May 01, 2002
We attack, you decide

Rob at Get Donkey! points me to this article by Kristin Tillotson, who had the unfortunate experience of appearing on The O'Reilly Factor as the designated punching bag. Tillotson wrote a column defending the controversial book Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine and the University of Minnesota's decision to publish it. Her experience was not very pleasant:

Kristine Kotta, O'Reilly's producer, sees my column online and calls to ask if I will represent the pro side, as no one from the University of Minnesota has consented to do so, with the con position to be filled by Minnesota House majority leader Tim Pawlenty (R-Eagan), who has spoken out against the book. I'm apprehensive, knowing what a pit bull O'Reilly can be with anyone to his left, but decide to go for it.


IN THE HOT SEAT: I knew the deck was stacked heavily against me going in, with Pawlenty on my right and O'Reilly in my face (figuratively, that is; all I could see during the taping was a camera lens). I knew of the risk that no matter what I was able to say, some viewers would think I was pro-pedophilia. What I didn't know was that they would seat Pawlenty and me so close together we were practically in each other's laps, or how difficult it would be to get a word in edgewise without seeming as rude as O'Reilly, who gave Pawlenty -- with whom he was in complete agreement -- the first and last word.

At one point, O'Reilly said it wasn't necessary to read the whole book, that you don't have to read all of "Mein Kampf" to get its gist, either. The only response I was allowed was nonverbal, so I rolled my eyes. What I wish I could have said was, "Not only is that analogy absurd, you stole it [from Judith Reisner, a Dr. Laura crony]."

O'Reilly is fond of saying "the spin stops here."

Not exactly: During this segment, O'Reilly twice hammered me with a passage from Levine's book that said, "We relish our erotic attraction to children." Two problems: a) Levine didn't write those words; she was citing another author, and b) if you read the entire paragraph, you get a much different meaning: " 'We relish our erotic attraction to children,' says Kincaid (witness the child beauty pageants in which JonBenet Ramsey was entered). But we also find that attraction abhorrent (witness the public shock and disgust at JonBenet's 'sexualization' in those pageants)."

Tillotson also got the type of feedback one would expect from a shock-radio audience - email calling her "pathetic", "scumbag", and "Commie pinko".

I've never watched The O'Reilly Factor, so I can't say if this was typical or an aberration. What I've read of Bill O'Reilly makes me think he's just another egotistical windbag, but that doesn't mean his show has no value. I do wonder sometimes if anyone's ever thought of putting on a political/social issues show that's actually about discussing issues in a rational manner. It'd probably get McLaughlined and O'Reillyed to death in the ratings - or worse, consigned to 7 AM on Sundays - but I'd still like to see it. Who knows, maybe we'd learn something.

(OK, I've probably just described Meet the Press, but I fear I'm really talking about The Firing Line, which went the way of the dinosaur three years ago. If the time for such shows really has passed, we're all the poorer for it.)

On a side note, Tillotson is a coworker of James Lileks. Perhaps he'll notice the headline of this article and inform the appropriate people that the term InstaPundit has already been taken.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 01, 2002 to Other punditry