The only thing that makes Bill O’Reilly angrier than arguing with him, it turns out, is refusing to argue with him.
The Fox News host lashed out Monday at Jason Whitlock, a Foxsports.com columnist, who declined to appear on his show. O’Reilly took umbrage at the racially tinged language the writer used -- which was unnecessary and provocative -- but my guess is he was equally irked by Whitlock dismissing him as “a TV entertainer.”
Because here’s a newsflash: O’Reilly’s program, and indeed a lot of cable news, is theater, built on conflict. And if O’Reilly can’t get people who have angered him to come on the show so he can confront them, he’s stuck talking to Bernie Goldberg, Juan Williams, and the other Fox talent he regularly brings on to talk for as long as he can endure the sound of their voices.
Whitlock didn't state all of his column very artfully, but he was spot-on regarding one key point: “The O’Reilly Factor” isn’t a courtroom, and there’s nothing that says its host has a God-given right to confront his critics. Moreover, if you do venture into the lion’s den, the game is rigged, since O’Reilly and his producers control every aspect of the appearance.
I say all this as someone who has been on “The Factor,” and more recently turned down an invitation (or a “summons,” if you prefer) because it seemed so utterly pointless. You're not there for your insights, but rather as a prop. (Another disclaimer: Although I wrote a column in the past for Foxsports.com, I have never met Jason Whitlock, and don’t share much with him other than our apparent fondness for food.)
Frankly, whatever the motivation, I wish more people would adopt a “Just say ‘No’” policy when it comes to such shows. Trust me, the five minutes on air are seldom worth the aggravation. Nobody’s mind will be changed. I doubt your book sales will go through the roof. And about all you usually have to show for it is the moment when a neighbor says, “Hey, I saw you on TV,” and then inevitably struggles to remember what you were brought on to discuss.
Although Glenn Beck nearly got away with it, cable talk is hard to sustain as a monologue. So racial language aside, Whitlock hit O’Reilly right where he lives by telling him to go it alone, with no one to talk to except a monitor. And that’s why in this latest mini-fracas, the person O’Reilly is looking out for, at least in part, is himself.