by Polar Levine for popCULTmedia, December 16, 2003

Even The Lone Ranger Of Recording Contract Decoding Can't Unplug Bill O'Reilly's Manipulation Machine.

It was one of those TV matchups that I'd anticipated as a popcorn and beer event. Moses Avalon on Bill O'Reilly's show on FoxNews. Mose, I felt, is a guy who could comfortably go mano a mano with America's most watched infotainment thug.

And, damn it, he did.

Except that O'Reilly ran the show and the director worked for O'Reilly.

The segment focused on the Grammys and the entertainment biz in general. Media cosolidation? Copyright issues? The media shamelessly over-covering Republican candidate Schwartzenegger's campaign while under-covering all the serious candidates? The recording industry's history of exploiting artists and consumers? Uh-Uhh. The issues under discussion were: 1. an unreleased Eminem song that includes a line saying that he wishes the President (no particular one was named) dead and; 2. the entertainment industry's allegedly being solid left wing with plans to devote the next eleven months promoting the overthrow of the Bush administration in such stealth ways as nominating "extreme left wing" candidates for Grammys and Oscars and inserting sly political messages into their sitcoms. Should we delve seriously into the premises of Bill O'Reilly's hallucinations? Naaah.

The famed Shut-Upster invited two outside-the-box noted authorities on the music biz: Indie music's favorite badass terrorist Moses Avalon and rock journalist Legs McNeil. On a superficial level the guests were of great assistance to their host by providing easy visual signifiers so his audience could figure out whom to boo or cheer. O'Reilly, representing the civilized world, had his civilized suit on and disingenuously identified himself as an Independent -- a neutral guy simply in search of the truth. Mose sat in what must have been an overly air-conditioned and overly lit studio in a black leather jacket, baseball cap and dark shades that visually identified him as an ex-hitman for Morris Levy. Fine thing, this music business -- full of gangsters. I guess McNeil got stuck with the studio that had the radiator working overtime. With his cut-off t-shirt and long gray hair he presented the O'Reilly fanbase with the perfect image of arrested development -- what YOUR kids will look like if they keep listening to rock n roll and vote for Howard Dean. Clearly these guys were sent over from Liberal HQ.

But that silly stuff aside, the guests dealt with their host's many delusions and manipulations in very different ways. Mose batted away O'Reilly's ridiculous assertions like so many gnats. He was confident, good humored, forceful and unimpressed with the host's arrogance and superstardum. Avalon was really in his element here. I hope he gets more opportunities to reach a mass audience.

Much of O'Reilly's fuss was over Eminem's alleged callout to murder George W. Bush. The lyric on the screen said, "F**k [sic.] money. I don't rap for dead presidents. I'd rather see the president dead." Anybody acquainted with hip hop might more accurately interpret that line to mean that Eminem is declaring that his career goals are not based on getting rich, but on making socially or politically significant statements. "Dead presidents" (money) sets up the the next line which reiterates, but inverts, the "dead presidents" phrase ("dead presidents"/"president dead") to establish a very clear mission statement using only two words. This guy's not large for nothing. O'Reilly posed his questions, not as a media issue, but as a patriotism test, grilling his guests as to how a person who loves his country could tolerate a call to murder his president. Oddly, both Avalon and McNeil rested their cases in favor of Eminem on free speech grounds but neglected to suggest that Bill-O had read the lyrics out of the context of their medium and their assumed audience. But I'd be a fool to judge Avalon and McNeil; a guest on that show has a couple of microseconds to say something before the ever-vigilant host determines whether the statement can be considered by The American People.

Segueing to the issue of left wing dominance in the entertainment industry, O'Reilly rhetorically asked how many NARAS members are Dick Cheney supporters? Avalon's response was typical mad dog ultra-liberal agit-prop: "I don't think there's any way of knowing that, Bill." Then Bill tossed Mose one of his oft-used globs of synthetic honey, "You know the world, Moses; you know what I'm talking about here." Mose did not lick the bait so the question was kicked over to Legs who licked hard, boldly stating that O'Reilly was wrong but, on the other hand, it's true that the entertainment business is predominantly left wing. Figure that one out. McNeil reasoned that because its bottom line depends on issues of free speech the industry has a left-wing agenda. I would counter that the NRA and tobacco industry lobbyists are big on free speech too. Do I believe the industry is populated by left-wingers? I don't think there's any way of knowing that, Bill. The industry includes the corporati (Rupert Muroch, chairman and CEO of Clear Channel Lowry Mays, and the RIAA), the creative types (Eminem, Sarandon, Robbins, Streisand, Schwartzenegger, Limbaugh and O'Reilly) and the many support trades (audio engineers, film crews, film processors, special FX houses). But to the extent that the music biz, in particular, is a pulsating nest of liberals, it owes more to the irony that lefties, particularly popsongwriting types, tend to think like the Republican's posterboy, Jesus; they believe in that love thy neighbor, help the helpless stuff. The righteous righties, once they stop speechifying, toil far more in the interests of Caesar.

One thing that America's right wing hasn't figured out yet is that all those Jews who run the media industry tended to be left-leaning back when Jews were the perennial endangered outsider and issues of economic fairness, multi-culturalism and due process were the currency of survival. But in the 60 years since WWII, we Jews have been safe as milk here in the USA and have quite prospered, thank you very much. That's why those bigshot pinko Heebs and their Ivy League offspring are now neocons.

On O'Reilly's instigation, McNeil made a strong point of linking Ice Tea's "Cop Killer" to a long history of racist abuse by cops nationwide. O'Reilly responded to that issue by not responding to that issue, choosing instead to play to the audience's emotions -- defending the honor and reputations of our nation's police personnel rather than admitting that... oh, well -- never mind.

The source of O'Reilly's reputed powers of persuasion have never rested on his intellectual or oratorical gifts. They reside exclusively in his inclination to simply blow off his guests in mid-sentence and get the camera back onto himself with rhetorical coups-de-grace like, "These guys are deeply embedded in the music industry and that's the way the music industry feels." Badda-boom.

No matter how deft an oppositional guest is at finessing O'Reilly's manipulations, ultimately the guest's point of view, level of expertise and credibility will be nullified by the Fair And Balanced One. I've often wondered why an intelligent person who disagrees with O'Reilly would bother to book his show only to be whited-out. The only motivation I can imagine is self-promotion -- which is a necessity in gaining the nation's ear. But O'Reilly is the only person in the industry who believes he's in the business of journalism. Even Rush Limbaugh readily admits when confronted with his lies, distortions and utter cluelessness about political and historical facts, that he's simply an entertainer. Bill O'Reilly's show, news anchor graphics and crawlers aside, is the same as any other talk show where people come on to promote their latest projects and obsessions. Murdoch knows this. Fox New's programming chief and hard right ex-political handler, Roger Ailes, knows this. Too bad millions of viewers who get their information about the planet they live on from Fox News are not in the loop.

Polar Levine