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TAIL-GUNNER BILL! Men like O’Reilly subvert the discourse when men like Tim Russert are cowards:

TAIL-GUNNER BILL: “All right—to be continued,” Tim Russert said, at the end of the hour-long program. But was that a threat or a promise? Russert had just concluded an appalling session of his weekly CNBC program—a session in which his guest, Bill O’Reilly, showed the world what’s wrong with the devolving American discourse. O’Reilly appeared with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman—and Russert ought to be disturbed by what occurred on his show. O’Reilly name-called freely; made blatant false statements; and generally blustered and bullied throughout. The problems with “democratization of media” were on display throughout the hour. Inexplicably, Russert was eager to sign up for more when the session was done.

“To be continued,” Russert said. But why would anyone want more of this? Let’s break O’Reilly’s woeful performance into three troubling parts:

PROBLEM ONE—SHEER DUMBNESS: “To be continued,” Russert said. But who would want to extend a discussion as dumb as this one? Early on, to cite one example, O’Reilly attacked Krugman’s views about the Bush tax cuts. The Fox host blustered and bullied. But Mr. O was astoundingly dumb:

O’REILLY: You know, Mr. Krugman is a smart guy, but Mr. Krugman was absolutely dead 100 percent wrong in his columns two years ago when he predicted the Bush tax cuts would lead to a deeper recession. You can read his book and see how wrong he was.

KRUGMAN: Actually, you can read it. I never said that.

O'REILLY: Sure you did—

KRUGMAN: I said that it would lead to lousy job creation.

O'REILLY: —column after column after column. You made the point, in your book, OK, that these tax cuts were going to be disastrous for the economy.


O'REILLY: They haven't been.

Prof. KRUGMAN: I'm sorry, that's a lie.

O'REILLY: It's not a lie.

KRUGMAN: Let me just say it's a lie. I said they were ineffective at job creation. And if you look at the Bush administration—

O'REILLY: Hold on, hold on. Hold it. Now “ineffective at job creation,” what is that? Semantics now?

KRUGMAN: No, it means that—

O'REILLY: The economy is based on job creation, and you're saying it's ineffective.

Here we see the essence of the evening’s discussion, with Krugman—who knew what he was talking about—routinely cut off by O’Reilly, who didn’t. To O’Reilly, the difference between “a deeper recession” and “lousy job creation” is, somehow, a matter of semantics. The blustering Foxman soldiered on, but the dumbness only got worse:
KRUGMAN: Find a place where I said that they were going to cause a recession.

O'REILLY: You said—you—

KRUGMAN: Find a place where I said it.

O'REILLY: Look, you want to call it “ineffective in job creation.” What is a recession? A recession is when the GNP—


O'REILLY: —goes backward. Everybody knows it’s going forward.

But what did this have to do with the question at hand—whether Krugman had predicted recession? O’Reilly behaved like a floundering schoolboy. The hopeless discussion ground on:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): I—

O'REILLY: Pounded column after column: “Disastrous for the economy.” “Tax cuts are disastrous.”


O'REILLY: It hasn't been.

KRUGMAN: I said the tax cuts were not going to be effective at creating jobs, and the job creation—

O'REILLY: And you were wrong.

KRUGMAN: —record is lousy.

Let’s face it—having O’Reilly debate Krugman on economics is like having Pee Wee Herman wrestle The Hulk. Laughably, O’Reilly played this segment on his program last night, apparently thinking that victory goes to him who speaks the loudest.

By the way, how thoroughly does O’Reilly talk down to Fox viewers? Last night, he played the tape of Krugman’s request: “Find a place where I said that [the tax cuts] were going to cause a recession. Find a place where I said it.” Days had gone by since the session occurred—but O’Reilly still gave no example! Why on earth would a man like Russert want his viewers to get more of this?

PROBLEM TWO—INVENTION: O’Reilly wasn’t simply dumb; he also seemed to make stuff up. When Krugman discussed the run-up to war in Iraq, O’Reilly cited a conversation—a conversation that doesn’t seem to have happened. Krugman argued that Bush rushed to war—that pre-war inspections should have continued. In reply, O’Reilly recalled what UN weapons inspector Hans Blix “flat-out” told him on his program:

KRUGMAN: Remember, we went to war when there was an effective inspections regime back in place. We did not have to actually go to war. We were doing, we were—we had Saddam pretty effectively caged.

O'REILLY: Well, not according to Hans Blix. He came on my program flat-out and said, “They’re not letting us interview the scientists,” which was a key.

