Friday, April 21, 2017

On Bill O'Reilly, tribalism and ideology

My interest in the extent to which, if any, he has been a sexual harasser is mild at best.

I've just always found the guy oversold as a sharp mind. From his insistence that, when gasoline prices rise, it's due to some kind of price gouging at some point in the petroleum-industry supply chain to his conclusion that Barack Obama is a patriot to his punching-above-his-weight conflagration with George Will, he has proven himself an inexhaustible wellspring of WTF moments.

That leftists are now in claim-a-scalp mode shows just how removed from reality their current fever has rendered them. Even measured-tone pundits with an obvious liberal bent want rather desperately to make him out to be some kind of icon of the Right:

MSNBC's Chuck Todd called him a "leader" in the conservative movement, which is more wishful thinking than reality.
In truth, the secret of O’Reilly’s success was that he was a centrist. He hit the elusive sweet spot that many media outlets covet, but few actually bother to pursue.
Professor Tim Groseclose (formerly of UCLA, now of George Mason), who is the best authority on political leanings in the media, used data analysis in Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind in 2011 to show that not only were most media outlets left of center, but also that public opinion was further left than it would have been were it not for the media’s effect. On a scale of 0 to 100 — zero being most conservative, and 100 most liberal — the true center of the American public, absent media influence, was around 25, Groseclose argued. And O’Reilly, on the same objective scale, registered as exactly that: 25.
As excerpted at the time by the Powerline blog, Groseclose wrote:
… What if we could magically remove the metaphoric glass and see, face-to-face, the average American, once his political views are no longer distorted by media bias? What would we see?
The answer, basically, is Ben Stein.
Yes, the actor, author, commentator, and former host of Win Ben Stein’s Money. More specific, the person whom we’d see is anyone—like Ben Stein—who has a Political Quotient near 25. The Political Quotient is a device that I construct to measure political views in a precise, objective, and quantitative way. A person’s PQ indicates the degree to which he is liberal. For instance, as I have calculated, the PQs of Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) are approximately 100. Meanwhile the PQs of noted conservatives Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) are approximately 0.
Two other people whose PQs are approximately 25 are Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller. They are significantly more conservative than the average American voter, whose PQ is approximately 50. But they are significantly more liberal than politicians like Michele Bachmann or Jim DeMint.
As my results show, if we could magically eliminate media bias, then the average American would think and vote like Stein, Miller, O’Reilly, and others who have a PQ near 25.
What his audience correctly sensed, though, was that his everyman persona was not schtick. He came by it honestly:

An Irish Catholic from working-class Long Island, born in 1949, O’Reilly was reared by a generation with warm feelings toward FDR’s New Deal economics, came of age in the 1960s and 1970s counterculture, and launched his career amid the Reagan Revolution. These were formative experiences shared by millions of Americans. Repulsed by the radicalism of Berkeley and the Black Panthers, offended by the lecturing of Jimmy Carter (crystallized in his “malaise” speech), but not far removed from the horrors of the Great Depression and World War II, they found themselves looking back affectionately to the economic ascendancy and cultural consolidation of the 1950s. And so they landed firmly on the right side of the political spectrum — but nearer its center than we often recall today. It was this audience that Fox News targeted when it was created in 1996 and that found a representative voice on The O’Reilly Report, which launched that same year. 
Consider that sentence beginning with "O'Reilly was reared by a generation with warm feelings toward FDR's New Deal economics."

That's important for understanding the size of his audience. It's the ethos that Matthew Continetti captured so incisively in his supremely important 2015 essay "Revenge of the Radical Middle":

These voters don’t give a whit about corporate tax reform or TPP or the capital gains rate or the fate of Uber, they make a distinction between deserved benefits like Social Security and Medicare and undeserved ones like welfare and food stamps, their patriotism is real and nationalistic and skeptical of foreign entanglement, they wept on 9/11, they want America to be strong, dominant, confident, the America of their youth, their young adulthood, the America of 40 or 30 or even 20 years ago. They do not speak in the cadences or dialect of New York or Washington, their thoughts can be garbled, easily dismissed, or impugned, they are not members of a designated victim group and thus lack moral standing in the eyes of the media, but still they deserve as much attention and sympathy as any of our fellow citizens, still they vote.
What the radical middle has seen in recent years has not given them reason to be confident in our government, our political system, our legion of politicians clambering up the professional ladder office to office. Two inconclusive wars, a financial crisis, recession, and weak recovery, government failure from Katrina to the TSA to the launch of Obamacare to the federal background check system, an unelected and unaccountable managerial bureaucracy that targets grassroots organizations and makes law through diktat, race riots and Ebola and judicial overreach. And through it all, as constant as the northern star, a myopic drive on the part of leaders in both parties to enact a "comprehensive immigration reform" that would incentivize illegal immigration and increase legal immigration despite public opposition.

This element, along with
  •  the Beltway Establishment with which both conservatives and leftists expressed their disgust in the last election cycle, as well as

  • those leftists, with their identity politics, thug means of asserting their presence in what remains of the national discourse, and utter flight from reality 
is the source of the dissonance drowning out the timeless conservative message.

It's said that O'Reilly's departure signals greater changes at FNC, as Rupert Murdoch's sons implement their notions of where the network ought to go. While the way that shakes out remains to be seen, it almost certainly doesn't behoove us as conservatives to invest hope in some kind of new era more reflective of what we stand for.

Such an outlet is probably not going to be found on television, which is fine.  It's not a medium conducive to persuasion of the type that we need to be about.


  1. Insightful Barney. Thank you.

    Is there a test one could take to measure one's PQ?

  2. It's in the genes. So is being an asshole.

  3. Horse shit. An understanding of why no economic system other than economic freedom actually works, an understanding of why the Juseo-Christian underpinnings of the West must be preserved and defended, and an understanding of how Western nations classify other nations as allies, adversaries or enemies determines whether one is a conservative or a freedom-hater.

  4. Oh no, that's just hawk/dove crap.

  5. But what a thing to say after missing the enlightenment in March For Science Day