Four Years Later, Do Words Matter Again?

Back in December of 2015, I wrote a piece on what I believed at the time to be a somewhat momentous Fox News exchange between Bill O’Reilly and the late Charles Krauthammer. The discussion took place on The O’Reilly Factor right after a GOP presidential primary debate, and the topic was the performance of Donald Trump (who was the GOP front-runner and already the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination).

Prior to the debate, in a soundbite that got a lot of attention, Trump suggested that he (if elected) would order the U.S. military to kill the families of ISIS terrorists. Such an action, of course, would amount to a war crime, but Trump didn’t really seem to care. By that point in the election, he had already put together a long list of outrageous campaign statements that were unshackled from such qualms as decency, legality, and even reality. And as with the others, he wasn’t going to walk back the statement.

So, on the debate stage that night, when fellow candidate Rand Paul called Trump out for the remark, Trump responded with, “So, they can kill us, but we can’t kill them?”

“I thought that was a pretty good comeback by Trump,” said O’Reilly to Krauthammer, commenting on the Trump/Paul exchange. “What do you think?”

Krauthammer was clearly taken back. “A pretty good comeback by Trump?” he asked. “On the killing of the brothers and the sisters and the children of terrorists?”

O’Reilly qualified his compliment by saying, “It’s designed to get votes. It’s designed to get people emotionally allied with him. That’s what it’s designed to do. You know that.”

It’s important to note that this was a significant departure from O’Reilly’s longstanding “no spin” mantra. The Fox News host, who’d built and maintained his hugely successful media brand on calling out reckless political demagoguery (and shaming those who employed it) suddenly seemed smitten and even impressed with its usage at the highest level of U.S. electoral politics.

O’Reilly explained to Krauthammer that Trump wouldn’t really murder terrorists’ families, and that he’d only said it because, “he wants votes. He’s doing all of this. It’s theater to get votes. That’s what he’s doing.”

“So you’re saying this is a candidate for the presidency of the United States, talking to the American people and the world, saying x, y, and z…and that the words he says are meaningless?” Krauthammer asked.

“He wants to win,” O’Reilly answered matter-of-factly. “And he’s going to say, like almost every other politician… He’s going to say whatever he thinks is going to put him over the top to win…He’s getting people whipped up so that they will like him because their emotion and his emotion coincide…It’s almost a brilliant strategy. It’s almost brilliant, if all you want to do is win. If all you want to do is win, it’s brilliant, because he marginalizes everybody else around him, because he’s so provocative, and tapping into the fear and anger that is pervasive among the Republican adherence. It’s brilliant.”

When Krauthammer directly asked O’Reilly if he “approved” of Trump’s “demagoguery, untethered to the meanings of the words being used,” O’Reilly (who wasn’t exactly known to pass on an opportunity to cast judgement on a political bomb-thrower) stunningly answered, “I can’t really say whether I approve of it or not.”

O’Reilly wasn’t the first Fox News personality to willfully forfeit long preached principles and standards of conduct for Trump (and he certainly wasn’t the last). But he may have been the first prominent conservative-media figure to attempt to mainstream a now widely accepted theme among the political right: Trump should be assessed not by his words, but by his actions.

Just as a lot of evangelicals have given Trump a “mulligan” on his moral indiscretions (as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council once put it), the same has been true, on a larger scale, of his rhetorical ones.

This was an enormous capitulation from a political faction that, in addition to opposing nearly all of President Obama’s policies, loudly (and rightly) denounced Obama’s apology tour, knocks against American exceptionalism, dishonesty on everything from Obamacare to Benghazi, blanket criticisms of American law enforcement, racially provocative presumptions, class-warfare rhetoric, and other culturally detrimental oratory.

Yet, it’s a brand of hypocrisy that the right has willingly accepted in the interest of political expediency. An added benefit is that it has also alleviated the pressure on supporters who’ve felt inclined to try and rationalize every unhinged, offensive, or dishonest sentence that leaves Trump’s mouth (though there are clearly plenty who are still up for that task).

Now, four years later, we find ourselves at the next fork in the road: The 2020 election.

After insisting all this time that their guy’s zany ideas and extreme rhetoric are inconsequential when it comes to leadership, Trump supporters (including many media-conservatives) are now saying that the zany ideas and extreme rhetoric from the Democratic presidential candidates illustrate a catastrophic threat to the very fabric of our nation.

That is the prevailing pro-Trump case to undecided voters after all, isn’t it? Sure, Trump has problems, but are you listening to all of that crazy stuff the Democrats are saying?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am troubled by what I’ve been hearing from the Democratic field. Abortion without restrictions? Abolishing private health insurance? Eliminating border enforcement? Gun confiscation? Voting rights for felons? Free college tuition and student loan forgiveness? Each of these ideas is very scary, whether it be economically, constitutionally, morally, or culturally.

