I predicted last week that David Corn's questioning of Bill O'Reilly's claim that he experienced "combat" in Buenos Aires during the Falklands War won't do the slightest bit of harm to O'Reilly's career; I anticipated that the response would eventually turn vicious and thuggish, and would eventually involve ad hominem attacks on O'Reilly's critics.
Well, here's a moment of thuggishness from O'Reilly himself, as reported in The New York Times:
Mr. O’Reilly’s efforts to refute the claims by Mother Jones and some former CBS News colleagues occurred both on the air and off on Monday. During a phone conversation, he told a reporter for The New York Times that there would be repercussions if he felt any of the reporter’s coverage was inappropriate. “I am coming after you with everything I have,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “You can take it as a threat.”
In a better media world, this would offend every journalist who wasn't an ideological ally of O'Reilly's. This would get the rest of the press's back up. But it won't, because the nerdy members of the Journalism Club see O'Reilly and the rest of the people at Fox as BMOCs who sit at the cool table in the media's high school cafeteria. They fear Fox. So most of them won't wade into the fight.
Meanwhile ,David Corn went on right-wing apparatchik Hugh Hewitt's radio show yesterday. Expecting to be asked about the O'Reilly story, Corn was subjected to attacks on his own character for most of an hour, eventually terminating the phone call with Hewitt. Real Clear Politics has posted the audio, deceptively headlining the clip "David Corn Hangs Up On Hugh Hewitt After 45-Minute Grilling on Bill O'Reilly." It wasn't a "45-minute grilling on Bill O'Reilly." Most of it wasn't "on Bill O'Reilly" at all. It was an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink attempted character assassination of Corn, built on irrelevancies twisted into something sinister.
The transcript is here. The effort to impugn Corn started early:
HH: All right. Let me go to Understanding Our Generation. Now I want to go to you. You graduated from Brown in what, 1982?
HH: And you were Phi Beta Kappa there?
DC: Yes, I was.
HH: Did you go to Columbia as well? I saw that in one of the bios.
DC: Yeah, I went to Columbia for a semester, had credits transferred to Brown.
HH: Now standards vary for Phi Beta Kappa. What was the rule at Brown? Did they count the Columbia courses?
DC: I don’t know.
HH: So you have no idea, what was the standard at Brown for Phi Beta Kappa?
DC: I can’t tell you what the standard was 30 years ago, Hugh. Someone, you know, one of my teachers proposed me and I got it. I don’t think you had to apply for it.
HH: You don’t recall how you got it?
DC: I recall, you know, this is crap. What do you care?
HH: I’ll, it’ll come forward. It’s about credibility. It happened 30 years ago, right?
DC: Yeah, it happened 30 years ago.
HH: And you can’t remember how you got it?
You see where this is going -- Corn questioned O'Reilly's memories of thirty years ago ... and what was Corn doing decades ago? Becoming a member of Phi Beta Kappa! Did he deserve it? Does he now know why that happened? Is his memory of becoming a member of PBK accurate? Hunh? Hunh?
We move on:
HH: I brought up Phi Beta Kappa, because it’s on your bio, as is this. You appeared a lot on Fox. In fact, you worked for Fox, right?
DC: Yeah, I worked for Fox.
HH: How long did you work for them?
DC: They’re saying 7 years. I haven’t looked at the record, but that sounds right.
HH: What were you paid by them?
HH: What were you paid by them?
DC: I’m contractually obligated not to say.
HH: Was is a lot?
DC: It wasn’t retirement money.
HH: Was it six figures?
DC: I’m contractually obligated not to say. How much are you paid?
HH: This is an interview, not a debate. I just am curious, because...
DC: Well, wait a second. This is a discussion.
HH: No, this goes to motive, David.
No, this goes to motive, David -- right, because being hired by Fox as a token liberal, then being let go because Fox no longer believed it needed the fig leaf of pseudo-balance, speaks to Corn's character.
This leads to:
HH: ... I’m asking you were you fired by Fox?
DC: The contract was not renewed at a time when they told me they were generally not renewing contracts with commentators like me.
