2004 – Reader Chas Edwards used the right word when he described your editor’s appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show as a “smackdown,” for television of this variety has far more in common with professional wrestling than with professional journalism. And like a professional wrestler I went on the show knowing full well that I was the designated loser. Bad Bubba O’Reilly was to show his infinite skills against Ultimo A-Train Sam with the latter left humiliated on the mat.
Some have inquired, and not too gently, why I would submit to such nonsense. Leading aside the shameful truth that I enjoy nonsense immensely, things like the O’Reilly show are merely the outward and most visible sign of an artificiality that pervades television. Everything that television does becomes television rather than what it starts out to be.
For example my few minutes on Fox required numerous phone calls, including a “pre-interview,” follow-ups and useful advice on how to facilitate the O’Reilly experience. Upon arrival I was layered with powder to make me look as much unlike myself as possible although, as I pointed out to the duster, making me up is a bit like George Bush trying to balance a budget. And then I sat for 45 minutes as people rushed back and forth on unknown but important missions including Britt Hume who sincerely wished me luck tackling O’Reilly and Bill Kristol who said hello and then quickly turned and left when he realized that his greeting hadn’t been necessary.
And to what end? To spend a few minutes talking to a wall that for the purposes of television I was to imagine as Bill O’Reilly. How an industry that spends so much money on everything else can only give you a wall to talk to is puzzling and I know of no one who has experienced one of these remote interviews who finds it comfortable.
I comforted myself by recalling the time I was interviewed in my office and placed in a chair in front of the camera. A bored young intern sat in a chair under the camera and I was told to direct my answers to him, answers to questions being provided over a speakerphone 160 degrees off my starboard bow by an interviewer in New York. Three minutes into the interview the intern fell asleep, a development unnoticed by the crew on the other side of the camera. So for the next ten or fifteen minutes I had to inform a dormant slacker on some matter of great concern without totally breaking up. On the whole, I prefer walls.
Besides, I got to talk with the Bosnian driver of the car Fox News had sent for me. And by the time we had reached the UAW headquarters where my next meeting was, he had indicated that he would switch from his current political apathy to voting Green in the next election. So you see, it was worth it, after all.
2011 – Your editor recently took on O’Reilly and managed 104 more words than the interviewer. Further I actually gave two answers of 78 and 84 words. For only one brief instance did O’Reilly outtalk Sam. Sam was reduced to five or less words in only 31.11% of his replies.