It should be noted that not all of these candidates are running on every one of these positions, but there’s been enough overlap (including among the top tier of the field) that I think we absolutely should be more than a little worried.

I felt the same way when listening to Donald Trump put forth policy ideas in 2015 and 2016.

Some of you may recall that in addition to ordering our soldiers to target and kill terrorists’ children, Trump campaigned on “bombing the s—” out of oil fields in Iraq and Syria and claiming those nations’ oil for America. He also supported re-instituting waterboarding, not as an interrogation method, but as a punitive measure to teach the bad guys a lesson. Other highlights included a mandatory national tracking registry for Muslims living in America, banning all Muslims from entering our country, and potentially closing down American mosques. On healthcare, Trump praised single-payer and ran on universal, government-paid coverage (which is indistinguishable from what several Democratic candidates are currently running on). On illegal immigration, he promised mass deportations — over 11 million people booted out of our country, and the construction of a nearly 2,000 mile-long border wall — a totally free one, paid for by the Mexican government (who Trump claimed had been dumping their rapists on our side of the border).

That was some pretty nutty stuff (none of which was ever going to come to fruition), and it doesn’t even include the much longer list of character, temperament, and competency concerns that all stemmed from Trump’s rhetoric.

But let’s focus purely on policy for now. How should voters digest what the 2020 Democratic candidates are saying? Does any of it matter? Is their wildest rhetoric in any way an accurate preview of the America they could and would leave us with?

Or should we use the standard for political rhetoric that O’Reilly and so many others among the Trump faithful have set…in that it’s all just harmless, emotionally charged, unimplementable bombast brilliantly designed to appeal to a frightened and angry political base?

If it’s the latter, why should we be the slightest bit worried? And why should we be listening to the warnings of those who’d previously claimed that none of this stuff matters? I mean… they’re just words after all. Just a mechanism for stirring up emotions. Right?

Well, personally, I’m not buying it. My tent is still pitched in the “words matter” camp. Because you never know when even a largely dismissed campaign mantra about “trade deficits” or “endless wars” is going to lead to a self-mutilating trade war or the willful betrayal and slaughter of one of our most loyal and helpful Middle Eastern allies.

Megyn Kelly, on John A. Daly’s new novel, Safeguard.

Bernie’s Q&A: Donny Deutsch’s Ambush, Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, the Mueller Report, and More (3/29)

Welcome to this week’s Premium Q&A session for Premium Interactive members. I appreciate you all signing up and joining me. Thank you.

Let’s get to your questions (and my answers):

I was channel-surfing one night, years ago, when I unexpectedly found you on CNBC being ganged up on by five — yes FIVE — obnoxious liberals. The show was The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, and you were on it to talk about your book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.

The “exchange” (for lack of a better term) was one of the craziest things I had ever seen on cable news. These people were shouting at you, repeatedly cutting you off, and launching into long, sanctimonious condemnations of what they thought you had written in your book. I say “thought,” because it was painfully clear (as you pointed out at the time) that none of them had actually read it, and thus were drawing some rather bizarre assumptions. They seemed more upset by the notion that you had the gall to write a book that was critical of a number of high-profile liberals.

In one of the more ironic twists (if my memory serves me), just a minute after you had gotten Deutsch to agree than only an idiot would compare Bush and conservatives to Nazis, he closed out the segment by suggesting that making a list (as you had done in the book) was Nazi-like.

The segment was highly edited (obvious to anyone watching it), I assume to make your detractors look better. Either way, in what made it to air, you held your own remarkably well.

Can you explain how this insane situation came about, as well as what was cut from the segment? — John D.

Editor’s note: It took a while, but we managed to find a partial clip (sorry for the poor quality) of what was aired of that segment. You can watch it by clicking here. Unfortunately, it cuts off before Deutsch completed his remark about “lists.”

Here’s how it came about, John:  A producer for the show called and asked if I’d be a guest to talk about my book.  She assured me the panel would be split — some who agreed with me, some who didn’t.  That seemed fair so I said yes. But it was a lie. Bookers/Producers on cable TV shows say whatever they have to say to convince a guest to come on the show.  Her value to Donny Deutsch was in securing guests — not in telling the truth.

Anyway, it was 5 against 1.  And none of the 5 liberals had even read the book, which didn’t stop them from hating it.  Think about that.  I’m invited on the show to talk about my book, to be grilled about the book — by people who didn’t read the book.

Donny Deutsch thinks of himself as a tough guy.  But he’s a coward and a punk — at least he was on that night.  Too bad for the 5 lefties that they were throwing spitballs at a battleship.  But since the interview was pre-recorded, they took out a lot of the stuff where I made Donny and his gang look like idiots.  But they did a pretty good job looking like idiots all by themselves.

The very next morning I got a call from Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.  Rush wanted me on to talk about the night before.  I went on with Rush and my book immediately went to #1 on the Amazon best seller list.

