Roger Ebert, writer of the best blog there is, hits it right on the money with his article this week about Bill O’Reilly. Rather than subject you to my clumsy paraphrasing of a vastly superior writer, allow me to favor you with a block quote:
O’Reilly represents a worrisome attention shift in the minds of Americans. More and more of us are not interested in substance. The nation has cut back on reading. Most eighth graders can’t read a newspaper. A sizable percentage of the population doesn’t watch television news at all. They want entertainment, or “news” that is entertainment. Many of us grew up in the world where most people read a daily paper and watched network and local newscasts. “All news” radio stations and TV channels were undreamed-of. News was a destination, not a generic commodity. Journalists, the good ones anyway, had ethical standards.
In those days, if you quoted The New York Times, you were bringing an authority to the table. Now O’Reilly — O’Reilly! — advises viewers to cancel their subscriptions to a paper most of them may not have ever seen. In those days, if the wire services reported something, it probably happened. Today the wire services remain indispensable, but waste resources in producing celebrity info-nuggets that belong in trash magazines. Advertisers now seek readers they once thought of as shoplifters. If nuclear war breaks out, the average citizen of a Western democracy will be better informed about Britney Spears than the causes of their death.
Ebert has O’Reilly’s number here, and puts his finger on precisely what it is that is so offensive about him. It’s not O’Reilly’s politics, which on the whole are actually a lot milder than the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. It’s his methods, his bullying, his childish insistence on his own importance that make him such a clown.
A few paragraphs above where I pulled the quote from, Ebert creates the perfect analogy to describe O’Reilly: the only difference between O’Reilly and Jerry Springer is that Springer is honest about what he does, while O’Reilly “insists he is dealing only with the truth.”
Even with that crucial difference, I might feel a bit insulted by the comparison, were I Jerry Springer.