On hating O’Reilly

Very interesting, if true, especially the assertion that “last year’s purchase of the Wall Street Journal [by Murdoch] ‘was in no small way about wanting to trade the illiberal — the belligerent, the vulgar, the loud, the menacing, the unsubtle — for the better-heeled, the more magnanimous, the further nuanced.'”

This is another aspect of the “Fox Effect” I’ve written about before. Fox has its own combative brand that has in recent years tended to define the GOP brand. Two Irish Catholic guys from New York, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, have effectively become the face of the Republican Party. Is it unfair ethnic stereotyping to say that these two argue like a couple of Irish Catholic guys from New York?

Both O’Reilly and Hannity have a habit of bullying guests with whom they disagree. If you’ve ever seen this shtick — constantly interrupting, badgering, insulting, demanding that the guest “answer the question!” but never giving them time to do so — it is impossible to enjoy unless you have a sadistic streak. It’s the same cacaphonous ugliness that I always hated about CNN’s old “Crossfire” show, and every other “shout show” imitator. There is an audience for that confrontational style of TV (4 million tune into O’Reilly regularly) but you’re never going to build a genuinely mass audience for rude disagreement.

When a David Brooks or a George Will or a David Frum sneers at Republican “populism,” it is this belligerent mode of discourse that they have in mind. Hard-core Republicans may cheer when Hannity works his bully-boy routine on a liberal, but such acts of signification — “I aggressively diss liberals, therefore I am a true conservative!” — can never persuade the unpersuaded.

Most conservative Fox viewers don’t notice this, simply because of their ideological affinity with the bully boys. But remember when Bill O’Reilly sneered at talk-radio “Kool-Aid drinkers” and “right-wing liars” who opposed the bailout?

See? When O’Reilly points the obnoxious name-calling at you, it’s not quite so enjoyable, is it? (My apologies, BTW, to any Irish Catholic New Yorkers who don’t like being lumped in with O’Reilly.) This kind of rudeness gives the conservative intellectual class a pretext to disparage “populism” and to denounce Sarah Palin as a particularly divisive populist. The intellectuals, quite rightly, don’t want conservatism to become so closely identified with rhetorical belligerence.

If Murdoch himself is concerned that the O’Reilly style is “vulgar” and “menacing,” to what extent has the general public absorbed that general perception of conservatives that O’Reilly and his Fox cohorts have helped create?

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