We could have had a civil, intelligent discussion on the Donny Doofus show.  But that’s not what he wanted.  He wanted a food fight.  That’s what they got and the food wound up all over him and his dopey guests — again, who didn’t have the decency to read the book before going on his show to attack me and the book.

After the taping, I called the producer to say the obvious, that she lied to me.  She apologized.  Blamed her superiors who she said misled her.  I told her she should quit, on principle.  She said she couldn’t afford to and as I recall she started crying.  Honest?  I had little sympathy for her or anyone else on that show.

Donny is an unapologetic liberal.  No problem there.  But he lacked the courage to make it a fair fight.  That’s why I call him a coward.  Fair fight or no, he and his pals looked like fools.  I’m happy with how I handled them.  As I say, my book went to #1 on Amazon; Donny’s show was cancelled.

As a journalist, should the details in the Mueller report on those that were not indicted be redacted from the report if the full report is released. — Tim H. (Editor’s note: This question was received back on 3/23)

I think as much as possible should be made public.  Exceptions, of course, are parts that might deal with national security, grand jury testimony, etc.  But just because someone wasn’t indicted doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know as much about him as possible — as long as we’re not talking about unsubstantiated rumors.  Those should not be made public.

In your capacity as a professional journalist, how do you view Geraldo Rivera’s attributes as a serious journalist, specifically during the last decade? — Matthew Q.

Let’s just say I’m not a fan.  With Geraldo, it’s usually about … Geraldo.

When that old Inside Edition outtake of Bill O’Reilly throwing a temper tantrum was released (Editor’s note: video is below), I think it’s safe to say that the intent was to embarrass him. However, even Bill’s fans seemed to get a kick out of it. O’Reilly himself joked about it as well. Two questions: Do you think people in the mainstream media underestimate the right’s sense of humor (ability to laugh at their own), and do you think there’s any similar unseen footage of yourself flipping out over a production problem (or anything else)? — Jen R.

I think liberals, both in and out of the media, underestimate conservatives on all sorts of things — sense of humor included.  As for similar unseen footage of me, Jen:  I HOPE NOT!!!

Sir Bernard–Pls proffer your views on Dennis Miller and Ann Coulter, as it appears both are used selectively and sparingly by conservative media..albeit their keen wit, not to mention being fairly easy on the eyes. — Matthew Q.

I like Dennis and don’t like Ann.  He’s smart and funny.  She’s smart and mean spirited.  I wrote about her in one of my books.  The chapter title was … Do the Ends Justify the Meanness?  I think she says provocative things simply to provoke, to stand out from the crowd.  She’s outrageous because it’s good for her business.  She’s entitled.  Not my cup of tea.

Edmund Burke was a strong advocate of “The Party” until he realized that “The Party” promoted itself above the country. And when they did, Burke became their fiercest critic. I see the Democrat party of today also turning against the nation but where is the Edmond Burke to call them out? — Clarence V.

Both Democrats and Republicans are loyal to The Party over principles.  Where were the Republicans when President Trump continued to bash John McCain, seven months after he was dead and buried?  A few spoke up.  But very few.  As for the Democrats, they’re worse:  For the past 2 years they crawled out of the woodwork, went on CNN and MSNBC, and declared that Trump was guilty of collusion.  Some said they had evidence.  And when the Mueller Report concluded there was no collusion, no conspiracy, no nothing … did they apologize?  Did they say their hatred of Donald Trump clouded their judgment?  No.  They said the report doesn’t mean he didn’t collude.  There’s a special place in political hell for people like that.

Profiles in Courage are hard to come by.  These days, very, very hard.

Bernie- Forgive me for yet another comment & question about Fox & Bill O’Reilly. I think O’Reilly was largely responsible for Fox’s growth because he spoke in a way that reached people with traditional values, and although he is a staunch conservative, he almost always presented the liberal point of view via one of his guests. He also had wildly entertaining segments, yours being one of them. Do you have an opinion about the effect of The O’Reilly Factor on cable news? — Joseph R.

I agree with your premise, entirely.  Bill changed the cable news landscape.  He conducted interviews that were both informative and entertaining.  Some liked it, some didn’t.  But it was a departure from what old school journalists had been doing.  Love him or hate him, he was a real pioneer.

We recently had a president who was cool, flip and glib and oh so Presidential. He was also grossly incompetent, inept and an utter failure. I don’t understand why so many people prefer that to Pres Trump. Yes, he can be brash and crude and insulting. He does, on a fairly regular basis, say things that make me cringe and I wish he would let an adult check out his tweets (as an adult I resent even writing that word) before they go out to the public. So what? He is trying,and I believe this is his real sin, to fix some problems. Your thoughts? — Dennis C.

