Bill O’Reilly’s Cognitive Dissonance

Dana MilbankBill O’Reilly is the cognitive dissonance champion, and this recent kerfuffle with Dana Milbank is a perfect example. After O’Reilly’s shameful pre-Super Bowl interview with President Obama, Milbank wrote, Bill O’Reilly’s Obama Interview Showed a Nation Still Divided. He did what few are brave enough to do. He watched the interview more than once and generated some statistics. According to him, O’Reilly interrupted Obama 42 times. Even more telling, of the 2,500 words spoken in the interview, O’Reilly spoke almost 1,000 of them.

None of this should be surprising. It was clear that O’Reilly’s intention was not to interview the President but to “give it to him.” The interview was simply red meat for his old and conservative viewers. These are people who just know that Obama is secretly destroying the country. What I find interesting is that these are exactly the same people who are more or less okay with Bill Clinton now, even though they thought the exact same thing when Clinton was actually president. So no one should expect much from Bill O’Reilly or his audience.

Bill O'ReillyBut on Tuesday, O’Reilly went on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show to call Milbank a liar over and over again. What exactly was Milbank lying about? No one knows because O’Reilly didn’t say. I’m sure he can find minor things to complain about. Milbank said “O’Reilly spoke nearly 1,000” of the words. O’Reilly might have a problem with the word “nearly.” He may think some of his interruptions weren’t really interruptions. But if he had substantive points, I’m sure he would have mentioned them.

There are a couple of things that bug me about all of this. I’m not really bothered that O’Reilly would defend himself. That’s natural; I would do the same. But he did it in a totally inappropriate way. First, if you are going to say someone lied, you need to be specific. That wasn’t the only name calling either. O’Reilly said, “These far-left kooks, like this nut at the Washington Post, Milbank—but he’s a dishonest man.” Dana Milbank is a far-left kook? That’s news to me.

I go out of my way to not read Milbank because he is the prototypical Washington centrist. The same day that O’Reilly was screeching about what a liar he was, Milbank was misreporting the CBO economic analysis of Obamacare, Obamacare’s Scorekeepers Deliver a Game-Changer. He said, “Obamacare has been undermined by the very entity they had used to validate it.” That’s not at all true, but that’s the kind of thing that upper-class Washington centrist pundits write.

I’ve seen this kind of name calling many times before from O’Reilly. Whenever a liberal disagrees with him, they are “far-left liberals.” Despite the fact that O’Reilly claims to be a political independent, his idea of the Overton Window is Joe Lieberman on the left and Louie Gohmert on the right—if there is a right. There is no problem with finding some political views unacceptable. But the problem with O’Reilly’s “far-left liberals” moniker is that it isn’t true. What he’s actually saying is that he doesn’t like people who have liberal views. This is the same as people claiming that Obama is a socialist. If Obama is a socialist, what is the name for an actual socialist? As for Milbank being a “far-left liberal,” then what am I?

The other problem is O’Reilly’s oft claimed justification that he’s “an opinion guy.” That’s why its perfectly okay to get all kinds of facts wrong and never to admit it. Well, even though Dana Milbank doesn’t have a show on Fox News, he is nonetheless “an opinion guy.” This is why the Washington Post adds the words “Opinion Writer” after his name. Of course, this is no excuse for getting facts wrong. But in the column about O’Reilly, it does not seem that Milbank got the facts wrong. It would seem that the only time facts matter to O’Reilly is when someone else uses them against him. And then they only matter in as much as O’Reilly can dismiss them out of hand as lies without even mentioning which facts he’s talking about.

But humans are amazing animals. We can justify anything. And O’Reilly is certainly not a stupid man. He has more than enough brains to work out reasons why almost a year after it was debunked, he is still using the “IRS chief visited the White House 157 times” talking point. And that’s why he can think that he never misleads his audience whereas Dana Milbank is a far-left liberal kook who does nothing but lie.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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