Dave Weigel wrote a very good article over at Slate today, Bill O’Reilly, Asking the Wrong #Benghazi Questions. In it, he goes over why conservatives are so focused on exactly what the administration said about the attack. Bottom line: they have a very simplistic take on the attack. In reality, a number of things led to the attack, and the very first thing was anger about the video. But in the right wing media, there is no room for nuance. It was either entirely about the video, or there was an administration cover up. This is indicative of a level of intellectual immaturity that ought to shock the nation. But instead, it is business as usual.
O’Reilly went into the interview thinking he was going to blow the lid off the conspiracy by getting to the bottom of what the very first thing Secretary Panetta told him. It’s just pathetic. But no one bats an eye. It’s just to be expected even though it was just slightly less ridiculous than Alex Jones asking the president when he’s going to send in the black helicopters. Of course, O’Reilly had similarly “clever” traps set regarding Obamacare and the IRS non-scandal, where he pressed the long debunked talking point about the IRS chief bing “cleared into the White House 157 times.” Somehow, this is all acceptable.
Bill O’Reilly is often called out for his bad journalism. This is because he wants to be accepted in polite company. He wants to be allowed on The Daily Show. So his argument is that he’s just an entertainer—just a clown. And that he’s not a hard news guy; he’s an opinion guy. The rules are different for him and Hannity. But when it is the turn of Fox News to do the pre-Super Bowl interview with the president, no “hard news guy” is available and so they send in the clown. Funny that.
I should be clear: I think we as a nation show far too much deference to the president. So I don’t have a problem with a reporter being direct and asking tough and tenacious questions. I was, for example, thrilled with Carole Coleman’s interview with Bush the Younger. I would argue that what O’Reilly has now done twice is not that. The whole point of his interviews seems to be to signal to his audience his disdain for the president. But regardless what he’s trying to do, O’Reilly would certainly be against it if anyone were doing the same thing to a Republican president. (And yes, I am well aware that O’Reilly claims to be independent. He also claims to be pro-choice. He flatters himself that he is something other than a right wing ideologue. He isn’t.)
But what I really don’t understand is why President Obama agreed to do the interview. It isn’t like pre-Super Bowl interviews are required in the Constitution. I understand that Obama has nothing to worry about being interviewed by a mediocrity like Bill O’Reilly. And Obama did indeed destroy the angry pundit. But it soils the office to have someone like O’Reilly get to do his interruption and innuendo infused interview. There is no way that the president can be that close to the intellectual filth that is at the center of Fox News without being soiled himself. An interview with Bret Baier or Chris Wallace would be okay, I suppose. But Fox News has said what they think of the president by allowing a joke pundit to interview him. I don’t see why the White House is okay with that.