You set up a choice, Dennis — either we prefer an incompetent, polite president … or a crude but effective president.  How about this:  A competent, effective president who is not vulgar, not petty, not dishonest and not vindictive.  That’s what I and a whole bunch of Americans prefer.  Some people don’t like anything about Donald Trump.  Others like his policies (at least many of them) but not his behavior.  That makes sense to me.  And that’s why if the next election is about the Trump economy and the Democratic socialist tendencies, Trump has a good chance of winning.  If the election is about Donald Trump and his character, I think even a lefty can win.  Also, if the Democrats overplay their hand and either push for impeachment or launch non-stop investigations after the Meuller Report said there was no collusion, that helps the president.  Stay tuned.

I’m guessing that you were not a conservative when you joined CBS News. When in life did you become a conservative? And what were the greatest influences in making you conservative? — Fred E.

Interesting question, Fred.  I grew up in a blue collar family in the Bronx — and everybody in the area was a Democrat.  In college I was a liberal, but not especially political.  Over the years, people have said, “You became a conservative when you started making money.”  That may be part of it, but not the main part.  The main reason I’m no longer a liberal is because — to paraphrase Ronald Reagan — I didn’t leave them, they left me.

I was for civil rights, but now I was asked to support affirmative action for a black student whose parents may have been successful middle or upper class folks, at the expense of a white Anglo Saxon protestant son or daughter of a coal miner in West Virginia.  How was that kid privileged?

I was for women’s rights, but now I was asked to support a woman who wanted to be a firefighter even if she couldn’t carry a man out of a burning building.

Abortion, maybe.  Late term abortion, NO.

So the greatest influences in making me a conservative were actually liberals who went too far in too many things. Liberals made me a conservative.

Any chance of you appearing on Stephen Colbert’s or Bill Maher’s shows? How about “The View” sometime? In light of The Mueller Report, I think it would be interesting to see someone like YOU bring the truth out in front of their live audiences, especially considering the rhetoric that they have been spouting for the last two years. Best Regards –The Emperor

I’m flattered, Emperor … but no on Colbert (who I find to be mean spirited) … No on Maher who asked me on his old ABC show several times but I choose not to be the token conservative making my case in front of his far left audience … and a great big NO to The View — but in fairness they wouldn’t want me any more than I want them.  But again, Emperor, thanks for the vote of confidence.

It sees to me that much of the media pays a great deal of attention to celebrities, as if their expert opinion matters. I could give a rat’s hat about what these people think. Your thoughts? — Terry J.

I’m with you, Terry.  The reason some media pay attention to celebrities is because they figure — rightly, I think — that the audience likes to hear from and see beautiful people. And when, to use one example, Robert DeNiro at the Tony Awards says F Donald Trump, journalists figure it’s too good to ignore.  Stuff like that gets clicks, and eyeballs which translate to ratings and circulation. It comes down to the fact that we live in the United States of Entertainment.  The “funny” thing is that celebrities think they’re smart because they’re famous. They have a great big megaphone and they use it to promote their causes.  That, I get. But …  News people ought to know better.

What was the reason you decided not to make more appearances on Bill O’Reilly’s podcasts? — Christopher S.

I actually answered this in a previous Q&A, Christopher. Here’s what I wrote:

“I’ve been on a few times but as I told Bill, I don’t like being a guest on his show to talk only about the media’s biases. I think the president brings a lot of the bad press on himself — and while Bill lets me say whatever I want, I know that he’s more interested in media bias than Trump chaos. So I’ve declined his invitation on more than one occasion.”

That said, I may return in the future.

Hi, Bernie: Love your work. Can you explain why Trump finally took what seemed to be the logical step and decided to declassify a number of documents that we have been wanting to see, only to backtrack on it and keep those documents hidden to this day? I have a hard time with that one. Thanks. — Jim C.

I’m having a hard time with it, too, Jim.  Maybe there’s something in it that isn’t good for … wait for it … Donald Trump.  Who knows.  Let’s hope he de-classifies the documents.  If he doesn’t, I will become very suspicious. And I won’t be alone.  Let’s wait and see.

Mr. Goldberg, you have written a lot about bias in the mainstream media, but what are your thoughts on bias in sports media, namely ESPN. For several years ESPN has been accused of having a liberal bias and it even admitted it may slant left in an article published by its ombudsman following the 2016 election. Do you have any thoughts on these claims and do you think politics has any place in sports reporting? Since John Skippers’ departure from ESPN, the network has claimed it is going to just “stick to sports”. — JM

Just sticking to sports isn’t a bad idea for a sports network, right?  But you ask a good question … and yes, I think liberal bias creeps into sports reporting.  When the story is about “Who’s a better shortstop, this guy or that guy” there’s not much chance of bias.  But when it’s about social issues that trascend sports — race, gender, even politics (teams visiting the White House) — then, just like non-sports reporting, bias is a possibility.  And since reporters — sports or otherwise — tend to be liberal … that’s the kind of bias we’re going to get.


