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Saturday, April 26th, 2003


The No Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America

by Bill O'Reilly

A review by C. P. Farley

Bill O'Reilly's second book, The No Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America, was recently released in paperback. To no one's surprise, it jumped immediately to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. With millions of viewers nationwide, O'Reilly is one of the most popular -- and powerful -- journalists in the country.

Why do so many Americans love Bill O'Reilly? Well, if you ask Bill O'Reilly, it's because he's the only journalist out there who is honest enough to tell America the truth. In contrast to the New York Times and other main stream media outlets, which he regularly denounces as flat-out dishonest, O'Reilly has dubbed his own program of hard-hitting journalistic interviews the "No Spin Zone."

While the term sounds like it was borrowed from a high school pep rally, it is really a reaction to the excessive reliance on "spin" employed by the Clinton administration. It's hard to argue with that. Clinton's it-depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-is-is legalistic slithering created a whole new class of truth-parsing. But O'Reilly's claim to manage the No Spin Zone is nearly as laughable.

O'Reilly freely admits, "the Factor is not a hard news broadcast. It is opinion and analysis." But he places a rather high value on his own opinion: he mistakes it for Truth. O'Reilly claims to have inherited his nose for truth, his "built-in bull detector," from his father, who "would walk out of the room if you couldn't make your point in sixty seconds."

This sounds about right. For the Bill O'Reillys of the world -- and the Rush Limbaughs and the Michael Moores, and every other populist polemicist, left and right, who preaches to their respective choir without actually challenging them to examine or deepen their worldview -- if it isn't easy, if it can't be encapsulated in a sixty-second sound bite, it isn't worth bothering with. O'Reilly rails against the if-it-feels-good-do-it culture, and his fans love him for it. And yet, isn't his brand of you're-an-idiot-if-you-don't-agree-with-me journalism just another form of moral lassitude.

Take the following excerpt from a recent conversation O'Reilly had with an anti-war protester who dared to "enter the Zone." Mr. Solay had signed an advertisement in the New York Times that was critical of American foreign policy:

O'REILLY: What do I have to say about the war of 1812? It doesn't matter.

What matters is that you are saying, in this advertisement, signed by some very, very high-profile people, that we are terrorists here.

SOLAY: That's not what we are saying...

O'REILLY: Sure you are. You're basically saying that we shook our heads at the terrible scenes of carnage, even as we recalled similar scenes. You're comparing 9/11 -- all right? -- the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, to Baghdad and Panama City.

That's obscene. That is so, so offensive to clear-thinking Americans. Don't you have any clue how offensive that is?

SOLAY: In fact we are people who live in this country. And you know as well as I know that, quiet as it's kept, there are millions of people in this country, millions in this country, who are joining those internationally, who do not want to see an unjust, immoral and illegitimate war.

O'REILLY: All right. And you have a right to that opinion. And I'm not criticizing you for that opinion.

SOLAY: What I'm saying about the Not In Our Name statement of conscience, is it's not that it's un-American, it's a statement that's standing with the people of the world. We're not granting privilege to people...

O'REILLY: You can say you're standing with the people of the world, but if they believe this, you're standing with the pinheads of the world who don't know anything.

Clear-thinking? Pinheads? You won't find anything like this in the highly-edited, self-flattering conversations recorded in The No Spin Zone. O'Reilly makes a big show of tolerance for the opinions of pinheads. He's even nice to Susan Sarandon, "the poster girl for what they now call 'progressive' thought. I'm not exactly sure what that is..." After disagreeing politely with her opinions about police brutality in New York City, he magnanimously acknowledges that she's talented and nice. But his real reason for including her in his book is to provide himself the opportunity to inform the reader that "members of the left in America are often well intentioned, but they are just as often clueless."

Well, duh. But without even getting into whether or not "clueless" applies to Ms. Sarandon, being clueless is not a prerogative of the left. A fairly widespread condition, it's just as common on the right as it is on the left, and in the middle and all points in between as well.

So why say this? Because, this partial truth implies, without actually stating it, that conservatives -- excuse me, "clear-thinking Americans" -- are smarter than liberals. And that is just as ludicrous as someone on the left saying the reverse.

Am I suggesting that Bill O'Reilly is a master spin doctor? No, I'm saying that he's a clumsy spin doctor, a blatant manipulator of half-truths, who gets away with it because he panders to the egos of his very conservative audience. The message is, if you agree with me -- nay, if you watch my show -- you are a cut above the average to below average thinker (read, anyone left of Donald Rumsfeld). Bill O'Reilly's arrogance is legendary; in fact, he wears it like a badge of honor. What's frightening is how many Americans fail to see through his brand of self-serving half-thinking.

This is not to say that O'Reilly never cuts through bull, as he claims. He does. He even makes an excellent point from time to time. But if he really wanted to make his father proud, he'd bite the bullet and subject himself to the bull detector. If he did, the first thing to go would be the pretense that he has any interest in "analysis." After all, this is a man who claims that all of our societal ills are caused by "cowardly parenting" and "corrupt national leadership." Period. No responsible thinker, on the right or the left, would promote such simplistic platitudes.

If you're looking for an intelligent, fair-minded, useful book exploring the issues of the day from a conservative perspective, I'd recommend skipping this one. If you're looking for the No Spin Zone, I'd recommend going back to high school.

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