October 23, 2004

Tim Rutten via Los Angeles Times

"What goes around comes around" sometimes is an accurate description of human affairs, but for anyone with a decent sense of their own fallibility, it's seldom a comforting one.

That's one reason it's as hard to gloat over Bill O'Reilly's problems as it was over the fall not so long ago of that other merchant of virtue, William J. Bennett. For all their commandeering of the public stage, for all their incessant scolding over the purported absence of virtue from our communal life, there is something joyless, lonely — andd rather sad —about their private conduct.

Once they wwere, the pair of them, as big a brace of bullies as ever bestrode the electronic pulpit. Nowadays, when Bennett shows up at all, it's as a kind of booker's afterthought on some third-tier chat show. But not so many years ago he was the right wing's hulking point man in the culture wars. It was virtually impossible to flip the channels without encountering Bennett — the one-time philosophy professor turned Republican activist — wearily stringing together snippets of Plato, Aquinas and Burke to make the case that the country was going to hell in a handbasket and it was all the Democrats' fault.

Like O'Reilly he was a great defender of traditional values — the sturdy, good old-fashioned virtues — and ad an unforgiving judge of anyone who offended against them. Both Bennett and O'Reilly, for example, had a field day beating up on Bill Clinton.

"Virtue is a word we need to recover," Bennett rumbled at one interviewer. And, to that end, he made himself a wealthy man as author of "The Book of Virtues" — a compendium of thoughts on traditional stories annd maxims that sold more than 2 million copies — and "The Childreen's Book of Virtues," which even spawned a PBS kids' show.

Some in the GOP spoke of him as a potential presidential candidate, and he collected $50,000 a pop for speaking engagements in which he gravely reminded his audiences that we "need to set definite boundaries on our appetites."

All that, you will recall, came to a halt when Newsweek and the Washington Monthly reported that Bennett was a compulsive gambler who had lost $8 million over the previous decade at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. There was not then, nor is there now, any evidence that the former federal drug czar's avocation had led him to neglect his family or stiff his creditors, but it's a little hard to peddle moderation when you're dropping $500,000 a weekend at the Bellagio.

O'Reilly, meanwhile, was hit recently with a suit alleging that he sexually harassed a 33-year-old producer of his show just as he embarked on a publicity tour to promote his latest book, "The O'Reilly Factor for Kids," modestly described on its dust jacket as "a code of ethics by which to live." The book contains advice on dealing with friends, bullies (they're losers), money, smoking, alcohol (he doesn't drink), drugs, TV and sex — among other things. There's even a prim admonition to girls against dressing in a fashion that suggests they are "sexually available" and a helpful hint to young men that crisp white shirts are irresistibly sexy.

There are your traditional values for you. More

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