Thanks, everyone! You can send me questions for next week using the form below! You can also read previous Q&A sessions by clicking here.

Bernie’s Q&A: O’Reilly vs Fox News, Cronkite & Vietnam, Juan Williams, and More (3/15/19)

Welcome to this week’s Premium Q&A session for Premium Interactive members. I appreciate you all signing up and joining me. There were some duplicate questions again this week, so I’ve condensed a couple. Also, I received multiple questions from a few of the same people. Based on the popularity of these of Q&A sessions, let’s try to limit it to one question per person per week. Thank you.

Let’s get to your questions (and my answers):

I agree with your opinion of Bret Baier’s Special Report. Definitely the most balanced of the cable news shows. It is, however, still slanted toward the conservative viewpoint with its content coverage. Which brings me to my question. What is your opinion of PBS News Hour? Their content coverage is good but slanted toward the liberal viewpoint. As with Fox News, this is probably based on playing to their audience. Perhaps a combination of Bret Baier and PBS News Hour may be good for getting a somewhat balanced look at the issues. Your thoughts? — Bob

Not sure I agree with you, Bob, re conservative content in the news portion of Special Report.  Nonetheless, let me try to get to the heart of your question:

Very often producers who put news programs together are blissfully blind to their own biases and so make decisions that result in a slanted newscast.  Liberals, for example, don’t believe their views are liberal so much as they believe they’re moderate, reasonable, middle of the road.  Conservatives may be guilty of the same delusion, though I suspect to a lesser extent since most news outlets are liberal not conservative.

The way around this is to have a few more conservatives in the newsroom who can point out these biases.  I’ve suggested can affirmative action program for the smallest minority in the American newsroom — conservatives.  I was kidding at first, but not so much anymore.

I’m writing a column on some of the above which will be published here shortly.  So stay tuned.

What is your opinion of the Bill O’Reilly controversy? Was Bill’s termination from Fox News warranted, and do you think he’ll come back to national television? — (combined questions from Joseph V., Bill E., and Joe B.)

I can tell you this much:  Bill has told me that he doesn’t believe his termination was warranted.  I obviously have no first hand information on what did or didn’t happen in any of the cases.  But I suspect if Bill wasn’t as popular as he was on Fox, liberal journalists may not have been so intent on unearthing their supposed scoops.  Do I think journalists at the New York Times, to use just one example, viscerally do not like Fox and Bill O’Reilly?  Yes.  And I also think that feeling influences how they cover this or any other story.

I am curious what effect, positive or negative, if any, your O’Reilly Factor appearances had on your efforts to reach a larger audience via your website & weekly column. I ask this because I thought that your back & forth with Bill, often disagreeing & challenging each other, was pretty unparalleled in modern TV journalism. — Joseph R.

It’s been my experience, Joseph, that most people who read political columns want to hear from people they, generally speaking, agree with.  That said, I’m certain my appearances on the O’Reilly Factor brought readers to my columns — the same readers who liked Bill’s show. If I were a liberal giving my opinions on the show I don’t think the viewer would necessarily follow me to my website.  I never pandered to the viewer.  I never said what I thought would be popular.  And I never thought about how that would affect me in terms of reaching a larger audience.  As that tired phrase goes:  It is what it is.  Or in this case, It was what it was.  Thank you for noticing that I wasn’t Bill’s patsy parroting his views.

I have heard some rather disturbing things regarding Walter Cronkite’s behavior during the Vietnam War. There are some right wing commentators that claim that the North Vietnamese were ready to surrender to the Americans after the TET Offensive. According to these conservative commentators, Cronkite deliberately slanted his reporting of the TET Offensive to make it look like a huge defeat for the Americans. However, I am not one to necessarily believe something without a reliable source to confirm it. Are you familiar with this story? Is it simply hateful nonsense from bitter conservatives or is there some truth to it? If it IS true, would it be worth it to expose Cronkite as a liar, beyond what the conservative commentators have already done? — The Emperor

I have heard the same stories and don’t believe any of it.  This will infuriate people who have perpetuated the story.  You ask if “Cronkite deliberately slanted his reporting …”  I was a youngster at the Associated Press in New York during the TET offensive, not at CBS.  But I worked for the CBS News with Walter Cronkite and emphatically do not believe he deliberately slanted that story.  Was Walter a liberal?  Yes.  But that’s not a crime and it certainly doesn’t mean a liberal can’t cover the news fairly  Same, of course, goes for a conservative.

Your books were very clear with direct examples of media bias. I’m curious if any journalism professors have reached out to you for advise, or, do you believe they are part of the problem? — Tim H.

Good question, Tim.  They use Bias in some college journalism courses.  But journalism professors, by and large, are liberal — and so see the world and journalism through a liberal prism.  My own alma mater, Rutgers University, has not reached out to me to pick my brain about any facet of journalism.  The only time they call is to ask for money.  And because they’ve never reached out to me for advice on the state of journalism, they won’t get any cash from me.

