Bill O'Reilly goes ballistic on Alan Colmes. Preplanned?(Read article summary)
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly started yelling at guest Alan Colmes earlier this week when discussing President Obama and budget cuts. It was an odd development that points to deeper issues.
Mark J. Terrill/AP
Veteran Fox News host Bill O‚ÄôReilly had a real shout-down with regular guest Alan Colmes on the ‚ÄúO‚ÄôReilly Factor‚ÄĚ earlier this week. The pair were discussing President Obama‚Äôs fiscal proposals ‚Äď specifically, whether the White House has proposed budget cuts to any specific programs. Mr. Colmes opined that he had. Then Mr. O‚ÄôReilly went ballistic like a North Korean missile test, jabbing his finger and turning up the volume while the smile on Colmes‚Äôs face suddenly went fixed.
‚ÄúYou are lying! You are lying!‚ÄĚ yelled O‚ÄôReilly.
This exchange has had some resonance in Washington for substantive reasons we‚Äôll get to a moment. But our initial reaction to the whole thing was whether O‚ÄôReilly preplanned the exchange.
This does not mean we‚Äôre charging journalistic impropriety. O‚ÄôReilly is a seasoned pro whose show is the engine that drives Fox ratings. He‚Äôs apologized for the personal attack, saying he wished he hadn‚Äôt used the word ‚Äúliar.‚ÄĚ
But we‚Äôre wondering whether he and his producers had planned an amped-up discussion of the fiscal subject and things just went a little too far.
After all, it‚Äôs not like the ‚ÄúO‚ÄôReilly Factor‚ÄĚ is free-flowing. The genial and generally liberal Colmes is a regular guest who often plays the role of the Washington Generals to O‚ÄôReilly‚Äôs Harlem Globetrotters. In other words, he‚Äôs supposed to provide some opposition and then lose. The only question is the score, not the outcome. Why get angry when it‚Äôs your show and you‚Äôre going to win?
Second, the tantrum has brought lots of attention to the main point O‚ÄôReilly wanted to make. He‚Äôs a moralist about the US debt, decrying the trillions-piled-on-trillions as a burden that he says will debase the currency and crush the US economy.
‚ÄúThis spending issue is vital for all of us, and that‚Äôs why I‚Äôm raising my voice,‚ÄĚ said O‚ÄôReilly on an apology segment broadcast Wednesday.
Last, the controversy has been great for his network. O‚ÄôReilly has been defended on most Fox programs but also skewered by Fox‚Äôs Kirsten Powers, who told O‚ÄôReilly to his face that he‚Äôs ‚Äú100 percent wrong,‚ÄĚ and Mr. Obama has offered specific Medicare cuts.
Maybe O‚ÄôReilly doesn‚Äôt believe Obama would really make those reductions, or maybe he doesn‚Äôt think they‚Äôre enough. But it‚Äôs wrong to deny their existence, she said.
As far as Fox News chief Roger Ailes is concerned it doesn‚Äôt matter which of his employees is right there. It only matters that the dust-up has provided buzzy content for an array of programs. As Joe Concha writes on Mediaite, this is why Fox dominates cable news ratings.
‚ÄúThe audience revels in being able to witness a family fight on an almost-daily basis,‚ÄĚ he writes.¬†
As to substance, folks are continuing to argue about this in D.C. because it appears to confirm a deep fear on both sides.
Liberals believe that many Republicans exist in a closed news loop that only feeds their beliefs. Thus the GOP does not realize that Obama has in fact proposed cutting Social Security benefits by changing the way inflation is calculated and reducing Medicare costs by increased means testing of benefits. Ezra Klein at Wonkblog wrote perhaps the definitive post about this earlier this month.
Conservatives meanwhile believe Democrats don‚Äôt understand the economy and don‚Äôt take debt seriously. They think Obama‚Äôs main aim is to recapture the House in 2014 and destroy the Republican Party. In fact, that‚Äôs what Colmes and O‚ÄôReilly were talking about just before they moved on to fiscal stuff and the resultant explosion.
Hmm ... so maybe O‚ÄôReilly was actually boiling after all?