Editor’s Note: This article, which was published in January 2007 in the Fairfield Weekly, is a review of Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book, Culture Warrior, which is available on Amazon.com. It was hard for me to pare this article down to a manageable size, because there’s so much to dislike about this tome that, once I got started, it was hard to know where to stop. Take my word for it ... this piece could have been twice as long. It’s not that you shouldn’t read this book — it’s actually quite fun — but that you need something to balance off its completely skewed perspective. If not the Al Franken book mentioned toward the end, then perhaps the side-splitting Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O’Reilly, which is also available on Amazon.com.
Right-wing broadcaster/author Bill O’Reilly has long complained that the liberal media ignore his best-selling books. I’d like to do my small part to rectify this shameful lack of attention.
O’Reilly’s latest volume illumines the Manichean conflict between good (epitomized by Sean Hannity, George W. Bush and Mr. O) and the evil-doers (e.g., Warren Beatty, Cindy Sheehan and Walter Cronkite). A “No-Spin” nonpartisan, Bill states upfront that this American culture war is between secular-progressives (“S-Ps”) and traditionalists (“T-warriors”), not liberals and conservatives, although he does undercut his hypothesis just a bit by constantly calling the enemies of traditional values “the left,” “the ultra-left,” “the extreme left,” “the committed left” and, when that’s not quite left enough, “the very-far left.”
Once you’ve paid your $26.00 for this book, you’ll notice that its title isn’t Culture War, but Culture Warrior, and the author’s name is actually in a larger typeface than the title. O’Reilly’s book is less about this “vicious” struggle than his own heroic, “life-defining” contribution to its inevitably victorious outcome.
Bill’s appraisal of his role is made clear on page 1, where he states the battle is “exhausting and dangerous.” On the back-cover blurb, no less an authority than gossip columnist Liz Smith compares him to General George S. Patten for his “aura of command.” Despite his total absence of martial experience, O’Reilly sees himself in the mantle of military sage Sun Tzu. According to Mr. O., making millions exposing such threatening foes as Susan Sarandon and Maureen Dowd is a pastime “fraught with danger.”
Coupled with the hyperbole surrounding Bill’s T-warrior status is just a pinch of shameless hypocrisy. He promises this won’t be a “hit book,” like those written by “media vermin” Al Franken, yet he devotes much of it to name-calling and exaggerated mischaracterizations of anyone to his left.
A case in point is his assessment of “far-left ideologue” George Clooney. Bill describes the actor’s publicist as “oily,” and Clooney as suffering from “unchecked narcissism.” Anyone who’s seen Clooney interviewed knows he’s humble and self-effacing, with a self-deprecating sense of humor. He’s about as far from narcissistic as O’Reilly is from self-effacing. Yet Bill finds it necessary to describe a meeting in which the 5'10" Clooney “had to look up to all 6'4" of me.” Any insecurities there?
Page 152 of Culture Warrior features a rather unpleasant photo of Mr. Clooney. It must have been hard to find such an unattractive picture of one of Hollywood’s best-looking leading men. Ironically, about 60 pages earlier, Mr. O had complained that the cover of one of Franken’s books made O’Reilly “look hideous.” Any narcissism there?
On that same page, Bill introduces Franken as a “smear merchant,” then lists his career failures, ignores his Emmy-winning successes and characterizes his best-selling books as “immature vitriol” and “character assassination.” Then he expresses outrage that Franken considers “sophomoric” attacks on Bill’s fellow right-wing broadcaster Rush Limbaugh to be “satire.”
At the same time, Mr. O ridicules San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi for labeling as “not acceptable” his own comment that, if al-Qaeda wants to “blow up [San Francisco’s] Coit Tower, go ahead.” O’Reilly calls this “standard talk-radio stuff” and something “no rational person” could take seriously, and concludes the S-P legislator lives in a “virtual land of Oz.” Then he mentions that he’d “throw water on you and take your shoes.” So, calling the Speaker of the House a witch isn’t name-calling? Maybe it’s satire?
The most hypocritical aspect of Culture Warrior is O’Reilly’s oft-repeated claim that he’s “crusading” against “today’s vast armies of far-left and far-right zealots,” despite having spent almost the entire book bashing liberals. He devotes a dozen or so words to criticizing right-wing talk-radio host Michael Savage, then writes numerous pages savaging such “left-leaning” journalists as Tom Brokaw, Bill Moyers and Paul Krugman.
