Ooooh, Bill O'Reilly is angry.
A recent article in Mother Jones magazine by David Corn and Daniel Schulman intimated that Mr. O'Reilly had embellished his reporting on the Falklands War; in other words, O'Reilly is another Brian Williams. I rather doubt that because Williams invented incidents and O'Reilly is not a fabulist. He is, however, a narcissist.
Several years ago, I visited the Fox studios with my 13 year-old daughter who had been invited there by O'Reilly's programmer after an email my daughter wrote praising his program. At the time, the O'Reilly Factor was a treasure, presenting news and pithy interviews of politicians and celebrities. The program remains newsworthy but I rarely watch it because O'Reilly's ego trumps the value of the stories he's covering.
After I wrote an article for the New York Sun in 2004 called 'O'Reilly's Big Head', I received a call from a talk show in Florida requesting an interview. I found that the column struck a chord with the show's listeners who had noticed the same thing about Bill O'Reilly. Here's an excerpt from that piece:
I've tried to pinpoint exactly when Mr. O'Reilly lost his humility and I've determined it was a short while after September 11, 2001. Mr. O'Reilly had initiated an investigation into what the Red Cross was doing with the donations it had received to help the victims of 9/11. He alleged that some of these funds were being allocated to other Red Cross programs. The investigation was a solid piece of journalism and Mr. O'Reilly deserved kudos for a job well done.
Then I noticed that in subsequent stories over the next few months he would manage to interject his achievement in exposing the Red Cross scandal into the conversation. I started noticing that Mr. O'Reilly would preface his comments with remarks like, "I did this or I did that."
The Factor was in fact becoming more about Mr. O'Reilly than the issues. We were constantly being reminded that his books were on the New York Times best-seller list, or about the great column he had written for WorldNet Daily, or his radio program.
He even periodically had a segment on his program where he would sit for a critique from Arthel Neville about his performance. Get it? It's all about Bill. I kept wishing she would say something honest like, "Bill, stop talking about yourself!"
Even the end of the program, where he reads e-mail from around the world, is really just another way of broadcasting what people think about Bill.
One of the things I had originally enjoyed about the Factor was that Mr. O'Reilly asked the tough questions that we at home would have asked of any controversial individual but which were rarely asked by most journalists. The program also addressed whatever issues were in the news.
The Factor would always present divergent points of view and sometimes the side I least related to would actually sway my opinion by informing me of facts I was hitherto unaware of, but Mr. O'Reilly's self-promotion was such a turnoff that he was starting to resemble Don Imus with his cottage industry Ranch products.
It's obvious that Mr. O'Reilly didn't read my column criticizing his narcissism because he hasn't changed his habit of interjecting himself into the story. We may make fun of the number of times President Obama says, "I" in his speeches but I suggest a new drinking game raising a pint when O'Reilly does the same.
It's not surprising that liberal publications like Mother Jones are targeting O'Reilly, whose show is still the leading cable news program. They believe that O'Reilly is a right winger. He is not. He is a pragmatist and selects his targets very carefully. Unlike President Obama, he is a very intelligent narcissist.
After the Mother Jones article went viral over the Internet, O'Reilly lashed out at one of the writers, said "This man, 56-year-old David Corn, who works for the far left magazine 'Mother Jones,' smeared me, your humble correspondent yesterday, saying I fabricated some war reporting. 'Mother Jones' which has low circulation, considered by many the bottom rung of journalism in America." Humble correspondent? That's a stretch.
Unfortunately for O'Reilly, others more credible are weighing in on the attack. A rant by Eric Jon Engberg who was a CBS News correspondent for 27 years calls into question several of O'Reilly's statements about the reporting and O'Reilly's subsequent recollections of it. The nitpicking by the mainstream media was inevitable as O'Reilly is a valued target considering his potential influence on the upcoming 2016 presidential campaigns.
I'm quite sure he can handle the smears well. He is not a liar and has more integrity than others in the major networks. Reading over that past NY Sun Column, I find that the final passage is just as relevant today as in 2004:
Has Bill O'Reilly joined the elite of the mainstream broadcasters? Has he become what Bernard Goldberg described in his latest book - a broadcaster who doesn't recognize how arrogant he has become?
I'm writing this in the hope that Mr. O'Reilly recognizes Robert Burns' best line: "O wad some power the giftee gie us to see oursels as ithers see us."