Last week, much to my surprise, Bill O’Reilly invited me on his Fox News show, The O’Reilly Factor.
He was upset that I called him a “right wing buffoon” in my Huffington Post article, “Pete Seeger – In His Own Words – Graces the Colbert Report.” The article was actually about Pete Seeger’s appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show on Monday night.
In truth, the reference to O’Reilly in my Huffington Post piece was an after-thought. I was praising Stephen Colbert for inviting Seeger on his show and I suggested that Colbert lead a campaign to get Pete nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I wrote that: “Colbert’s show — including his faux campaign for president, his Super PAC, and his nightly send-up of Bill O’Reilly’s right-wing buffoonery — brilliantly satirizes the absurdities of America’s corporate-dominated political culture. By heading a campaign to get Pete Seeger the Nobel Peace Prize, Colbert would actually demonstrate that the forces of social conscience can triumph, against the odds.”
Soon after my Huffington Post article appeared online, O’Reilly’s producer contacted me to ask if I’d like to appear on the show to discuss the article. (Of course, if I’d called him a “conservative pundit,” I doubt he would have asked me on the O’Reilly Factor). Once I got the invitation, I called a number of my friends, all of them media savvy, two of whom had been on O’Reilly’s show, to ask for their advice. Some of them advised me to reject Bill’s offer. Bill controls the microphones, the camera, and the agenda, interrupts his guests (particularly his occasional liberal guests), and heaps abuse and scorn on them. Others encouraged me to go on the show but advised me not to get distracted by his bullying and to stay “on message,” no matter what he said or how often he interrupted me.
To me, “on message” meant talking about Pete Seeger and the other progressive figures I profile in my new book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).
I figured Bill would attack Pete for having been a Communist and for his history of left-wing activism, so I came prepared with a list of Pete’s many political and cultural accomplishments, as well as the fact that Pete was a World War Two veteran, had been married to the same woman for 70 years (a true exemplar of “family values”), and was single-handedly responsible for cleaning up the Hudson River.
But it was clear from the get-go that Bill didn’t want to talk about Pete Seeger. He wanted to talk about why I called him a “right-wing buffoon” and paint me as an example of the alleged left-wing bias rampant on America’s college campuses today.
If you’re so inclined, judge for yourself. Here is a video clip of my five minutes on The O’Reilly Factor.
More interesting than my brief back-and-forth with Bill was the immediate reaction to my appearance on his show, which I describe in this follow-up Huffington Post article, “My Five Minutes with Bill O’Reilly,” published on Thursday.
Within minutes of going off the air on O’Reilly’ show I started getting emails from Bill’s fans, most of them saying exactly the same thing in exactly the same words. This suggests that this immediate flurry of emails — most of which were from people who didn’t include their names — was somehow orchestrated. It is hard to believe that it could have been random. Most of them accused me of being a typical left-wing college professor poisoning the minds of the next generation, and most of them spewed with vitriol and hatred. Here’s an example:
“You FUCKING CLUELESS ASSHOLE…….being a typical liberal you couldn’t give O’Reilly an example of your propaganda bullshit. I get so sick of pieces of shit like you and your ilk. It is shame you weren’t at the midnight showing of Batman in Aurora. It’s stunning how your kind loves to suck Obamao’s dick (does his semen taste good? The earthquake that’s gonna cause california to fall into the ocean can’t come soon enough. But in the meantime more and more of cali cities are gonna file bankruptcy. How are those socialist programs working out? I’m no republican(libertarian) but I get sick of them not using your boy’s, Saul Alinsky, tactics. How’s it feel? See you in hell asshole!”
I eventually received about 50 hate emails along these lines. I understand that the people who comment on politically-oriented websites, or who take the time to find my email address and write such vitriol, are not typical of the American public or even, in this case, of Bill O’Reilly’s viewers. But they represent a segment of Bill’s audience, the extreme right-wing fringe of American politics. Studies of Tea Party supporters show that they get most of their “news” from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other conservative talk shows.
In Human Events, the extreme right-wing magazine, Brent Bozell wrote a very nasty piece about Pete’s appearance on Colbert, “The Colbert Communist Bandstand,” in which he called me a “Seeger-adorer.” I accept the compliment!
Of course, I didn’t go on the O’Reilly Factor thinking that I’d persuade most of Bill’s loyal viewers, like the extremist who wrote that email, about the importance of Eugene Debs, Jane Addams, Walter Reuther, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Saul Alinsky, Ella Baker, Betty Friedan, and Pete Seeger.
But I was pleased to also get a handful of emails from O’Reilly watchers who said they’d buy the book. In fact, my publisher informed me that within minutes of my appearance on the show, sales of the book jumped dramatically, based on its ranking on Amazon.com. So, thanks, Bill!!
Although I didn’t want to spend my few minutes on The O’Reilly Factor reminding him of the many examples of his “right-wing buffoonery,” I don’t want his accusations that I “can’t back it up” to go unanswered. So, in the spirit of being “fair and balanced,” and with thanks to Media Matters for America, which regularly monitors The O’Reilly Factor, a few days later I wrote “Bill O’Reilly’s Right-Wing Buffoonery: A Brief Catalog,” for Huffington Post. It includes dozens of examples of O’Reilly’s lies, distortions and right-wing buffoonery over the past eight years.
I think, at this point, my five minutes with Bill O’Reilly are over.