Watching Bill O’Reilly interview partisans about Jeremiah Wright, it occurs to me that O’Reilly’s interests now overlap those of the Democrats, and that something slick has just happened. When the Democratic spin was that Wright had been misquoted (“God damn America”), and that anyway Obama had spent little time with him, O’Reilly was eager to expose Obama’s relationship with Wright. That relationship was a source of controversy and O’Reilly’s business runs on controversy.
But now the Democratic spin is that Obama has repudiated Wright, and that Wright is a self-aggrandizing buffoon (“God damn America”) whose antics are irrelevant in a fair assessment of the reasonable, even tempered Obama. And O’Reilly, either taking the bait or having a good sense of where the ratings are, is no longer on the trail of the dissembling Obama so much as he is focusing on the bloviating Wright.
Thus Wright takes on the role of a decoy flare that is launched by an aircraft to distract heat-seeking missiles — at least that is how Democrats wish to see the situation. Republicans prefer to think that Wright is stuck to Obama and will weigh him down come November. I think the Republicans are more likely to be correct but who knows. What I find fascinating is how unerringly O’Reilly is attracted to the flashiest part of any issue, and how by focusing on the flash and noise he tends to miss more-important points. He hounds the judge who furloughed the sex offender, while ignoring reasonable questions about statutory-rape and mandatory-sentencing laws. Similarly, O’Reilly pursues Wright at the expense of giving additional scrutiny to candidate Obama’s slippery non-repudiations of his detestable mentor.
O’Reilly isn’t bad as big-media types go, which is saying something, but there’s still a lot of spin in his “no-spin zone.” Unlike typical MSM spin, which is heavily political, O’Reilly’s bias leans more toward the sensational and moralistic. (Other journalists make things easier for him by underreporting some types of sensational stories for political reasons.) His journalistic style makes good business sense. However, viewers, particularly those who share his political views, should be cautious about accepting his conclusions, and should consider not only the heavy-handed points he scores but also the thoughtful questions he doesn’t ask.