Reporting the News:
From Daily Journals to Dangerous Duty
Sunday, February 4, 2001
Candid, vociferous TV commentator dissects life
By MARK DAVIS | News-Journal Books Editor
DAYTONA BEACH — This just in: Bill O'Reilly is a very opinionated person. In fact, the TV journalist spouts so much and so often (and so loudly) that he has a love-hate relationship with both liberals and conservatives.
Nonetheless, his show on the Fox News Channel, "The O'Reilly Factor," scores big ratings for a cable news program. Making even a bigger splash is his new book, aptly titled "The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life." Since its release in September, it has reached the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best-seller nonfiction list several times. Since November, it has held either the No. 1 or No. 2 spot. Not bad for a guy who only has one other major published work, "Those Who Trespass" (1998, TV murder thriller).
Why O'Reilly is so popular is anyone's guess. His show is full of electric politicians and public officials and his calculated yet passionate views on controversial issues makes for good entertainment. A commanding on-screen presence doesn't hurt either. And he's well versed on current-day events, having held stints as a reporter at ABC and CBS news. He's the former host of the syndicated "Inside Edition" news show.
Why O'Reilly's book is hard to keep on the shelves is another mystery. He doesn't delve too deeply into any one topic, and many of his strong opinions on issues will not be a surprise to followers of his TV show. But unlike television, the book format allows him to expound on some of his viewpoints, albeit briefly, and incorporate them into a larger vision.
His middle-of-the-road, populist views will irk some and bore others. His anecdotes about the turbulent early days in his journalism career are downright intriguing and amusing. He managed to ruffle a few feathers at some stations and sometimes paid a price for it. He also weaves stories about his family, dating life and interviews with celebrities within his blunt observations. Some of them are refreshingly honest. It took some guts to include those stories.
Talking point: One of my favorites is O'Reilly's description of a close encounter with Morley Safer of "60 Minutes" fame in the CBS cafeteria in New York City. O'Reilly was a lowly local news reporter. As he recalls, "Morley must have been in a hurry because he cut into the line ahead of me and others. Nobody said anything. Except for one solitary individual. Me. (You knew that, of course.) I looked Morley in the eye and let forth with, There's a line here, sir.' Safer duly stepped aside and went to the back of the line, but he was not happy. Oh, yes. This was another great political move for O'Reilly at CBS."
The format for "The O'Reilly Factor" is patterned after the TV show . . . somewhat. In a chapter, O'Reilly will throw in quick hits, such as "ridiculous note," "talking point," and "bulletin" to illustrate his point. Also, viewer opinions of him, most of which are negative, are scattered throughout the book. They can be mean yet comical. But these "sideshows" come so often that they distract from the central topic. Concise, smooth prose "The O'Reilly Factor" is not.
The book does have some organization to it. It's roughly divided into three sections. The first few chapters deal with what O'Reilly calls "what you as an individual are up against in your life as an American." In other words, money, sex and societal status. The final two portions confront personal relationships and the status of America as a country.
Bulletin: "The O'Reilly Factor" is best read in small doses, thanks to the heavy volume of opinion and news presented. It's like trying to watch an entire college basketball game with the volume on high and commentator Dick Vitale screaming "That's AWESOME, baby!!" every few minutes. Consuming O'Reilly's book too quickly will lead to a shutdown of the brain. I can't imagine what the audiocassette sounds like.
"The O'Reilly Factor" will not make the Nonfiction Hall of Fame. Far from it. But it's quite enjoyable and thought-provoking. Just make sure you're in a quiet place when reading it. It'll soon get very noisy.
On former President Clinton: "What a ridiculous waste! Full of promise, intelligence, and charisma, this man will go down in history alongside Warren Harding and Richard Nixon as the most corrupt presidents of the twentieth century."
On Al Sharpton and David Duke: "These two are the most ridiculous racial demagogues in the entire U.S.A. If God has a sense of humor, they will be sharing a sauna in the netherworld. With one thermostat."
On Elvis Presley: "Despite the outfits from Hell — those capes and sequins! — there's never been a better onstage performer, at least not in my lifetime. . . . He made Frank Sinatra look like Frosty the Snowman."
On money: "The true heroes of America are not the new Internet billionaires or the overpaid sports stars. The true heroes are the men, women, and teenagers who go to work for a modest wage, fulfill their responsibilities, and are kind and generous to others."