Feb 14, 2014

Bombastic Bill O'Reilly: Bashed by his Favorite Paper The New York Times

It’s been nearly two weeks now since Bill O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama on Super Bowl Sunday, and in the No Spin Zone of the host’s pretend world he’s still spinning the chat as the greatest conversation since Winston Churchill dined alone.
His sit-down with the president, he said, “is going to go down in journalistic history as what should be done.” And in case historians are late to the same conclusion, O’Reilly is auctioning off the notes of his questions — “they are obviously one of a kind,” he says.
Let us now praise the Bombastic One’s gift to posterity. His interview, his notes, all the ephemera should be preserved and studied. The sickness that infects news and politics, and its commensurate cynicism, can be directly traced to the creation of Fox News — “a political operation that employs journalists,” in the words of Gabriel Sherman, author of the new book on Roger Ailes, “The Loudest Voice in the Room.” There is no bigger media story in the last 50 years than the creation of a news network run by political hacks, says Sherman. I’m inclined to agree.
But just as important, civility itself took a dive with the rise of Fox, and has never recovered. The shouters, the boasters, the haters who show up at town hall meetings or pollute the Web with dark fantasies get their behavioral cues from Fox. O’Reilly is famous for telling guests to “shut up,” for cutting off people he disagrees with, for smugly praising his own performances and bringing on sycophants to do the same. By comparison, Ron Burgundy is a model of humility.
A congress where members can shout “You lie” at a president, or tweet “socialist dictator” and “Kommandant-in-chef” (sic), is another result of the vulgar forces unleashed by Fox.
Imagine Walter Cronkite, Diane Sawyer, Terry Gross or Tim Russert devoting entire shows to praising their own work. A good interview makes news, or reveals something fresh about the subject.

So, the first point for historians sniffing the odor of O’Reilly’s time capsule in 2114 is that the interview made no news. No ground was broken. It was a journalistic dud. O’Reilly himself spoke for about 40 percent of the time, and devoted 90 percent of the interview to “the full Fox scandal grab bag,” as Jon Stewart called it.
O’Reilly, in four days of talking about himself after the interview, said his role is to hold politicians accountable. If only. Remember how accountable he held George W. Bush when the president took the country to war on a lie, bankrupting the nation in the process? You don’t? Here’s a sample, from a 2004 interview with Bush, then in a heated election contest with John Kerry. That September, a series of incendiary ads, questioning the military service of Kerry in Vietnam, was a hot topic.
O’Reilly: “You didn’t know anything about the Swift Boat ads before they went on the air, did you?”
Bush: “No, I didn’t.”
O’Reilly: “Did Karl Rove know anything about it?”
Bush: “I don’t think so.”
In fact, records show that the bulk of the funding for those smears came from two men with close ties to Bush — one a longtime associate of Karl Rove’s, something that was easily found by a document search.
O’Reilly then dismissed as “propaganda” questions about whether the combination of massive tax cuts and two costly wars might leave the country broke. But he did drill Bush on why there are so many liberal college professors and “pinheads” at Harvard and Yale.
The biggest issue at the time was how the United States could be fooled into going to war over nonexistence weapons of mass destruction.
O’Reilly: “What happened to Saddam’s chemical arsenal? Do you know?”

Bush: “No, I don’t.”
O’Reilly: “He hasn’t given us much, has he?”
Other news organizations, The New York Times among them, were less watchdog than lapdog at times as well. But from beginning of this debacle to the mission-accomplished end, Fox worked closely with the White House. Ailes offered strategic advice in the run-up to the war, and Fox was the lead cheerleader. The same Fox host who says his job is to hold politicians accountable actually warned his fellow citizens not to raise questions or protest.
“Americans, and indeed our allies who actively work against our military once the war is underway, will be considered enemies of the state by me,” said O’Reilly. “Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand, and others who see the world as you do.”
Since Benghazi dominated O’Reilly’s interview with Obama, it’s fair to check how many times O’Reilly asked Bush about at least six attacks on United States embassies and consulates during his first term. Zero. It never came up in three long interviews, according to the transcripts Fox posted.
Little wonder that Bush felt right at home with O’Reilly. “I really enjoy how you interview people and I appreciate you giving me a chance to come on and have, what we say in Texas, ‘just a visit.'”

