Not long ago, Bill O’Reilly caused a stir when, as a guest on The View, he said,
”The Muslims attacked us on 9/11.” The audience booed. Two of the hosts walked out. A dramatic confrontation – on “live-on-tape” television. (It’s not live, but it looks like it.)
When I heard the report of this dust-up – I had somehow missed the broadcast itself – I immediately knee-jerked my reaction. My response had nothing to do with the blatant racism (religiocism?) of the remark. My response also had nothing to do with the intemperateness of a remark that could inflame already bubbling (rising towards boiling) hatreds. Nor do I quibble with the accuracy of the remark. Muslims did attack us on 9/11. So, technically at least – no dispute.
What I do in these cases – and this is entirely normal for me – is go directly into “Fantasy Mode.” I immediately imagine myself on that panel hearing O’Reilly say, “The Muslims attacked us on 9/11.” I see myself, sitting there, calm and unruffled, and when I deftly break up the shoutfest and speak, I am Pomerantzianly simple, honest and clear.
It is me at my most impressive. It’s my fantasy. If I am not going to be impressive in it, why bother?
“Mr. O’Reilly”, I begin, after talking my fellow panelists down from the brink of wreaking havoc on an aging, conservative commentator, “there are at least a dozen different ways you could have worded the statement you just made about who attacked us on 9/11. But you, deliberately I believe, chose the most inflammatory option. I understand why you did that. You did that, because that’s your business, “your business’ being the news commentary division of show business. In the news commentary division of show business, the most extreme expression of your point of view – that’s how you get your ratings. That’s how you make your money. And that’s how you stay on the air.”
I will spare you the entire transcript of my fantasy, including only the section where O’Reilly shoots back, “But what I said was true. The Muslims did attack us on 9/11.” To which I judiciously reply, “In choosing to express yourself in that manner, you have committed the classic Philosophy 101 error in logic. It is true that the terrorists were all Muslims. But it does not then follow that all Muslims are terrorists. Stating that the Muslims attacked us on 9/11”, you are therefore factually incorrect. Only nineteen of them did. Of course, you knew that. You also knew there is nothing provocative about saying, “19 Muslims attacked us on 9/11. So, instead, you delivered the version which is likely to make you most money.”
I am quite proud of that pretend performance.
I’m thinking, “Blog post. Definitely a blog post.”
A few days later, I’m in a hotel room in Toronto, watching an American TV station emanating from Buffalo, the city from which Torontonians receive their American network “feeds”, which just means if you’re in Toronto, your American television programming comes from Buffalo. After all these years, I can still network affiliates’ remember the “Call Letters” – WBEN (CBS), WGR (NBC) and WKBW (ABC). It’s amazing the crap I hold on to.
It’s a news show. It’s near the end, after they’ve reported all the bad things that had happened to people in Buffalo that day, and maybe one “Local Kindergarteners visit a Retirement Home.”
It’s Filler Time. The filler on this occasion: A series of “Man (and Woman) In The Street” interviews.
And as luck would have it, the “Question of the Day” concerns the recent O’Reilly kerfuffle on The View.
“What do you think, Buffalonians?”
What did they think? They though this:
“It’s show business.”
“He’s being provocative to get ratings.”
“It’s what those people do for money.”
Stop the presses. The Man (and Woman) In The Street
Is ahead of me.
The people already know.
It’s a real eye-opener. Galileo running into the street:
“Hear me, Italian People! You know how we believe the sun revolves around the earth?”
“The earth revolves around the sun.”
It’s quite a letdown. Or comeuppance, depending on how you look at it.
The inspired funnyman Mel Brooks once said,
“We’re all talking. I’ve got the mouth.”
On that news show in Buffalo, they all had “the mouth.” And as it turned out,
They needed no help from me.
I’ve been wanting to write about having “the mouth” for some time, whether people with access to the loudspeaker – whether vocal or in print – truly represent the vast majority of the people who are all talking, or whether they deliver up the distorted perspective of an atypical minority – the minority with “the mouth.” It’s an interesting question, don’t you think?
But that’ll have to wait for another time.
If you already know the answer.