He spends page after page attacking Michael Moore as an S-P “bomb-thrower,” yet mentions right-wing zealot Ann Coulter ― who calls liberals “traitors” who “hate America,” want to “kill babies” and “hate religion” ― just once. He claims to have “scolded” her for saying that anti-war 9/11 widows enjoy their husbands’ deaths, but I saw that interview, and it was the gentlest scolding I’ve ever seen. (The repulsive T-warrior attorney is a frequent guest on O’Reilly’s nightly T.V. show, The Factor, where he treats her like a respected scholar.)
Bill takes the same unbalanced approach to the moneymen who fund the opposing S-P and T-warrior camps. He spends a couple paragraphs on right-wing billionaires, such as Richard Mellon Scaife and the Coors family, as well as their libel campaigns, such as the Arkansas Project that smeared Bill Clinton and supported the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry. Then he makes the bizarre claim that right-wing money actually damages the T-warrior cause ― an assertion he doesn’t bother to explain or elaborate on and one that’s likely to surprise its victims.
In contrast, Mr. Bill spends nearly an entire chapter on S-P billionaire George Soros. He labels Soros anti-American for such statements as, “The war on terror as we have waged it since 9/11 has done more harm than good.” Wasn’t this more or less what the National Intelligence Estimate reported? He also warns that Soros is — God help us! — an atheist, and rants about his alliance with Peter Lewis, chairman of the Progressive Insurance Co., a cabal aimed at promoting a “radical domestic agenda” through “far-left” smear and slander Web site MoveOn.org. (I’ve attended MoveOn post-election celebrations, and those middle-aged, middle-class suburbanites are about as sinister as a Tupperware party.)
Like the “elite media types” of the supposedly S-P ABC television network (who once ran Bill Maher off the air for making the legitimate and completely accurate observation that the 9/11 suicide terrorists weren’t cowards), Mr. O has a problem with inconvenient truths. He cites Soros’ completely accurate statement that 9/11 was “an audacious idea … that could not have been more successful” as proof Soros isn’t pulling for the U.S.
Believing that those who criticize Bush policies hate America (he’s no fan of the Dixie Chicks), Bill concludes that Soros is a “ruthless ideologue,” with “no scruples, ethics or sense of fair play,” before comparing him to Colonel Banastre “Butcher” Tarleton, the “most justly hated Redcoat during the Revolutionary War.” No name calling there, I guess.
However, most of Mr. O’s smearing involves his continuous misrepresentations of liberal values. Chapter 1, for example, is a mock State of the Union Address, delivered by a future, fictional left-wing president. Designed to frighten the masses of O’Reilly’s sheep with his warped exaggerations of a fictitious S-P agenda, it paints separation of church and state, dissent, civil rights for gay Americans, fiscal responsibility and libertarianism as un-American values. However, every now and then, he does betray his biases, such as when he places the sentiment, “You are free to trust in God but not to insist that your fellow citizens share that trust” into the mouth of radical S-P president Gloria Hernandez.
So, should T-warriors insist on compelling Americans to trust in God? O’Reilly insists he has “no interest in forcing religion on retailers, Christian prayer in public schools or any other kind of ‘theocratic’ display.” This probably comes as a surprise to anyone familiar with his crusade against the S-Ps’ alleged “war on Christmas.”
Put the Hubble Space Telescope in Boston and point it at a dime balanced on the point of the Washington Monument, and you can read that coin’s date. Put the Hubble Space Telescope in my neighbor’s front yard and point it at me, and you still wouldn’t be able to see how little I care about this issue. And, despite O’Reilly’s nonstop flogging of the subject, I suspect most of my neighbors couldn’t care less whether the clerks at Wal-Mart wish them “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas” or “a Joyous Guy Fawkes Day.” It’s just some red meat thrown at bored T-warriors who don’t know what to do with themselves after they’ve finished watching radio comic Rush Limbaugh perform satiric impersonations of Michael J. Fox and other Parkinson’s victims.
If you haven’t overdosed on the incessant Christian iconography of the Christmas season, which now lasts from Halloween until after New Year’s, you’ll probably enjoy the Christmas section of Culture Warrior. And if you found this book under your Christmas tree (or holiday tree, if you prefer), as I did, you’ll probably enjoy it as much as I did.
However, you might want to read Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars That Tell Them (which I also found next to the crèche) as a concordance. Even some of us unrepentant secular-progressives don’t mind a fair and balanced view of both sides of the culture war.
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