I would like to watch alternatives to Fox News but every time I turn-on CNN and MSNBC it is so embarrassingly pathetic I can’t abide it more than a few minutes. It’s like a shock to the system. Perhaps the best route is to watch Bret Baier’s show and read the WSJ and NY Times? Although The NY Times has really gone down hill the past few years — Phil R.

Phil, you’re experience is exactly the same as mine.  Fox in prime time is way too cozy with the president for my taste, but as you say, CNN and MSNBC are “embarrassingly pathetic.”  I too watch Bret Baier’s show and read the WSJ and NYT.  And I also agree with you that the Times has gone down hill in the past few years.  Were we separated at birth?

What is your professional opinion as to how effective, a President, Mr. Obama was? Can you speak to your direct and/or indirect knowledge as to Mr. Obama’s effectiveness in building personal relationships with U.S. and world political leaders? — Matthew Q.

Barack Obama’s politics didn’t jibe with mine, so — in a political sense — I wasn’t a fan. But he had allies in the media, some of whom deified him.  Check out the glowing covers on the news magazines.  He was effective enough to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress. Not knowledgeable enough about his personal relationships with world leaders.

I believe I’m not alone in my disappointment with the current state of “journalism”. Do you think the time is right for a new news organization that focuses on truth rather than narrative? — Keith M.

It’s long past time, Keith, but I hold out next to no hope that it’s going to happen anytime soon in places like big city newspapers or cable TV.  The web is a big place with unlimited space so it’s possible that maybe the news operation you hope for could show up there — in a podcast, for example.  But too much journalism, as I’ve written, has become a business model, not a model of good journalism.  So news outlets give the audience what the audience wants.  Which, in my opinion, makes the audience part of the problem.

Are there topics you prefer for these questions — such as things you write about like media bias, politics, and culture? And if we would like to see you write about something, are you receptive to suggestions? — Michael E.

I’m receptive to suggestions, Michael, but over the years I’ve noticed a problem:  If I don’t do a TV story or a column on a suggested subject, it causes tension.  The person who made the suggestion is unhappy.  So I’m open to ideas, but am concerned about unintended consequences.  As for topics  I prefer — or more accurately, feel more comfortable with:  Media. Politics. American culture.

I heard the other day from some left-leaning pundit on CNN who claims presidential pardons can be overturned in some capacity? Does you think this is true? — Brian H.

I’m not a lawyer but it’s always been my understanding that a president has the absolute right to pardon anyone he want to pardon. Here’s what I found from my research:

Under the Constitution, the president’s clemency power extends only to federal criminal offenses. A president cannot pardon someone for state or local crimes. Experts disagree as to whether a president can pardon himself, but pardons cannot apply to cases of impeachment.

Will the Green New Deal be an Albatross around the necks of the Dems that have endorsed it? — Steve M.

It should be, Steve, but it’s a long way to November 2020.  Between now and then they’ll weasel their way out of what they said after the Green New Deal was rolled out.  And they may get away with it.

Do any of the three major networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, in your opinion cover the news in a fair and balanced way? Also do you feel that David Muir of ABC is fair in his coverage of the news? — George V.

I no longer watch network news.  So sorry, George, that I don’t have a good answer for you.  That said, in 2001 when my first book Bias came out, I was documenting liberal bias at the networks.  Today, cable news is a far worse offender when it comes to bias than the old networks.  The networks had — and probably still do — have a liberal sensibility.  Cable news blurs the line between news and commentary, which makes the problem of bias worse.  I know next to nothing about David Muir.

Bernie, why aren’t you guesting on Bill’s new platform? Was it because you were still working for Fox? Will you now be on Bill’s show? — Nicholas C.

I’ve been on a few times but as I told Bill, I don’t like being a guest on his show to talk only about the media’s biases.  I think the president brings a lot of the bad press on himself — and while Bill lets me say whatever I want, I know that he’s more interested in media bias than Trump chaos.  So I’ve declined his invitation on more than one occasion. But he’s asked if I’ll go on his show next week.  I’m thinking about it.

As a long time viewer of FNC I have cut back on my program choices over the last few years. The only commentators I have confidence in now are Chris Wallace, Brett Baier and Harris Faulkner. I’m probably wrong but it seems to me the fair and balanced mantra departed about the time O’Reilly was fired. My question is why Juan Williams allows himself to be embarrassed by being constantly being shouted down by Watters and Gutfeld? When Beckel suffered the same treatment he would just mumble to himself and hang his head. Does Juan need the money that bad? — Lee

You’re not wrong, Lee.  Chris Wallace, Brett Baier and Harris Faulkner are worth watching.  The other opinion people are in the tank for Donald Trump.  No problem with them liking the president.  But if you want real analysis, Fox prime time isn’t the place to go.  Neither, for the record, are CNN and MSNBC.  As for Juan Williams:  He’s a good guy.  A smart guy.  A real journalist.  He clearly knows his role as the lone liberal on the show — and very often the only smart one.  Let’s cut him some slack.  We all have reasons for doing what we do, right?

