We knew that Bill O'Reilly had done a nasty segment on Rick Perlstein -- including running his picture -- tonight on Fox News because Perlstein called me shortly afterward and asked:
"Hey, did Bill O'Reilly or someone on Fox do something with me in it tonight?"
"I dunno. I'm recording but not watching. Why?"
"My inbox just started getting deluged with hate mail a little bit ago."
"What time did it start?"
"About 7:30 [Chicago time]."
"Yep, that would be O'Reilly."
"I think they ran my picture. A lot of the mail is about how ugly I am."
I pulled my recording and yep, sure enough, there was a segment attacking Perlstein for his Newsweek op-ed column this week. He invited on his frequent guest, Bernard Goldberg, to talk about it.
As you can see, what set O'Reilly off was Perlstein's characterization of O'Reilly's audience as working-class whites whose more unstable elements sometimes act out violently:
O'Reilly: The most recent Newsweek contains a nasty piece on Sarah Palin that implies she is an intellectual moron supported by poorly educated conservative idiots.
[Hmmmm. Read the piece for yourself. As you can see, it certainly does not use language like that, and in fact discusses to working-class whites in largely respectful tones -- but points out that they don't get much respect among Republican elites. O'Reilly's caricature of the column is actually rather self-revealing.]
O'Reilly: The article goes on to say that these stupid conservatives are influenced by extremist commentators. Quote:
Now [William F.] Buckley is gone, and the most prominent spokesmen -- the Limbaughs and O'Reillys and Becks—can be heard mouthing attitudes once confined to the violent fringe. ... Fox heavily promoted anti-administration "tea party" events this past Fourth of July -- rallies in praise of secession ...
Well, obviously, that paragraph is pure propaganda.
Actually, let's read the whole passage, and you can judge for yourselves. Again, what O'Reilly omits is telling:
Another thing that makes some elite conservatives nervous in this recession is the sheer level of unhinged, even violent irrationality at the grassroots. In postwar America, a panicky, violence-prone underbrush has always been revealed in moments of liberal ascendency. In the Kennedy years, the right-wing militia known as the Minutemen armed for what they believed would be an imminent Russian takeover. In the Carter years it was the Posse Comitatus; Bill Clinton's rise saw six anti-abortion murders and the Oklahoma City bombings. Each time, the conservative mainstream was able to adroitly hive off the embarrassing fringe while laying claim to some of the grassroots anger that inspired it. Now the violence is back. But this time, the line between the violent fringe and the on-air harvesters of righteous rage has been harder to find. This spring the alleged white-supremacist cop killer in Pittsburgh, Richard Poplawski, professed allegiance to conspiracist Alex Jones, whose theories Fox TV host Glenn Beck had recently been promoting. And when Kansas doctor George Tiller was murdered in church, Fox star Bill O'Reilly was forced to devote airtime to defending himself against a charge many observers found self-evident: that O'Reilly's claim that "Tiller the baby killer" was getting away with "Nazi stuff" helped contribute to an atmosphere in which Tiller's alleged assassin believed he was doing something heroic.
At least in the past, those who wished to represent their movement as cosmopolitan and urbane could simply point to William F. Buckley as the right's most prominent spokesman. Now Buckley is gone, and the most prominent spokesmen—the Limbaughs and O'Reillys and Becks—can be heard mouthing attitudes once confined to the violent fringe. For the second time in three months, Fox heavily promoted anti-administration "tea party" events this past Fourth of July—rallies in praise of secession and the Articles of Confederation, at which speakers "joked" about a coup against the communist Muslim Barack Obama like the one against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. "What's going on at Fox News?" Frum recently asked, excoriating Beck for passing out to followers books by the nutty far-right conspiracy theorist W. Cleon Skousen. If you were an elite conservative, you might be embarrassed too.
The difference between "propaganda" and "journalism" is that (ideally, at least) the latter is built on a robust consideration of the facts at hand -- and Perlstein's piece clearly is that. Indeed, his piece brings up a lot of inconvenient facts that O'Reilly conveniently omits.
Indeed, here's a supplemental fact that was edited out of Perlstein's piece, and which he provided us:
Then, in July of 2008, a Tennessee man who opened fire on a Unitarian church left behind a note expressing his hatred of 'Liberals in general, as well as gays' and announced as his desired victims 'every Democrat in the Senate & House' and 'the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg’s book.' Golbderg, a frequent guest on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program, is author of 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (and Al Franken Is #37).
Well, at least Goldberg managed to point out to O'Reilly that Perlstein's piece accurately focused on a very real rift within the Republican Party, a point on which O'Reilly chose not to dwell for very long. Funny how that works. All that matters to O'Reilly is that he is "a far-left zealot."
Instead, one evidently becomes an Enemy of the State -- complete with grainy profile shot -- for simply treading on Bill O'Reilly's narcissistic ego.
Perlstein did say that a Fox producer contacted him beforehand and asked if he was willing to go on the show. He declined.
"I told them to send Jesse if they wanted, and here was my address," he added.
I think he's busy practicing the words "Andrea Mackris" as we speak.