The Whole Truth, So Help Me, O’Reilly
I have taken a lot of abuse for my last epistle seeming to say something good about Bill O’Reilly in connection with his coverage of the Falkland Island War. Using the name O’Reilly and good in the same sentence, the complainers argued, in effect, is an oxymoron. What was going on here—am I a closet “O’Reilly Factor” fan?
In the interest of full transparency, and advancing the cause of honest TV journalism, without malice aforethought, I am saying up front that I think O’Reilly now is a semi-demented so-called newsman who is an obnoxious, insufferable, opinionated, rude loudmouth whose views tend to be typical right-wing drivel. And those are the good things I can say about him.
Furthermore, without meaning to be critical, or kick a man when he seems to be going down, I feel it is my duty as a journalist and as the world’s leading O’Reillyologist to say he is a slimy, dishonest, reprehensible, two-faced, untrustworthy, disgusting individual who I’d call a swine, if it wasn’t besmirching the reputation of swine. And a genuinely rotten person.
Even worse, he apparently is an industrial-strength liar, judging by the avalanche of filth being dumped on his reporting record. Clearly, there is more to O’Reilly than meets the eye.
Every day, it seems, there is a new allegation that Billo lied about something. As I sit down to write, they are now saying he lied he was next door when an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald shot himself in 1977. And he wasn’t hit by bricks during the LA race riots, reporting from a shiny black stretch limo while his driver further polished it, or whatever they are now saying.
So many errors in his reporting are coming in, “The O’Reilly Factor” might aptly be renamed “To Tell the Truth.” A popular TV panel show which began in 1956, and ran for 25 years, and was one of O’Reilly’s major intellectual influences when growing up, it could be improved by adding a wrinkle to the concept. The panel would be trying to guess what is true in his stories.
Clearly, O’Reilly is not my nominee as one of the 36 righteous ones, who the Scriptures say, even if one was missing, the world would come to an end.
Of all the shortcomings I have listed at random, his not being true to one of the basic tenets of journalism—nobody could tell him what to say or write— is the most disturbing. He swore to me on a stack of bibles (his first six books) that this was a nonnegotiable principle. I know about this violation not by hearsay but personal experience.
Let me tell you a story that that didn’t make what the New York Times Sunday Book Review observed “if it wasn’t a valentine, it was something of a mash note” (“The Man Who Would Not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O’Reilly,” St. Martin’s Press, 2007).
Generally speaking, the word was O’Reilly liked the book, especially the parts where I praised him. The one part of the book he didn’t like was the part about his phone sex problem.
In case you have forgotten, I committed the indiscretion of recounting certain allegations of sexual harassment (offensive phone calls to a female co-worker in 2004), and he was understandably embarrassed by her lawsuit. It was the kind of story he would have covered on his show with glee if he weren’t a principle part of the story (for all the seamy details, see Chapter 20, “What Was He Thinking?”).
The story had hit The Internet of that day faster than a Lindsay Lohan being arrested-while-forgetting-to- put-on-underwear video.
It turned out O’Reilly was hypersensitive about the subject. In his opinion, sex problems did not have a place in what the Times critic would later call “Boswellian prodigies of research.” I disagreed. Omitting it would be like not mentioning Monica in a definitive biography of Bill Clinton or omitting Watergate from a book about Nixon.
To his credit, O’Reilly had second thoughts. “ Look, Marv,” he told me in a phone call when he was still talking to me, “I realize as a journalist you have to deal with the subject.” He even gave me advice on how it should be handled. “Three sentences,” he said, orally writing them for me. “Sentence one: O’Reilly had a problem. Sentence two: O’Reilly dealt with the problem. Sentence three: it’s history.”
The irony: It didn’t seem to matter to O’Reilly, that my account based on solid reporting was not only fair and balanced, but also concluded he was being blackmailed. All that cut no ice with him, from all reports.
He was so eager to flush the incident down the memory hole, he even paid the plaintiff off. Keith Olbermann reported O’ Reilly paid ten million dollars to make it disappear. “And he didn’t even get a kiss,” Olbermann said on MSNBC’s “Countdown,” which covered O’Reilly like the morning dew in those days.
The additional part of the story that I somewhat too delicately never shared with my readers is the aftermath of my relationship with the modern day Wizard of Ooze.
I was struck by a parallel. Because I had refused to omit from my biography what he wanted removed from the collective memory was not unlike what our Russians friends did with certain unpleasant parts of their history, and dissenters who jumped or fell into the sixth dimension and disappeared in the glorious dictatorship of the Proletariat.
Not only did O’Reilly turn on me, but put the Big Freeze on the book despite its critical success. He had been in the habit of dropping into our interviews that a mention on “The Factor” would guarantee bestsellerdom.
O’Reilly vowed not a word would be said about the book, despite the chance to let his viewers know all about the 25 years before he became such an unimpeachable source of information and enlightenment.
He kept his word. I will give him credit for that.
Integrity is what O’Reilly is said to be all about. He told me that himself quite often. If you couldn’t play by those rules as a newsman, he argued, then you should be doing “Entertainment Tonight.” How could he live with himself?
As one of his bosses at Fox News later told me, “Bill has two sets of principles. One for himself, one for others.” I had committed the cardinal sin of practicing what O’Reilly preached.
The Marvin Kitman Show
March 3, 2015