Do journalists have leeway to push their own opinion and political agenda or are they under pressure to report within their network’s ideology? — Mike S.

Journalists, Mike, if they’re “hard news” reporters, shouldn’t push any opinion or political agenda.  Their role is to report the facts and keep their own views out of the story.  Regarding commentators:  Everyone who gives opinions on cable news shows know what their network’s ideology is and conforms.  (The old networks — ABC, CBS and NBC, for the most part, don’t do entire shows based on opinion, which is not to say their journalists don’t let bias slip into their stories from time to time.) To my knowledge, there are no memos, no smoking gun telling them what they’re supposed to say.  Everybody just knows.  If you’re on prime time on Fox you don’t spend your hour bashing Donald Trump and if you’re on MSNBC or CNN you don’t spend a lot of time praising him.  I’ve said this before:  The business model demands that you give the audience what it wants so that they’ll come back for more.  Do commentators have leeway to push their own opinion? Technically, yes.  But in reality, everyone knows what’s acceptable on their channel and what isn’t.

Thanks, everyone! You can send me questions for next week using the form below! You can also read previous Q&A sessions by clicking here.

How Will Fox News Fare in the Post-O’Reilly Era?

bo2With the sudden departure of top draw, Bill O’Reilly, from Fox News, and a restructuring of the channel’s weeknight lineup, it will be interesting to see how the network will fare.

Tucker Carlson, who has proven himself to be a ratings success in multiple time-slots on FNC, will be taking over O’Reilly’s old hour. The Five will move to prime-time, right after Carlson’s show. Eric Bolling will be hosting a new show of his own in The Five’s old spot (presumably a Keith Olbermann-esque countdown program entitled something like “The Ten Things I Love About Trump”). And Martha MacCallum’s temporary show, which follows Special Report, will become permanent.

Ratings-wise, the network will almost certainly take a hit (at least at first). Over his twenty-plus years at Fox, O’Reilly had built a huge, loyal following of viewers. They tuned in every night, eagerly bought his books, and turned out to see him on tour with the likes of Glenn Beck and Dennis Miller.

Sure, the show had lost much of its “No Spin” claim over the past two years. That responsibility was unwittingly abdicated to regular Factor guests like Charles Krauthammer, Brit Hume, and Bernie Goldberg, while O’Reilly himself adopted an unreasonably defensive posture when it came to President Trump (a personal friend of his). But if we learned anything throughout this past election cycle, it’s that a pro-Trump cable-news product isn’t going to lose viewers, and O’Reilly only benefited from his stance in the ratings.

Stephen Battaglio of the L.A. Times wrote in a piece on Wednesday:

It’s no exaggeration to say Fox News Channel’s loss of “The O’Reilly Factor” could be the equivalent of NBC losing its top-rated comedy “Friends” in 2004, which spelled the end of the network’s “Must-See TV” lineup that provided dominant ratings for years on Thursday night.

While that comparison may be a bit overblown, it’s a safe bet that Tucker Carlson (even with a Trump-friendly format) will have trouble maintaining O’Reilly’s level of viewership. O’Reilly had a famously unique style, and appealed to a bit older demographic that might not be as receptive to Carlson. While a younger audience (the coveted 25-54 year-old range) is typically sought after by network executives, the loss of that time-slot’s older viewers (who might just give up on cable-news commentary at the eight o’clock hour) would hurt the overall ratings picture.

This also wouldn’t be ideal news for The Five, as the show could use a strong lead-in (as Carlson had with O’Reilly) while it courts a wider audience than it has had in the afternoon hour. That being said, it’s been a long time since Fox has aired a co-hosted debate program in prime-time (the last being Hannity & Colmes which ended in early 2009). New viewers might just appreciate seeing something different, and with Eric Bolling gone from the panel, the discussions should be more substantive and less sycophantic. Then again, Jesse Watters is taking his place.

As is the case with any rebuilding period, there will likely be some trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. And though Fox News always seems to land on its feet, and lock in their audience’s interest, I would hope that the network (as it moves forward) would also be mindful of the integrity that it has lost along the way.

Fox has always been in the cross-hairs of the legacy media (aka mainstream media) for presenting a conservative perspective on the news, but there used to be a level of seriousness behind the network’s “fair and balanced” mantra. There used to be a far more disciplined effort put forth to provide keen and trustworthy commentary. Unfortunately, that theme has been greatly diminished over the past two years as the network has become increasingly comfortable with portraying itself as a beacon of pro-Trump advocacy.