From this statement, you might even think that Blix came on O’Reilly’s show and “flat-out” told him about the scientists. Just in case there was any doubt, O’Reilly described the occasion again:
O’REILLY: Blix came on the program and said to me flat-out, “They aren't cooperating. We can't interview the scientists, and we can't go where we want to go.” They gave him all kinds of time, Saddam, to stop the nonsense. Seventeen violations of the Gulf War cease-fire, 17. The guy obviously was defiant.
For reasons that must be fairly obvious, this claim seemed to strike Krugman as odd. A back-and-forth battle ensued:
KRUGMAN: I'm gonna wager that Blix—I don't have the record, but I'm gonna wager Blix told you that a number of months before the war.

O'REILLY: Yeah, he told me that before the war. That's correct.

KRUGMAN: Well before the war. Before the—

O'REILLY: Well, it was a couple of months before.

KRUGMAN: Before Saddam opened up a lot more under pressure. And nobody disapproved of putting extra pressure on him.

But in fact, Blix doesn’t seem to have said that to O’Reilly, before or after the war. According to every record we can find, the blustering talker never had that discussion with the UN gumshoe. O’Reilly may have been thinking of Joseph Wilson, who appeared on The Factor on January 13, 2003—two months before the war began—and discussed the question of interviews with Iraqi scientists. On that occasion, it was O’Reilly who raised the topic, paraphrasing what Blix had told the UN Security Council on January 9, four days earlier.“Hans Blix told the U.N. Security Council that Saddam Hussein will not allow his inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists out of the country,” O’Reilly told Wilson. “Blix said flat-out, his guys, his inspectors, can't talk to these scientists.”

So it seems that Blix didn’t flat-out say this to O’Reilly; according to the talker’s paraphrase, Blix flat-out said this to the UN. But we think you know how that can happen. You know: Someone says something to the UN—and you end up thinking he said it to you? According to all available records, Blix has appeared on The Factor once—on March 15, 2004, one year after the war in Iraq. The question of interviews didn’t come up. Bill did challenge Blix at the start of the session. “This is the no-spin zone,” the tail-gunner blustered, “so you’re going to give me it straight, all right?”

Did Blix appear with O’Reilly before the war? We can find no record of such a session, nor can we find any instance in which O’Reilly discussed such an event (although he often discussed Blix on his program). We’re certainly willing to be corrected, but it seems that Bill just made this one up. If so, why would Russert want more conversation with a man as “inventive” as this?

PROBLEM THREE—NAME-CALLING: But the biggest problem on Russert’s show was O’Reilly’s incessant, nasty name-calling. “To be continued,” Russert said at the end of the show. But in the previous several minutes, O’Reilly had name-called loudly and crudely, jabbing roughly at Krugman as he did (he raised his voice and glowered at Krugman throughout the program). Here’s a taste of what transpired when Krugman cited something O’Reilly said on his radio program—a quote transcribed by David Brock’s Media Matters:

O'REILLY: And where did you get that little “evil” quote, by the way? You don't listen to The Radio Factor.

KRUGMAN: Oh, no, but I get—but they have video clips. They have, they have a clip.

O'REILLY: Oh, who—well, who gave it to you?

KRUGMAN: Yeah, it is Media Matters.[Krugman had said this earlier.]

O'REILLY: Media Matters! Oh, I see! A real objective web site!

KRUGMAN: Hey, wait a second—

O’REILLY: Hey, Mr. Propaganda, you ought to take and do your own research, pal, and stop taking the left-wing garbage and throwing it out there for the folks.

KRUGMAN: What have I said that’s false?

O'REILLY: Do your own research!

KRUGMAN: Come on.

O'REILLY: That's out of context, and you know it.

KRUGMAN: It helps me. It is not.

O'REILLY: It helps you, baloney!

KRUGMAN: They've got the clip. You guys can listen to it.

O'REILLY: You are about the most unobjective person on the face of the—Media Matters!

KRUGMAN: Oh, come on.

O'REILLY: Why don't you just call Fidel? Call him up and have at it. He'll tell you what’s going on.

KRUGMAN: Oh, wonderful. Now that we got the great (unintelligible) ends up being a Communist.

O'REILLY: Media Matters! Oh, my. That's like me calling some Klan operation.


O'REILLY: Why don't I call the Ku Klux Klan?

KRUGMAN: Here we go. Here we go. Here we go.

