O’Reilly Takes “War” To Front Lines

Television became even less kosher last week when the heated Bill O’Reilly and David Letterman clashed Tuesday’s airing of Letterman’s “The Tonight Show” on CBS. O’Reilly, the conservative host of Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” is best known for being one of the most parodied cantankerous middle aged men in the media. He is well loved by devoted Fox viewers, and similarly despised by the predominantly liberal sect of David Letterman aficionados. Bill O’Reilly also has a wonderfully informative website where, among other things, interested shoppers can purchase his tote bags and innovative “Boycott France” bumper stickers. It is also an excellent resource for dirt on O’Reilly’s media foes such as The New Yorker and his ultimate nemesis Al Franken. Nevertheless O’Reilly’s “no you’re just wrong” debate style has earned him an incredibly successful run on cable television: the highest viewer ratings for 200 consecutive weeks. O’Reilly and Letterman together in the same studio must have sounded like an exsplosive duo to horrified CBS producers. What they got was a smorgasbord of the nation’s most controversial topics like Cindy Sheehan and PC Christmas greetings, as well as a hilarious blend of intentional and unintentional comedic performances that CBS executives expected and hoped for. Letterman cracked jokes at O’Reilly’s expense. O’Reilly stewed over his unpatriotic irreverence and then came back at him aggressively, and Letterman tried to get a good laugh out of his audience over O’Reilly’s zealous determination to engage in poltical warfare. The debate itself fell far short of an intellectual volley between two informed opponents. Instead, both men regurgitated the pundit fodder of the past month. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, and a crusader for peace and liberal interests since her son’s death, was one of the hot topics of the show. O’Reilly had some substance to his points while Letterman asked mainly follow up questions, harping on inconsistencies in O’Reilly’s statements. O’Reilly bemoaned Cindy Sheehan’s use of the term freedom fighters in reference to Iraqi insurgents, concluding that, “It is a vitally important time in American history. And we should all take it very seriously. Be very careful with what we say.” Letterman’s reply was a hearty, “Well, and you should be very careful with what you say also.” The latter statement was greeted from the studio audience, but O’Reilly not so easily deterred and continued denouncing Cindy Sheehan as a tool of leftist propaganda. Letterman proceeded to ask him whether he had ever had any children who died in combat. The question was somewhat flat, and it backfired on Letterman later when O’Reilly pointed out that both men had sons around the same age. Bill O’Reilly, true to form, wasn’t about to let anyone forget the really valuable news of the recently departed holiday season, and used the advantage of appearing on Letterman to give liberal audiences a piece of his mind about their attempts to dethrone the Christian holiday of its status amongst the winter holidays. O’Reilly worked too hard to drive home his point on holiday tidings; when Letterman asked how his holidays were, O’Reilly responded with a snide “I had a nice winter solstice, yes.” When Letterman’s only response was “OK,” O’Reilly quickly added “You can’t say Christmas….it’s politically incorrect.” Letterman’s apparent ambivalence to the issue which he categorized as one of the things that would eventually “…take care of itself,” made O’Reilly’s liberal conspiracy theory seem slightly more extreme. While O’Reilly mentioned that Sears and other companies changed their holiday messages, he did not attribute this change to the marketing incentives which would undoubtedly compel companies seeking to expand their range of consumers. O’Reilly’s ire over schools changing the lyrics to silent night provoked little response from Letterman, nor did his trite name-calling of the school which made the decision to do so. The so-called “pinheads” at Ridgewell Elementary School in Wisconsin replaced lyrics with what most sentimental holiday types would think cute coming from the mouths of 3rd graders. But apparently the winter song with its nice rhymes and modified subject matter was nothing short of malicious to O’Reilly. Some commentators claimed that Letterman stole the show with his blasé retorts, quick jabs and the often-quoted, “I’m not smart enough to debate you point to point on this, but I have the feeling, I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap.” Even so, it was O’Reilly who further capitalized on his cantankerous image which has sustained him in the pundit circuit for years. Essentially there is something to be said for being the guy everyone loves to hate, and it is here that O’Reilly takes the cake.