Gifts for the populist and the leftist: O'Reilly for everyone

The holiday gift-giving season is nearly upon us, which brings from the good folks at Broadway Books Who’s Looking Out for You?, yet another volume of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s wisdom for the conservative (sorry, populist) in your life.

No populists on your list? Only Mother Jones subscribers and red-diaper babies?

Never fear, because media watchdog Peter Hart and the staff of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a New York-based outfit that critiques the media from the left, are out with The Oh Really? Factor, a tome that seeks to out O’Reilly for “bias, error, contradiction and a far-right political tilt.”

The point of this review already should be glaringly obvious to anyone who has ever watched even five minutes of cable news’s top-rated “The O’Reilly Factor”: If you like one of these books, you’ll hate the other.

O’Reilly is nothing if not an entrepreneur, and he continues to capitalize on the surprise success of his 8 p.m. Fox program. Who’s Looking Out for You? is his third book since 2000, following The O’Reilly Factor and The No-Spin Zone. For this third installment, your not-so-humble correspondent uses as his stepping-off point a self-help framework.

“This book is for everyday Americans fighting the good fight,” he writes. Among his targets of people who are not looking out for you are Cardinal Bernard Law, George Clooney, Bill Moyers, the network news, the recording industry and racial-minority leaders.

For those willing to take it, the closing two chapters offer some honest-to-goodness career and life advice, consisting of several examples of the author’s successes and failures.

Of course, at base it’s much the same recipe as his other books: Reprise some elements of his lower-middle-class-kid-makes-good biography, recap some choice elements of the show since the last book was released and sprinkle in some angry-white-male invective.

Still, there are several noteworthy passages, usually when O’Reilly turns storyteller. For instance, he recalls his reluctant attendance at a party given by Tina Brown in Manhattan. Looking to make a quick exit, he “nearly smacked right into Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFamily, friends mourn death of Barbara Bush Dems press for hearings after Libby pardon The Hill's Morning Report: Hannity drawn into Cohen legal fight MORE.”

After an awkward introduction, the former president pulled him aside to explain just how close he was to taking out Osama bin Laden.

Of course, many viewers and readers think O’Reilly is full of it. Enter Hart and his publisher, who adroitly recognized the untapped market in O’Reilly scorn. The Oh Really? Factor is a well-documented compendium of O’Reilly quotes and opinions, categorized and juxtaposed with the facts (at least the facts as FAIR sees them).

Hart begins by debunking O’Reilly’s claim that he’s not an across-the-board conservative. He says O’Reilly admits that his “core audience consists of ‘moderate conservatives.’”

Hart also runs down a laundry list of “conservative” positions O’Reilly proudly holds and calls him out for “failing to deliver” when he sets out to assail the right.

Hart scores the most points by pointing out O’Reilly’s double standard when it comes to facts versus opinions. “As I explained a gazillion times, this is a news analysis program which is driven by opinion,” Hart quotes him from 1999. Yet when his guests confront him with an uncomfortable set of facts, O’Reilly likes to retort, “That’s your opinion!”

Hart writes: “Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a conservative commentator. The problem is when you’re disingenuous about your politics and twist the facts to suit them. If it’s spin to back up your arguments with bogus facts and statistics, and to dismiss numbers that don’t fit in with your preconceptions, then ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ isn’t a ‘no-spin zone.’ It’s Spin City.”

O’Reilly fancies himself an old-school journalist, a tabloidist looking out for the common man. Is he? As these books demonstrate, this is very much an open question. But the more interesting question is: Is O’Reilly and his style of journalism good for political debate in America?

Books reviewed:
By Bill O’Reilly
213 pages; $24.95
Broadway Books

Unspinning Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly
By Peter Hart and Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
157 pages; $8.95
Seven Stories Press