Dear Bill, how’s does it feel to have been the butt of a joke for nine years?
FOX News big mouth and bigger ego, Bill O’Reilly, likes to write (well maybe he writes them) books that he thinks are original, but actually are rehashes of subjects that only differ in title: Killing Patton, Killing Kennedy, etc. (don’t waste your money) I’ll make not pretense to not regarding O’Reilly as an arrogant creep and ideological Neanderthal, and the self-aggrandizing fraud and liar that Al Franken’s documented book, Bill O’Reilly is a Big Fat Liar shows him to be.
But this piece is not about Bill O’Reilly, except by indirection. Bill O’Reilly is not really interesting enough to write about except that he will ultimately be best known as the inspiration for Stephan Colbert’s satirizing of him. Colbert turned O’Reilly and the phony uber-patriotism of Fox New into a clever and extremely popular self-destructing send-up by exploiting O’Reilly and Fox, adroitly taking its themes just further to its extremes to expose the fact that Fox was not at all about “news” but was a poorly-disguised forum for right-wing propaganda and a venue for burning metaphorical crosses on the White House lawn of Barack Obama.
It has been said that as soon as you attempt to analyze humor it no longer seems funny. But a couple of generalizations can be risked. One is that if there is not an underlying truth to humor, it will not be comical. Indeed, Colbert himself took this notion out and gave it a full exposition with his now legendary term “truthiness,” a single neologism that gave the lie to the perverted logic, prevarication, calumny, and downright bigotry and nastiness of Bill O’Reilly and his Fox News colleagues. They pander to their audience something that they called “news and, as Colbert continually exposed, it as faux news, a perversion of the truth that makes Josef Goebbles sound like George Washington.
The epistemology of The Colbert Report flows from its very mimicry. The truth about politics and social issues, among other things, is processed through comedy (as it also is on the parent of the Colbert Report, The Daily Show) such that it might be in some respects the most incisive journalism offered to the viewing public these days when most of the conventional news auspices have shown themselves to be quite wanting and timorous in their capacity for penetrating investigative journalism. No doubt this is the reason that Colbert has received several Emmys as well as other journalistic and broadcast media accolades for what is nominally a comedy show. Mr. O’Reilly, who considers himself a journalist, has earned no such respect or recognition, something that, in his reflective moments, must royally piss him off, especially in that Colbert’s satirical miming of him allows the freedom to flaunt these awards.*
The comparisons and contrasts between Colbert and O’Reilly are considerable. Colbert’s “role” requires intelligence, quick-wittedness, and a constant ability to make a translation of the absurdities of right-wing ideology to parody. O’Reilly, who is incapable of being anything other than the mean-spirited ideologue, rather than an ability to counter and parry, merely turns off (as he often has) his opponent’s mic. In terms of not just intelligence, but multiple-talent—Colbert can sing, dance, mimic, act, and has marvelous body language—there is no comparison between the two. Colbert, who likes to refer to O’Reilly as “Papa Bear,” once invited him to the interview part of The Colbert Report and proceeded to make a fool of the arrogant buffoon while brilliantly appearing to be a gracious and obsequious host. One could almost(?) take pity on O’Reilly; he’s in over his head with Colbert.** Only Colbert could perform his show before a live audience.
A further contrast is evident when one takes into consideration the appearances of President Obama with each of these men. When he consented to be “interviewed” by O’Reilly (something I think was rather stupid on the part of Obama, who has a fatal compulsion to think he can make friends with bigots that hate his guts), it was in two well-separated chairs in a presidential-looking room and resulted in Obama providing stock answers in response to O’Reilly’s questions which were supposed to make him appear like a serious journalist. It sucked and gave O’Reilly an undeserved credibility. Compare that with Obama’s appearance on the Colbert Report, on which Colbert hilariously, remaining in satirical character) put stupid right wing questions to the President, who was then allowed to take over from Colbert on the “Word” segment of the show, in which the President was able to show a human side of himself as well as do a little satire of his own.***
The genius formula of The Colbert Report was that Colbert could invite liberal politicians, entertainers, scientists and authors to be ostensibly pilloried in interviews by him as a right-winger, yet himself be shown to be the selfish, arrogant ignoramus that is his “O’Reilly” persona. Colbert managed to pull this off without ever himself (Colbert) coming off as ideological or arrogant himself. As a result it became almost an honor to be “abused” in his interviews, and fascinating and interesting guests seem to flock to his show.
Should there be any lingering doubt of that one needs only to view his farewell program,**** a who’s who that you would never be seen in the same room with Bill O’Reilly.
© 2014, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 12.22.2014)