Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Thursday, May 01, 2008

One more reason to fear for democracy

I had an awful experience last night, and it's changed the way I think about my country.
I watched "The O'Reilly Factor," and its eponymous host, Bill O'Reilly.
I hadn’t watched Bill O for two or three years, for one simple reason: He’s an insufferable horse’s ass. Putting his politics aside, which is a good place for them, he violates every principle of fairness, to say nothing of the most basic precept of journalism: Ask the question, then shut up and listen to the answer.

A bible for reporters is The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. One of the rules they lay down for writers is “Do not air your opinions gratuitously. To do so is to imply that the demand for them is brisk.”

Now, critics will point out that I built a moderately successful career by violating that principle every chance I got. But there’s a difference, and here it is: I never claimed to be objective. For 27 years, my column said OPINION at the top. I like to think I was fair, but the column often wasn’t balanced: It was a column of opinion, and the opinion was mine.

O’Reilly has the same right, of course. It’s society’s misfortune that he has such an encompassing venue in which to present his twisted and unAmerican views, but nobody can question his right to hold them.

When you claim to be fair and balanced, though, when you’re broadcasting from the no-spin zone, you accept certain responsibilities: A) you have to actually take a shot at being fair and balanced, and B), you have to turn down the spin bolt a little.

O’Reilly can believe whatever he wants. I don’t care for his politics, but I’m not sure I care for anyone’s, and it’s a free country. What’s depressing about him, and his show, is that he presents it as spin-free, and millions of people apparently don’t question that description.

Last night was a good example. I subjected myself to 45 minutes of Bill O because his guest was Hillary Clinton. I ‘m not particularly a Clinton fan, but she’s a historic figure in an important election. I wanted to see how she handled herself with a hostile interviewer, and a little bit of me wanted to see them beat up on each other. I didn’t much care who won—I was interested in the spectacle.

Three minutes into the show, I was doing the wave on my couch and holding a big foam finger in the air every time Hillary opened her mouth. About five minutes in I started recording, and I watched it again this morning, but it didn’t help: I can see how people might watch O’Reilly for the comic value of seeing a man imitate a pompous and oblivious ass, or actually BE a pompous and oblivious ass. But that millions of people take him seriously and believe this is how journalism should be practiced is profoundly depressing.

If I were reading a transcript of the interview and scoring it like a debate, I’d have to give it to O’Reilly. He challenged Clinton, and on some points she didn’t respond strongly.

If you SAW the interview, though, you heard the reason: O’Reilly is a boor. Clinton is nobody’s novice, and she was both knowledgeable and well prepared for the interview. She addressed every issue O’Reilly raised—but when she tried to explain her position, he simply shouted her down. It made no difference what she said, because he rode over her, making irrelevant claims or simply making more noise, so her responses couldn’t be heard.

When O’Reilly was wrong—as he was, for instance, in a comparison of tax rates today with those of the ‘40s, 50s and 60s—he ignored her corrections and plowed ahead with his erroneous point. His acolytes eat it up, and more’s their shame.

Two things make this especially unbearable for me. First, I care about journalism. For many reporters and editors, even in this profit-oriented era, it’s a calling. They put up with the low pay, low public opinion and lousy hours because they believe the job is important. O’Reilly dishonors those people and disgraces their profession, not by what he says, but by claiming that he’s objective when he says it.

Second, the success of our democracy and the welfare of our nation depend on a free and fair press providing the public with accurate reports on the issues of our time. Opinions, everybody’s opinions, have a place in those reports. But opinions disguised as fact, opinions that ignore reality and that play on people’s fears and prejudices, don’t belong in the no spin zone.


Blogger rosebud said...

since "the success of our democracy and the welfare of our nation depend on a free and fair press providing the public with accurate reports on the issues of our time", we might have an explanation for the last 8 years.

that, in turn, might explain the "low pay, low public opinion and lousy hours" of this "profession".

as appears from the blogmercials for your radio show, it seems to be about nothing other than promotion.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Didn't watch it, couldn't bring myself to do it. However, today I watched the last 10 or so minutes of Charlie Rose. He essentially did the same thing (IMO). He asked a question then drowned out his guest with his own thoughts. I was astonished that he did this and tonight will watch the whole broadcast to see if it was only at the end that this happened.

Maybe all tv journalists work this way?

6:54 PM  
Blogger anobody said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Pogonip said...

Bill O'Reilly "balanced and fair"?? That's his opinion, maybe, but far from factual.

The Bill O'Reilly show is about one thing, and one thing only, and that's Bill O'Reilly. It's futile to watch to get information because that's not his aim. He's there to get rich and famous, and if he could get the same reaction by being wildly liberal, I think he'd do that.

He is not a man of principle.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Dewey said...

Sean Hannity does the same except when he talks he continues on and on. Whenever a caller ever gets through with an opposing point of view and Sean feels he is losing he goes to commercial and either the call is lost or he has gone on to another subject as if the previous caller never existed.