And yes, as a matter of fact, there we went—straight into the dumpster of democracy, as a loudmouth successor to Father Coughlin ranted loudly, wagged his finger, and refused to deal with the issue at hand. For the record, O’Reilly never answered Krugman’s question. (“What have I said that is false?”) Nor did he ever try to explain what “context” was missing from the quote Krugman read. (The quote is given below.) Instead, O’Reilly staged another loud rant. Brock was compared to Castro and the Ku Klux Klan. Krugman was suddenly “Mr. Propaganda.” The unexplained quote was “left-wing garbage.” But what was actually wrong with the quote? What kind of context was actually missing? O’Reilly, ranting, never said. And Russert knew not to ask him.

Indeed, O’Reilly’s name-calling continued to the end of the show. Here is the inspiring work that Russert wants to get more of:

O'REILLY: You call the left-wing hate groups up to get your propaganda. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Do your own research.

KRUGMAN: This—somebody who runs a Web site, that's the equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan?

O'REILLY: Do your own research!

KRUGMAN: Come on, guy.

RUSSERT: All right. To be continued.

But who would want to continue that? Throughout the hour, O’Reilly showed what’s wrong with American discourse. Why on earth would a man like Russert subject us to more trash like that?

THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Tail-Gunner Joes are always with us; their instincts are hard-wired in the human gene pool. Once, our culture kept them on the fringes. Now, they’re thrown onto cable TV, where they’re encouraged to clown, spin, name-call, jab and rant. Endlessly, they fool the rubes, misleading them, spinning them, abusing their decency. These people will always prey on democracy—if they’re given a spot center stage.

Of course, it’s always been up to men like Russert to exercise a bit of discretion. But Russert likes being rich and famous. He put Matt Drudge on Meet the Press; he also panders to the great Limbaugh. In short, Russert is happy with Tail-Gunner Joes. They bring more viewers to his table. They help to make him more rich and famous.

Indeed, the breezes are cooling on Nantucket. “All right. To be continued,” Russert said. As long as Russert makes his home with the swells, he’s sure to be true to his word.

WHAT THE TAIL-GUNNER ACTUALLY SAID: A bit of background on that disputed quote which was “left-wing garbage” and “taken out of context.” The dispute began when Krugman discussed Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11:

KRUGMAN: Bill has said on air that Michael Moore believes that we are an evil country, and if you saw the film, you know that's not true, and actually you denied in the same program that you'd said what you just said. But anyway, I think that's a little bit of something to look out for with credibility.

O'REILLY: You want to quote me and give me the date of the program?

KRUGMAN: Oh, sure. June 28th on The Radio Factor.

O'REILLY: On The Radio Factor.

KRUGMAN: Yup. Not the—

O'REILLY: You're taking it not out of context, are you?

KRUGMAN: No, not at all out of context.

Eventually, in his one constructive moment, Russert asked Krugman to read the quote. Here’s what happened:
O'REILLY: Media Matters! Oh, my—that's like me calling some Klan operation. Why don't I call the Ku Klux Klan?

KRUGMAN: Here we go. Here we go. Here we go.

RUSSERT: Read the quote. Read the quote and—

O'REILLY: What a bunch of garbage! Media Matters!

KRUGMAN: Yeah, the quote is, “So this is the United States, who has freed the world from communism, freed the world from fascism, from the axis powers, freed the Pacific from Japanese, OK? All of this, but according to Moore we bring sadness and misery to places all around the globe—

O'REILLY: That's right. He said that.

KRUGMAN: “Thus says Michael Moore. He believes this. He believes that we are an evil country.” Now I saw a film, a flawed film, a lot of things that were overstated—


KRUGMAN: —but I think that there were a lot of things in that film that showed that this is a guy who really does love his country.

O'REILLY: All right. You want to think he loves his country, you go ahead.

KRUGMAN: And he loves the working people of America, and if you could watch that—

O'REILLY: Hezbollah feels the same way that you do.

KRUGMAN: Oh, come on. Guilt by association.

Now Krugman was compared to Hezbollah as the incessant name-calling continued. But one thing didn’t happen—O’Reilly never supplied the alleged missing context, nor did he deny the accuracy of the text Krugman read. And, of course, something else never happened; the trembling Russert never asked O’Reilly to say what was wrong with the quote. How was the quote taken out of context? This was the world’s most obvious question—and Russert was too frightened to ask. A tough-talking bulldog purred and mewed in the face of his Tail-Gunner O.

Our country has gone through troubling times when men like O’Reilly took over the discourse. It always happens because cowards permit it—cowards who live on fragrant islands and talk about how honest they are because of their Buffalo days.

MORE DUMBTH: O’Reilly also lacked the first clue about the 2000 Florida recounts. Of course, Russert pretended he didn’t know too. Want details? See Media Matters.