I read a quote today from Virginia Postrel about Bill O'Reilly that sort of helped me understand why I just can't sit through his show any more. Before I get to it, let me state that I don't watch much TV at all, outside of my sports addiction. I did get into Fox News as the best of a bad lot, especially in the run-up to, and during the war in Iraq. I really like Brit Hume and Tony Snow. And at first I enjoyed O'Reilly, I guess before he became a best-selling author and ratings giant, and as a result, just a bit too full of himself to remain entertaining for me.
His show is only rarely informative, usually feeding the public two or three day old news, and lately his guests are used as little more than props for the airing of Bill's viewpoints. While I would stop just short of calling him a bully, as others do, he is often short with guests, especially those with opposing views, and the show's format jumps from 3-minute segment to 3-minute segment, doing nothing in depth, and of course always ends with Bill's self-amused reading of his mail, book and web site promos, yada, yada. It's conservative fluff.
Annoyed by his "bullying" of guests and, like me I guess, frustrated by the lack of any real content to the show, Postrel opines:
Contrary to his image as some kind of conservative ideologue, O'Reilly is just a long-winded cab driver with a TV show and no real interest in policy, ideas, or facts.
Right. Now maybe the "cab driver" personna helps explain some of the ratings success. He poses as a "regular guy", a common sense man. One that your average middle-American might talk with about the news of the day from the back seat of a cab. Cabbies don't talk "spin".
But let's face it. He's an entertainer, not an idea man. Same thing with Rush Limbaugh, although Rush is a much more "likeable" personality, while no less a self-promoter. I believe Rush's secret is his refusal to take himself all that seriously, while the Left is apoplectic over the success of both men. ("Dangerous", etc., etc.)
What this longwinded post is trying to get around to is my frustration with friends, acquaintances and others who, when they hear me express myself from a conservative point of view, assume that those views are a "product" of exposure to Rush and/or O'Reilly. Since that is their only exposure to "conservatism" in the media, they assume the same is true of me.
On the topic of conservatism in the media, Jonah Goldberg has a column about how the NYT has discovered that there exists a phenomenon called "conservative college student", so in keeping with their "automaton" stereotypes, they pose a group of them in identical George Bush T-shirts and photograph them, frowning and sinister, to accompany the article.
A friend recently responded to something I said with "Boy, you sure have been listening to Rush Limbaugh too long". Another person, when I criticized some network anchor or another, asked "so, who DO you like on TV... besides O'Reilly?" The notion of legions of "mind-numbed robots" tuning in each day to Rush to get their conservative talking points is a source of amusement for Rush and his listeners, but it is an all too real perception on the Left, and among the apolitical.
In most (but not all) cases, the people responding to me this way are not being nasty or even (gasp!) judgmental. They are friends of mine. I send a lot of articles on specific subjects to people as a way to follow up on a conversation, make a point, win an argument, or just to inform in more depth. But for the most part, the scores of writers and thinkers, living and dead, that inform my opinions and my worldview, are well off the radar of all but a few of my friends.
I'm sure no "deep thinker", but I love reading what such people write, and trying to learn, synthesize, and understand, (okay, sometimes just to retain) some of what I'm reading. Even among current, regular writers, columnists, critics, pundits, and bloggers, there is so much quality and variety of opinion and analysis to read, that I run out of time long before I run out of material.
So when someone assumes that I'm one of Rush's "robots", I try to resist the temptation to tell them that I'm really a part of the neo-conservative cabal that has hijacked American foreign policy to do Israel's bidding, and establish a new American empire. Instead I just ask them to "give me a break". I tell them that there's a long list of writers and thinkers whose work I read and respect. And the names Limbaugh and O'Reilly aren't on it.