Though the channel’s serious journalists (mostly out of the Washington Bureau) have remained fair and true to their profession, the commentary-wing has grown increasingly shameless in its (sometimes admitted) obedience to the leader of the free world. Base-pandering and intellectual dishonesty have been tolerated beyond acceptable levels, and if that’s truly the only way for Fox News to pull the kind of numbers that it wants and expects,  the network has far worse problems on its hands than figuring out how to adjust with the loss of Bill O’Reilly.

Broken Slate

The Self-Degradation of Trump Apologists

excusesMany in the media have pointed out that the controversial statements that routinely come out of Donald Trump’s mouth often put his supporters in the awkward, unenviable position of having to rationalize them. This isn’t always such an easy thing to do, but some people do seem up for the challenge.

For example, whenever I reference Trump’s highly-publicized insult of American POWs (when attacking Senator John McCain) in one of my columns, members of the GOP front-runner’s impassioned faithful quickly tell me that Trump did nothing wrong. They say that his comments were a justified dig at McCain for a remark the senator made about Trump fans. Of course, that’s ridiculous. Mocking the plight and heroism of our fighting soldiers who were captured (and in some cases tortured) by a brutal enemy has no justification.

When I point out the fallacy of Trump’s claim of seeing thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks, I’m told by some of the Trump crowd (and unsurprisingly no one else) that they themselves personally witnessed the event he described. They didn’t see it, because what Trump depicted didn’t happen.

Even those who had previously spoken out strongly against the notion that President George W. Bush lied about WMDs to take us to war in Iraq now seem to view Trump’s advancement of that same accusation to be strangely acceptable. Some are now open to the possibility, while others — when called out on their inconsistency — are left utterly speechless.

Not all of Trump’s apologists have the face-saving luxury of being able to hide behind anonymous Internet screen names, of course. Some are public figures, who (while choosing to pick their battles a bit more carefully) still feel inclined to make excuses for the GOP front-runner’s rhetoric — excuses they most certainly wouldn’t make for anyone else.

Just a few days ago, Dr. Ben Carson (former GOP presidential candidate and brand new Trump surrogate) told The Hill that Trump really doesn’t believe some of the things he says publicly, while campaigning.

In defending his endorsement of Trump, Carson described a meeting he’d had with billionaire beforehand, and the criteria his support was contingent on: “I needed to know that he could listen to other people, that he could change his opinions, and that some of the more outlandish things that he’s said, that he didn’t really believe those things.”

Carson apparently received the affirmations he needed from Trump. And for some reason, Trump admitting privately to making false statements publicly is somehow supposed to be reassuring to voters.

I’ve been hearing more of these “Don’t worry, he doesn’t really mean it” and “It’s okay, he’s not normally like this” Trump-excuses for months, and I’m shocked that the people relaying them don’t seem to understand how ridiculous they make them sound. Someone laying out the case for a man’s presidency shouldn’t have to talk like an abused wife defending her husband’s actions to a friend. Yet, that’s exactly how they come across.

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has been particularly guilty of this. On a number of occasions, he’s made allowances for Trump’s controversial statements, even personally vouching for his character. Last night, he did it again in a conversation with Charles Krauthammer.

Krauthammer took O’Reilly to task for not calling out Trump’s refusal to condemn a man who sucker-punched a protester at one of his rallies (Trump went as far as calling the man a patriot, and even offered to pick up his legal fees).

The best response O’Reilly could muster was: “I’ve said [Trump] has to readjust his rhetoric.”

Krauthammer didn’t let O’Reilly off the hook, responding with, “Come on Bill! ‘Readjust the rhetoric’? What kind of weaselly words are those? ‘Readjust the rhetoric’?”

After some back and forth, O’Reilly elaborated: “Trump speaks in an emotional manner. He doesn’t have notes. He’s not, you know, going in there with a speech that says ‘beat up protesters.’ He speaks like this: bang, bang, bang. And he doesn’t have a filter. He doesn’t censor himself. He doesn’t think sometimes before he speaks. That’s what a billionaire businessman has done his whole life. He hasn’t made the transition as I’ve pointed out. He doesn’t understand that his words now carry, and can carry threats. He doesn’t seem to have gotten that part, right? And I’m hoping that he does…”

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Though O’Reilly insisted that he wasn’t making excuses for Trump, how can any objective, intelligent individual interpret such rationale as anything else? Of course he was making excuses — the kind of excuses that sound ridiculous when being put forth for a grown adult, let alone a presidential candidate.

The intentions of Trump’s apologists (and the apologists for the other candidates, for that matter) aren’t necessarily bad; in some cases, I don’t think they’re even self-recognized. But there should never be a need by anyone to compromise their personal integrity to protect a presidential candidate from being held to the standards of the office he or she is running for. No serious candidate should require such allowances in the first place.

In the interest of self-respect, can we please stop making excuses for the inexcusable?