Bill O’Reilly is a conservative talk-show host on radio and cable television.
Nicholas Kristof is an op-ed writer for the New York Times.
Kristof recently criticized Bill O’Reilly in a column.
Kristof implied that O’Reilly is “a self-righteous bully in the style of Father Coughlin or Joe McCarthy.” Kristof then quoted O’Reilly on liberal radio networkAir America: “Dissent, fine; undermining, you’re a traitor. Got it? So, all those clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately. Will you have that done, please? Send over the F.B.I. and just put them in chains, because they, you know, they’re undermining everything.” (Audio .)
O’Reilly claimed yesterday on his Fox News show that the above quote was “humorous talk radio hyperbole, as anybody listening would know.”
I’ll take O’Reilly at his word that he was trying to be funny.
But was he funny? No. It isn’t funny to say that people who criticize Bush are traitors who should be arrested.
When O’Reilly mixes hateful comments with hyperbole, it doesn’t produce humor. It produces demagoguery.
We’ve seen this pattern before. Bill O’Reilly also said on his radio show that it would be acceptable for Al Qaeda to blow up the Coit Tower in San Francisco. (”You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.”) He later said on his TV show that he had just been doing a “satirical riff.”
O’Reilly’s remarks against San Francisco were demagoguery too.
I’m not the first to call O’Reilly a demagogue. Neil Gabler, a commentator at Fox News, did so on on “Fox News Watch” (December 3, 2005) as he exposed the phoniness of the “War on Christmas” stories:
NEIL GABLER: I want to talk about the media angle because we have avoided it-it’s the elephant in the room. It’s Fox News. Come on-It’s Bill O’Reilly, it’s Sean Hannity, it’s [John] Gibson. They’re demagogues [A leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace] who realized that in Christmas time you can…rouse the masses on this issue. They’ll do it every Christmas. They did it last Christmas, they’ll do it next Christmas.