Just a visit for one president, a trip to the scandal trough for another. Should O’Reilly ever sit for an interview on his own past, on terms he applies to Fox’s enemies, it would include questions about the lawsuit from a former subordinate who complained of “constant and relentless sexual harassment.” No spin there. No questions either. After a reported $10 million settlement was paid to keep the details inside Fox, O’Reilly said, “This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again.”
We could ask O’Reilly about the softball interview he did with former Governor Mike Huckabee concerning the felon he let out of prison early in Arkansas who went on to murder four police officers. This kind of politician should be a punching bag for O’Reilly, Willie Horton-ized to a pulp. Unless, of course, he worked for Fox. O’Reilly praised his colleague as “a stand-up guy.”
From the War on Christmas to the Frankenstein monster of the Tea Party, Fox’s creations have been uniformly bad for American life. Regular viewers of Fox are less-well-informed than people who are exposed to no media. So yes, future generations should study O’Reilly’s interview. Learn from it, as with all mistakes of history, lest it be repeated.

Al Franken: He's Doing a Good Job in Washington and Everything but is he Still Funny?


Al Franken’s transformation from spicy comic to wonkish senator has been nothing short of breathtaking. Five years ago, the risk of encountering Franken was that he’d tell a funny story of the sort that would make your mother blush. Now the risk is that he’d make your eyes glaze over with the inside dope on Washington legislation. Franken has become, with no irony intended, a serious man.
“Is it as much fun being a senator as it was working on ‘Saturday Night Live,’?” he asks, reciting a question he often gets. “The answer is no.” But he goes on to say that people’s careers often take new turns. “This is the best job I’ve ever had,” he says, “because its purpose is to improve other people’s lives, and when that happens everything else is worth it.”
“Everything else” is the endless partisan bickering and systematic dysfunction that have led many ordinary people to give up on government and some scholars to conclude that the Constitution no longer works. But Franken, a Democrat, who’s rated among the half-dozen most liberal senators, insists that there’s another Washington hiding in the nooks and crannies, one that’s fully functional and brimming with bipartisan cooperation, even bipartisan friendship. “That’s really what the job is about,” he says.
Take, for example, the new restrictions on large-scale pharmaceutical compounding that Franken and Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas pushed through the Senate last year. Federal investigators had traced contaminated drugs that caused 750 cases of fungal meningitis and 64 deaths to a careless drug compounding operation in Massachusetts. Its tainted drugs were shipped to 18 states. At a tearful meeting last month in Franken’s St. Paul office, two Minnesota survivors dropped by to thank Franken and to describe the painful illness that continues to threaten their lives. It was a heartbreaking scene. And it showed an emotional side of Franken that most voters haven’t imagined.
But it also prompts a question as Franken braces for a re-election challenge this year: Who is this new Al Franken? His opponents tend to see him wearing a kind of disguise, beneath which lurks the same old prankster who wrote books like “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot” and “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” wickedly funny essays with a streak of mean running through them. In short, they doubt the genuineness of the new Franken.
Friends, on the other hand, see common threads running through Franken’s career, from comic to satirist to senator — namely, his intense interest in public affairs, his appetite for detail, and his strong sense of populist outrage, now tempered by age and position. For them, Franken has emerged as a mature version of his former self, or, in political terms, a buttoned-down version of Paul Wellstone, without the fizz.
Franken, himself, traces his political awareness to his father, who grew up a Jacob Javits Republican in New York and eventually moved his young family west, first to Albert Lea, then to the Twin Cities suburbs. Father and son would pull out the TV trays at dinnertime and watch the news together, most memorably the civil-rights drama of the early 1960s, and most vividly the scenes of white police officers attacking and beating black demonstrators. “No Jew can be for that,” Franken recalls his dad telling him.
In 1964, when Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater failed to support the Civil Rights Act, Joe Franken switched parties. And his son began sipping St. Louis Park’s extraordinary brew of politics and art, a mixture that would produce journalist Tom Friedman, satirist Tom Davis, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, and musicians Sharon Isbin and Peter Himmelman, among others. The Blake School, Harvard University and Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop sharpened Franken’s sense of irreverence and launched him toward a brand of politically edged comedy, eventually as a writer and occasional performer on “SNL” and as a talk-radio host who tried to challenge the conservatives’ domination of the air waves.
But Franken’s experience as a public figure did not prepare him for elective office. Early in his Senate campaign, he struggled to find the proper persona between comic and serious candidate. Speaking from the bimah (pulpit) at Temple Israel in Minneapolis, Franken told a graphic Buddy Hackett joke about male genitals. The response was shock and embarrassment. It may have been a moment of clarity for Franken: What works on the Borscht Belt or in Las Vegas is way, way out of bounds for a politician in the American heartland, especially in a sacred setting.
Later, during the momentous recount that followed the 2008 election, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s chief of staff in the Senate, Tamera Luzzatto, hammered home a similar point. Don’t take advantage of your celebrity, she told him. Avoid the national spotlight. Keep your head down. Work hard. Take care of constituents. Build a loyal staff. Earn the respect of your colleagues in both parties.
Not the Ted Cruz of the left
It’s advice that Franken has followed almost too faithfully. “No one ever thought that Al Franken would be boring, but he’s taught himself a whole new skill set,” said University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs. “There’s nothing in his past to suggest that he could be this disciplined and this effective. He has greatly exceeded expectations.”
“He could have been the Ted Cruz of the left, but that has clearly not happened,” said Carleton College’s Steven Schier. “Turns out that the court jester was really an accountant.”
Actually, Franken has employed some of his satirist skills in the Senate, namely his talent for scanning the news and selecting his targets — not for comedy sketches but for legislation. “I don’t know of any first-term senator who has had such a broad sweep of accomplishments,” said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and one of the nation’s foremost experts on Congress. (Ornstein, by the way, grew up in St. Louis Park, a few blocks from Franken, and considers him a personal friend.)
Perhaps the best example of Franken’s sharp eye was noticing that Dodd-Frank, the law aimed at a preventing another 2008-type financial meltdown, had failed to discourage what Franken saw as a too-cozy relationship between the credit rating agencies and the Wall Street investment banks. Franken’s clear impression was that the agencies gave AAA ratings to “junk” in exchange for continued business from the banks. “That was the cause of all this in the first place,” he said. “This is a conflict of interest, clear as day.”
While he’s still working to amend that law — “I’m on it like a dog with a bone” — many of his other initiatives have been passed, nearly all of them with the help of Republican partners. Among Franken’s main interests: privacy, technology, workforce development, veterans, health care, renewable energy and agriculture. Perhaps the best way to summarize his legislative work is to ask some of the questions he asked over the last five years:
Should insurance companies under Obamacare be required to spend 80 percent of premiums on actual care rather than on administrative expenses? Should the developers of smartphones and mobile apps be required to get customers’ consent before tracking their locations? Should the federal government decline to do business with companies that require employees to give up the right to sue for sexual harassment or rape at work?
Should partnerships between private-sector employers and community/technical colleges be strengthened? Should veterans have better health care options in rural areas? Might service dogs help wounded veterans adjust to civilian life? Should diabetes prevention be a higher priority in health care? Should landlords be prohibited from evicting women from federally supported housing because they were beat up or sexually assaulted? Should spy agencies be required to release more details about their surveillance programs?
He believes that the answer to each of those questions is yes. Franken owes much of his success so far to his ability to forge alliances, even friendships, with Republican senators. A sense of humor on both sides can break down a lot of barriers, he said. “They figured out pretty quickly that I laugh a lot.”
At the same time, he has emerged as perhaps the Senate’s toughest critic of corporate power, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, allowing unlimited corporate contributions to politicians. “They gave corporations a blank check to utterly destroy our political system,” he told his colleagues in 2012.

copied from alfranken.com