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Why the left is so afraid of Bill O'Reilly

By Rachel Alexander
web posted November 25, 2002

Liberals are wary of Bill O'Reilly's success with the O'Reilly Factor, and they should be. O'Reilly is influencing an important and massive demographic - TV watchers. Unlike most conservative pundits and politicians, O'Reilly appeals to all types of people with his honest, straight talk approach and slight independent streak. Consequently, he is tremendously popular. He is perhaps the first conservative TV pundit to attract as many viewers as some of the dominant liberal pundits and news hosts. His show currently averages 1.9 million viewers a night, more than Larry King Live, and is still the No. 1-rated cable news show. Although CBS Evening News with Dan Rather has fewer than eight million viewers per evening, considering that around forty percent of households do not have cable or satellite and that some cable markets do not carry Fox News, O'Reilly's numbers are pretty impressive.

Bill O'ReillyO'Reilly's level of popularity on mainstream television frightens the Left, because until now, television viewers had generally been considered their territory. The Right had been relegated to talk radio, small newspapers, and magazines. Then the Internet emerged as a popular forum for news and opinion and along came Fox News. Fox not only rejected the dominant liberal approach of the other networks but also told viewers that it was "fair and balanced" news - essentially allowing it to capture vast Middle America in addition to the Right wing. The rise of Fox News paved the way for O'Reilly: as people discovered that the major networks - whom they had trusted over the years to be fair arbiters of the news - were all inherently biased, they realized they may as well listen to someone who did not try to mince words or present only one side of the story.

O'Reilly's willingness to invite guests on his show whose opinions are diametrically opposed to his, while maintaining a reporter's news presence, is part of the key to his success. Unlike primetime evening news, he fairly includes radical opinions from both the Left and the Right, as well as minority views along the political spectrum. Unlike other political debate shows, he keeps the forum tightly wrapped so the show does not disintegrate into chaos making it difficult to follow or clearly hear any one person speaking. And like the primetime news shows, he covers most of the current and important political issues on each show.

Another reason O'Reilly is successful is his frank honesty. O'Reilly does not read lines that the network instructs him to read on a teleprompter, nor does he form his opinions based on large sums of cash donated to him by special interest groups or by loyalty to any particular political party. Although he is accused by the Left of being a typical conservative, O'Reilly has plenty of views that are not conservative. He supports gun control, is in favor of campaign finance reform and a patient's bill of rights, and is against the death penalty.

O'Reilly tends to say what people are intuitively thinking, not what esoterically sounds good, makes the network look good, or is the politically correct position. For example, although it might sound good in theory, and appear enlightened and polite to say that people should have the right to do whatever they want to do, O'Reilly will point out that what some people do is actually quite reprehensible and should be discouraged. After all, most people deep down believe there are certain moral responsibilities, and would rather agree, if secretly, with O'Reilly's statements to that effect, rather than with the platitudes and moral relativism that the mainstream media glosses its coverage with. To be fair, O'Reilly will invite the defenders of the reprehensible to appear on his show to refute him.

Although his new radio show, the Radio Factor, has not done as well as expected, this may in part be due to the format of talk radio. Most talk radio listeners are very conservative and only listen to talk radio in their car to and from work, or while driving during work. In that semi-stressful environment where the driver must put most of his or her concentration on the road, drivers would rather listen to drawling, encouraging, empathetic talk than ponder the weighty and frequently contrarian views that O'Reilly presents.

What is sure, though, is that O'Reilly has cornered a significant segment of the American population, and is influencing them. What nobody has bothered to say but what scares the Left is the obvious - Bush probably would not have won the election if there were no O'Reilly, and the Republicans did well in this fall's elections because of O'Reilly. O'Reilly's fatherly, knowing, comfortable tone is winning over middle America viewers just like Walter Cronkite did years ago. Except O'Reilly is winning them over to a strongly partisan position - the moral and intuitive position, not the left-leaning position shared by the major media.

Rachel Alexander is the editor of IntellectualConservative.com.

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