Thursday, January 02, 2014

Opining on O'Reilly

There have been occasions on The Seventh Sola where I have discussed Bill O'Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor." It's consistently been the top rated program on cable television, and Bill and crew deserve credit for the hard work that no doubht has contributed to their success.

Having said that, I would like to look at O'Reilly through the lens of someone (myself) who has been involved in broadcasting in one form or another for more than 30 years. I want to look at this analytically, and praise what I can, yet also do a little gentle chiding.

The things that will bring my chiding are things Bill has addressed, usually in his "letters" segment at the end. He rightly says that his program is an "opinion" show, news and situation "analysis," and is not what you would call objective, hard news. While Bill has reporter/anchor experience, that is not the Factor vein. He is quite up front about that, and many of Bill's critics (along with critics of Fox in general) do not seem to understand the distinction between the network's hard news reporters/anchors who operate under journalistic objectivity, and the prime time "opinion" programs where a point of view is expressed.

I often find myself—even the majority of the time—in agreement with Bill's take on issues. I think his analysis is often keen and incisive, but sometimes he shows some shortcomings in other areas —geopolitics, history, and theology—and the depth of the shortcoming depends on the specific issue.

My main problem with Bill is his mode of interviewing. In the nearly 20 years I did a radio talk show—one where we had both guests and, for a while, phone call participation, I had a manner of interviewing. It was probably more in keeping with the late Bill Buckley's "Firing Line" where he would ask probing questions, and then let the guest have their say. Bill is an incorrigible interruptor. It seems like the program is more about what he thinks rather than what his chosen guest thinks, and if that is the case, why not just do a monologue like Rush Limbaugh and then have call-in guests to argue with? In my view, it is rude to ask someone to come on the program to be interviewed on an issue, ask them a question, let them get five words out of their mouths and then you're cutting them off and not letting them finish their point. He will defend this by saying he wants to stay on point or he has limited time, but I don't think that's the case when you take things in toto. Often it seems like he doesn't like the answer they're in the process of giving, but rather than letting them make their case and then rebutting, he cuts them off before they can even make their point. In my book, that's a no-no. It's one thing if you have a guest that begins filibustering. In those cases, it's quite right to intervene and get control of your interview. But you don't shush a guest five words into his/her answer.

I would not make a good guest for Bill, although I know quite a bit of history, geopolitics, and certainly theology. I would give him better theological answers than many of the guests he's had on, and I could certainly give sound biblical refutations to some of the things he has posited himself. But I would insist on being allowed to answer the question asked me without interruption. If I got interrupted, I would give one warning. If it happened again, off would come the microphone and out of the studio I would go.

And that's a shame, really. As I said, I agree with Bill far more often than I disagree. But don't be rude to me, and don't cut me off in mid-sentence. Don't talk over me. I did my best not to do that as an interviewer myself, and I found that even guests who were initially gun-shy about coming on my program later enjoyed the experience very much. So did our listeners, who liked listening to a real, civil, in-depth fleshing out and discussion of an issue.

But—perhaps I am a throwback to another time. He has high ratings, so he must be doing something people like. That's probably because he is a populist of sorts, and does air issues that the mainstream media try to ignore. Kudos to Bill O'Reilly for that. I just wish he would allow his guests to talk more. An interview program is supposed to let the guest shine a bit. If the show is about you and not your guest, then monologue. Lecture. If your program is a debate, then by all means, debate. But allow equal time and be fair.

And one more thing. Bill has a stock line at the end of an interview - "I'll give you the last word." Check and see how many times he actually does indeed give the guest the last word. I'll be interested in your tally.

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