Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Bill Takes a Vacation

Bill O’Reilly is going for some R and R, on an ostensibly long-planned (but only recently announced) family vacation. 

He’s been looking a little drawn these last few days—it’s likely the excitement over the release of his new book. “Old School: Life in the Sane Lane” where Bill voices, as only he can, the importance of traditional values like faith, family, respect, and fealty to values.

What is “Old School”?  In Bill’s words “Did you get up this morning knowing there are mountains to climb—and deciding how you are going to climb them? Do you show up on time? Do you still bend over to pick up a penny? If so, you’re Old School. Or did you wake up whining about safe spaces and trigger warnings? Do you feel marginalized by your college’s mascot? Do you look for something to get outraged about, every single day, so you can fire off a tweet defending your exquisitely precious sensibilities? Then you’re a Snowflake.”

Bill’s obviously not the type who is going to melt in the sun, so those scurrilous reports of him possibly being in trouble at Fox because of crank complaints from women looking to cash in on his fame (and the alleged $13 Million in settlements that allegedly ensued from same) are just…alleged.

But the big question of the day is whether Fox is looking to oust Bill, given the squeamishness that some advertisers have shown. The choice, obviously, will be the Murdoch’s. Reportedly, CEO James Murdoch wants O’Reilly gone, while father Rupert, and older brother, Lachlan, think O’Reilly is worth keeping.

The Murdochs know there are substantial economic consequences. O’Reilly is enormously profitable, and will likely remain so once the dust settles. He’s an egomaniac of the first order, but it is far more important to Fox than Megyn Kelly was.  Brand and money are going to be the determiners, not what Bill actually did. 

Democrats, who are enjoying a little schadenfreude, don’t really get this. What they miss about O’Reilly is pretty much what they miss about everything Republican—and what they miss about Fox.  Fox is like a family resort for conservatives: there is something for everyone in every bracket. And O’Reilly, far better than anyone else, is a bridge to their older base.

The Fox experience is planned carefully to be all-encompassing  You can get hard news--Fox does offer some credible journalists, and the daily schedule sprinkles them in strategically to lend legitimacy to the entire offering. But what Fox excels at is in displaying and catering to a variety of different brands of Republicanism. 

You can start your day with the breakfast soufflé of Fox and Friends, the immaculately groomed hosts lightheartedly spreading the snide. Fox and Friends’ great good fortune is to have a cranky insomniac septuagenarian in the White House who stumbles out of bed, grabs his robe, and looks for positive reinforcement with his morning pick-me up.  Then he tweets, and instant content is available for fawning over. 

After a switch to harder news, you can maintain you blood-levels of outrage with shows like “Outnumbered” and “The Five.”  But it’s evening where Fox makes its bones. Three straight hours, beginning at 8, of O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson (in the Kelly slot), and Sean Hannity, each speaking to their own slice of audience. Then, at 11, the cycle repeats itself. 

Carlson and Hannity slash away with their particularized voices.  Carlson’s bow-tied latter-day-George Will superiority sells well here. And Hannity gut-punching has been a hardboiled contribution-in-kind to the GOP for years. 

But it’s O’Reilly who is the single most effective translator of modern Republican dogma in any medium.  He’s the guy who speaks to the “Old School” and “in my day” crowd: “In my day we walked to school, barefoot, carrying sacks of potatoes on our backs. In my day, everyone worked, and worked hard. In my day, everyone knew their place. In my day, we studied History, not Herstory.  In my day, we went to Church on Sunday.  In my day, we all respected our cops and our soldiers, and we all served in the military.”

What is potent about O’Reilly’s message isn’t that he’s spouting a political ideology like many of the other Fox hosts.  He’s really not, regardless of his Republican preferences and the guests he invites. Rather, he’s selling a lifestyle--reinforcing a sense that some people have about themselves—that they are the glue that keeps everything together—they are the tough ones who lived exemplary lives and deserve to live in country that honors that and enforces it. O’Reilly, to his audience, exemplifies the hard-headed no-nonsense approach they would apply, if they were in charge. 

Will his viewers care about the sexual harassment issues?  My guess is no--they see themselves as realists. Some tell themselves that the women are just gold-diggers, or exaggerating. But, even if every story is true, boys are boys, and powerful men who are surrounded by glamorous women are…still boys. A realist doesn’t spend too much time worrying about snowflake things like that.  

I think Bill returns from his vacation, tanned and rested, and back in his chair. He looks out at the audience and gives them that little smirk of his.  And they smirk back. 

That's Old School, I suppose.

Michael Liss