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.
Sam Smith – Watching the superb Ezra Edelman documentary on the OJ Simpson tale, it suddenly occurred to me how much OJ and DJ had in common. Two men who had learned how to make celebrity crush reality and how unembarrassed dishonesty can intimidate and suppress the truth. The thought first came as a Simpson friend described the way the sports star had given three different answers to people who had asked what had caused his cut hand. Obviously, at least two out of the three weren’t true. And the crowds of Simpson fans cheering him on, heavily indifferent to the facts.
It turns out I wasn’t the first to have this thought as the stories below indicate. What does this all mean? Are people like Simpson and Trump merely beneficiaries of a media and its gullible audience that has made reality redundant in favor of image?
John Zeigler, Mediaite, Nov 9 –Several times this year, while I was incorrectly predicting that Donald Trump would not win the presidential election, I compared elements of the presidential campaign to the O.J. Simpson case. Obviously, I should have followed that analogy to its ultimate conclusion because I might have caught on sooner to how it would all really end. For me, an unqualified liberal celebrity/conman being elected president with mostly conservative votes is a lot like a celebrity/football player who has lived a mostly “white” life getting away with double murder thanks to the votes of mostly black jurors
Ken Meyer, Mediaite, Oct 12 – Donald Trump had this idea once on how to drum up better ratings for Celebrity Apprentice: have O.J. Simpson on as a competitor. In a Howard Stern interview retrieved by Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott, Trump talked about how Stern and Simpson were both his wedding guests when he married Marla Maples in 1993. As the discussion went on, Trump said that he wanted Simpson on his show, but “NBC went totally crazy” and the idea was scrapped…Throughout the conversation, Trump noted that he used to be friendly with The Juice before the latter went on trial in 1995 over Nicole Brown‘s murder. Trump went on to say that Simpson would’ve agreed to be on the show, but when Stern asked if the mogul actually talk to him about it, Trump sidestepped and said “I hadn’t spoken to him in years, I don’t like people that kill their wives.”
Bradley Tusk, Hollywood Reporter, Dec 22 – Here at the end of 2016, after the election of Donald Trump, the astonishing resurgence of O.J. makes almost perfect sense. In fact, the clash of tactics and personalities at his 1994 trial provides a chilling template for the election we just experienced. It’s almost as if the entertainment industry was sending the country a heads-up about Trump.
Pop Matters, Dec 21 – The most immediate and necessary connection between the two events are the similarities between Simpson and Trump. They emerged from different backgrounds but had obtained an uncanny similar kind of celebrity. In 1968, artist Andy Warhol famously pronounced, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” This suggested a certain banality and artificial quality to celebrity. Both Simpson and Trump’s fame embody these qualities.
Where Simpson and Trump start to develop similarities is when they both decided to leverage their fame into a career in the entertainment industry. …. On the business side, few business leaders share the same passion for the limelight as either Trump or Cuban, but no one ever succeeded as well as Simpson and Trump, who ended up turning their names into brands.
They share a genius for banality. Simpson’s first introduction to everyone in America other than football fans was in a series of commercials for Hertz Rent-a-Car. The series began with him running through an airport, bag in hand, hurdling and spinning his way through obstacles…
Throughout the ‘90s Trump would try to stay in the spotlight through appearances on shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, or appearing on the Howard Stern Radio Show. For the great majority of his life, he was a minor curiosity. He was a kind of predecessor to Kim Kardashian—famous mainly for being famous. His celebrity really took off when he became the center of a television project called The Apprentice.
…. Both Simpson and Trump became a champion for a community that believed itself to be oppressed. Leading up to the trial, Los Angeles had become the epicenter of American’s racial conflict. On 3 March 1991, Rodney King was pulled over by several police men and beaten. The images were captured on video. The acquittal of four police officers led to a week-long series of riots from 29 April through 4 May 1992. So, when Simpson was arrested, he became the personification of justice for both the local Los Angeles community and to a large extent for the entire national African American community.
Trump’s genius, be it deliberate or just by luck, is that he became the great apologist for disaffected white Americans. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump took on the moniker “Blue-Collar billionaire”. Trump embraced excessive consumption unfettered by taste or decorum. He cultivated the image of living the life an average working man could live—if he won the Powerball—clearly, a highly condescending view of working class America. Mexicans, liberals, Muslims, elites, bankers, the Chinese, the poor and politicians were all responsible for the stagnation of the American economy and their oppression. This created a political jiu-jitsu where the power of any attack against him got redirected and therefore reinforced his belief that others were trying to oppress him.
…There’s a big difference between supporting someone and seeing them as embodying your cause. The former allows for some dissent. They (Simpson and Trump) are individuals, and individuals are allowed strengths and flaws. As emblems of movements, as representatives of people who believe they have been neglected and abused, flaws were irrelevant. If anything, hostility toward one’s champion was viewed by some as an extension of all kinds of slights. Through some proportion of blind luck, charisma, and a little political genius, both Simpson and Trump got themselves cast in such a role.