: “These idiots, I mean, they're misleading you. They're lying to you. They're rich, these guys — big cigars, all of that.” Limbaugh, like all truly heterosexual men, is an inveterate puffer of expensive cigars.
When challenged, O’Reilly’s favorite tactics are to shout down his opponent, cut their microphone, or hang up on them. He also frequently employs the epithet “pinhead.”
Next, Mark Levin. I write this with the reasonable presumption that most of you have no idea who Mark Levin is. Briefly, he is a shriller, less likable Limbaugh; Hannity, louder and dimmer; a mindless slave to his ideology; a hopeless idiot utterly convinced of his own erudition. His radio audience is actually larger than O’Reilly’s, consisting of about six million people who forget to turn the radio off at the end of Hannity’s show. As an obnoxious know-it-all whose politics fall somewhere to the right of James Dobson, Levin ought to be a household name on the order of Limbaugh and Hannity. Instead, he’s far less known than colleagues with much smaller audiences, like Dennis Prager and G. Gordon Liddy.
Why? I have a theory. Levin follows Hannity on most of his affiliates. In fact, my local station WARK added Hannity and Levin to their schedule at exactly the same time. I doubt that’s a coincidence, especially given the amount of cross-promotion Hannity and Levin give each other on their respective programs. Hannity, as Levin’s lead-in, is nipping at Limbaugh’s heels with a weekly cumulative audience of over thirteen million people. Hannity is Friends back in the Must See TV days. Mark Levin is Will & Grace — people only tune in and pretend to like him because he comes on right after the show they’re actually interested in. (And for Christ’s sake, don’t leave a comment telling me that I’m not being fair to Will & Grace and it was really a very funny show if I’d only given it a chance. The only difference between it and The Single Guy, or Boston Common, or Suddenly Susan, or Veronica’s Closet, or any of the other fucking duds NBC tried to slide in after Friends and Seinfeld is that it hung in the slipstream for eight seasons instead of one or two.) I wouldn’t be mocking the size of someone else’s ratings if most of mine depended on Sean Hannity’s leavings.
Levin deployed his considerable wit and rhetorical acumen to respond to O’Reilly’s tirade. Regular listeners know well what a clever man Levin is, giving “funny” nicknames to people and institutions that annoy him — “The New York Slimes,” for instance, or “Barack Milhous Nobama.” He responded to O’Reilly by unleashing a torrent of smartly vicious retorts, referring to his show as “The Non-Factor,” calling him “a jerk,” and comparing him to Ted Baxter (a lift from Limbaugh, who first made the comparison in a New York Times — pardon me, Slimes profile a few months ago). He also accused O’Reilly of paying more in “hush money” to the woman who sued him for sexual harassment than he (Levin) had ever earned. Oh, snap. He then performed a shameless act of verbal fellatio on Rush Limbaugh, but that happens so frequently on Levin’s show that I almost didn’t mention it.
So who won? I’m not sure. I find both men to be utterly loathsome, though for slightly different reasons. O’Reilly is at least no ideologue, unless you count “Bill O’Reilly” as an ideology; Levin is perhaps the most unpleasant personality in all of talk radio . . . okay, maybe second most unpleasant — there’s still Glenn Beck, afterall.
Hearing these two go at it yesterday put me into a weird, uncertain headspace. Who was I to root for? It was like watching the Yankees play the Braves in the 1996 World Series — hope for a good game that ends with both teams and all their poser fans swallowed up in an immense earthquake.
Or how about this analogy: it was like seeing two school bullies suddenly tire of giving swirlies and wedgies and turn on each other. What outcome do you, as someone who has been terrorized by both of these assholes all year, hope for? That they’ll knock each other out and both get expelled?
Right. They never expel anyone anymore.
Media Matters has a transcript of O’Reilly’s tantrum, along with a video, which I have helpfully embedded below.
Allahpundit over at Hot Air has an audio clip of Levin’s counter-tantrum, which I have likewise posted.
Enjoy the debate tonight. I’m glad McCain has decided to show up, though part of me wishes Toby Benson’s suggestion yesterday of a Palin vs. Obama debate had been taken instead. It would have been fun to see Barack pick the meat off her bones.