If you can't defend your position intelligently you shouldn't be on the air. Shouting or dropping calls doesn't mean you are right.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Freakbear said...

Rosebud's first paragraph makes sense and suggests the press has been less than accurate with reports on the issues of our time during the Bush years.

However, I do not agree that the less than accurate reporting is a result of low pay, lousy hours, or low public opinion.

Finally, the few references to your radio program have been entertaining and informative and hardly qualify as blogmercials.

Your blog and the Radio program are breaths of fresh air in the stagnant waste of the American mainstream media. Rock on Cory!

9:39 PM  
Blogger Happy Camper said...

Interesting commment on Charlie Rose, I enjoy him, but he does step on his guest.....Bill O Reilly is beyond hope. I do support Hillary after Edwards dropped out, but she was way off to walk into that trpa

7:32 AM  
Blogger dwoods48 said...

Bill O'Reily is and always was an entertainer . It just amuses me so much that anyone who goes on " Fox News" instantly becomes a Journalist. Secondly , I want to say as a Christian , if anyone in their right mind believes that Barack Obama sat in Pastor Wright's Church for Twenty Years and didn't know what he was Preaching about , well keep getting your news from Entertainers and God Bless You..

7:52 AM  
Blogger KathyScienceNerd said...

If O'Reilly did such a bad job (thank God I didn't have to watch him) why do you think Hillary lost?

8:36 PM  
Blogger renobob said...

I always find it ironic that the left's complaints only start when "fair and balanced reporting" works against their opinion. They never seem to mind when Katie or Matt or Tom or Dan twist things to support their well documented left leaning positions. But the self righteous gloves come off immediately when a right leaning commentator tries the same thing. Can't have it both ways.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Pogonip said...

It's hugely amusing that what is labeled "left-leaning" in the U.S. is considered centrist or slightly to the right in the rest of the civilized world.

What has happened to this country? At one time, we led in forward-thinking ideas. Now we seem bound and determined to move the clock backward and return to the past.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Gave up on the blog, Cory?

9:28 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

R. I. P.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Pogonip said...

This blog may be dead, but democracy isn't!

11:05 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What made me mad about your Friday show was that you acted like only Fox News is biased. Does that mean anyone who doesn't drink the Kool-Aid of the left wing NBC/ABC/CBS/CNN/MSNBC is wrong?

The other thing is that Bill, Sean, Glen, Gretta and Geraldo are not "News". Fox News is Shpehard, Neil, Martha, Trace, etc. (if you have to look them up then you haven't watched the station enought to make a fair evaluation).

And if you've never seen "Red Eye", your completely in the dark. It's funnier than anything on TV now days.

10:45 AM  
Blogger S Reno Guy said...

O’Reilly dishonors those people and disgraces their profession, not by what he says, but by claiming that he’s objective when he says it.

Second, the success of our democracy and the welfare of our nation depend on a free and fair press providing the public with accurate reports on the issues of our time. Opinions, everybody’s opinions, have a place in those reports. But opinions disguised as fact, opinions that ignore reality and that play on people’s fears and prejudices, don’t belong in the no spin zone.

In response to the above, and some other comments you made, you represent this statement (and others you have made) exactly. You say that his opinions don't belong in the no spin zone, but yet you say that when you write your column, and the fact that it says "Opinion" at the top, makes it okay to tell everyone your view, even though you are given a format similar, even if it is smaller, to express your view and opinions. It is scary that you feel "that the welfare of our nation depends on a free and fair press..." evn though you clearly don't communicate that in your blogs, articles, or your radio program.

You blogged that opinions disguised as fact, and opinions that ignore reality abd play on peoples fears and prejudices, don't belong in the no spin zone. But yet, you feel that your opinion does belong in your own little "Cory Farley" no spin zone. The average american can read your blog and see that you don't like "Bill O's" opinions,but yet you like to take him to task about having a national platform for what he is doing. You have a platform to do the same, but you have not been as succesful in doing so.
I am not syaing hat I agree with everything he says, but maybe you should consider that you are not the voice of Northern Nevada, you are just as you said before, an OPINION columnsit, that never listens considers other peoples opinions.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm afraid my comment has nothing to do with this blog post, Cory, but after hearing you and a listener on today's radio program mention this "abandoned" blog, I had to take a look.

I do hope we can encourage you resume occasional posts here. I used to read you often in the Gazette--but a few years ago, listening to the radio or watching TV news while doing something else began to slowly replace newspapers in my life. I do listen to the radio show often, but would love to see your thoughts here on occasion as well.

Ron Hildebrand

6:51 PM  
Blogger Beam Me Up said...

I'm sure Bill will keep his mouth shut about the violence over the abortion issue. I'd like him to explain the difference between the Taliban and Sarah Palin and the right to lifer's. Each group wants to force their will upon the people by violence and threats. What ever happened to Democracy?

6:46 PM  

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