HH: Are you bitter about being fired by Fox?
The O'Reilly story shows up in a tiny percentage of this "grilling." The rest is all about Corn. And it has a narrative arc: It begins with a bizarre set-up (Hewitt asks Corn whether he thinks Alger Hiss was guilty) and returns, near the end, to red-baiting based on that opening gambit:
HH: And do you understand, I’m just curious if you understand, why your refusing to have an opinion on Hiss goes to your credibility.
DC: Oh, boy. We’re going to end up with that again?
HH: Yeah, we are. Do you understand why that goes to your credibility?
DC: Do you have an opinion on whether George W. Bush lied about the Iraq War?
HH: I do. He did not.
DC: Okay, well, that goes to your credibility with me.
HH: Right. Now but you don’t have an opinion on Hiss. That goes to your credibility.
DC: I don’t care.
HH: I know you’re saying that, but you don’t have an opinion. And the reason that goes to your credibility is it’s this major event by the man who advised FDR at Yalta about which there is no doubt that he’s a communist.
DC: Oh, yada, yada, yada. Come on.
HH: Yeah, but you folks at the Nation...
DC: You tell me, you tell me, you tell me you’re worried about ISIS, and that’s the most important thing, and instead you, now you want to spend time talking about Alger Hiss?
HH: No, I’m talking about David Corn.
DC: Stop. You know, how retro, Hugh.
HH: I am talking about David Corn, not about Alger Hiss.
DC: But you’re asking about Alger Hiss. I don’t care about Alger Hiss.
HH: I’m talking about the blinders that you wear when you come to history. I’m talking about the fact it does not appear...
HH: Yeah, you’ve got blinkers on.
DC: Serious? You just said, you just give me...
HH: You don’t have an opinion on Alger Hiss?
DC: You gave me a hard time about caring about that happened 30 years ago, and now you’re droning on about Alger Hiss?
HH: You don’t have an opinion on Hiss. That goes to your credibility. If you said he was a Soviet spy, I’d move on. If you said he wasn’t a Soviet spy, you’d be shattered. You can’t say the latter, because your friends at The Nation won’t talk to you anymore.
DC: I don’t work at the Nation magazine.
HH: So you say the former. Do you have any friends there?
DC: Personal friends?
HH: You have no friends at The Nation?
DC: Personal, define friends. I don’t, they’re in New York, I’m down here. I don’t socialize with anyone from the Nation these days.
HH: Okay, on the left, you know what Hiss is. I mean, everybody knows this. It’s like the Hiss question’s the easiest question.
DC: This is ridiculous.
You'll say that Hewitt doesn't actually land any of his punches, that no reasonable person would hear this and consider Corn's character to be impugned. That may be true, but Hewitt isn't addressing reasonable people -- he's trying to stir up the right-wing mob. The conservative audience has now been told not that Corn is a journalist who's found evidence discrediting O'Reilly, but that Corn is a slippery, devious, hypocritical sworn enemy of American values and the Truth. On the right, Corn is on trial here, not O'Reilly.
The New York Times reports that former O'Reilly colleagues at CBS, including one who's vigorously questioned O'Reilly's story, are refusing to go on his show to confront him because they know this will happen to them as well, except that O'Reilly will do the wet work personally.
Mr. O’Reilly had invited several former CBS employees to appear on his show, including [Eric] Engberg, the anchor Dan Rather and Van Gordon Sauter, who was president of CBS News.
Mr. Engberg said he declined to defend his account on Mr. O’Reilly’s show because “if he wants to present a different view or version of reality, I am not going to stand around and debate it.” He also said he was familiar with the way Mr. O’Reilly ran his show. “Nobody gets a fair shake,” Mr. Engberg said. “He just wants to beat them up, call them names.”
Mr. Rather and Mr. Sauter also did not appear on the show.
Engberg's right. This is war. If only both sides understood that.
And it would be nice if the mainstream media figured out that the mainstreaming of McCarthyites like O'Reilly and Hewitt over the past couple of decades is the real journalism scandal here.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog