Bill O’Reilly, commentary and the nature of news
The Al-Jazeera purchase of CurrentTV has been a common theme over the past week in this section of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. But where previous columnists have commented on the purchase, I will discuss the media coverage of the issue.
This column came to fruition on the night of Jan. 14 during a segment of “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News. “Media coverage of the Al Gore-Al Jazeera story,” an O’Reilly Talking Points commentary, is not something I usually watch, and, on this particular evening, I convinced my friends to turn on Fox News for the laughter that generally ensues. However, this particular segment on this particular evening was not a laughing matter.
O’Reilly’s core argument is that Americans are no longer, “getting fair news coverage from many broadcast operations.”
O’Reilly brings on Bernie Goldman, a Fox News Contributor, in order to reinforce his point about Al Gore and the news media. The statement that really irked me and forced me to look into this issue more closely came during their dialogue when, while referencing the network coverage, O’Reilly said, “No commentary, they just said he did it.”
The role of the news is not to comment on a story but to present an unbiased story that informs the public. What O’Reilly feels is the necessity of the news media is, in fact, in direct opposition to the definition of news. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines news primarily as “a report of recent events,” and it defines commentary as “an expression of opinion.”
What Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews do is not news. They may be journalists, but they are not newscasters. They do not present unbiased information on important issues, and some even seem to refute fact checking. These journalists are more akin to an opinion columnist in a newspaper, like the one you are reading now. I do not present this as news nor am I simply reporting on O’Reilly’s Al-Jazeera segment. I have an agenda, and this column contains an argument backed up by information drawn from a variety of sources. O’Reilly has an agenda as well, which he summarizes succinctly in this segment as opposing the federal government’s “amassing (of) enormous power over all of our lives.”
While I do not present this column as news – It is under an opinion heading both in print and online – O’Reilly and Fox News do. The bottom right corner of every show on Fox News contains that little spinning cube that says “news” and that does not change when commentary shows like “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Hannity” or “Fox & Friends” come on the air.
The dangers to American culture are apparent. There has been a break down in trust in media, and, according to Gallup, 60 percent of Americans have either not very much or no trust in mass media such as newspapers, television and radio. However, the truly disturbing element of this trend is the partisan divide on the media. Only 26 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of Independents have a fair amount or great deal of trust in media compared to fully 58 percent of Democrats. This trend is certainly exacerbated by Fox News and other conservative media outlets vitriolic opposition to mass media outlets such as NBC, CBS, the Associated Press and others that were formerly trusted by a great majority of Americans.
O’Reilly states, “No surprise, the network news pretty much ignored Al Gore’s selling his far-left cable network to Al Jazeera,” and, “that proves once again how corrupt the national media really is.”
He demonizes the network news for a lack of what he perceives to be proper reporting on the issue; however, O’Reilly goes on to characterize what these news networks reported.
He says, “ABC didn’t mention it … NBC, Lester Holt, on a weekend, I think he mentioned it for 10 seconds, and Anthony Mason, on CBS Morning, mentioned it for 10 seconds.”
What O’Reilly negatively characterized as liberal media bias is, in fact, just the news. The major news networks achieved their mission to provide fact and information as news. Simply stating that Al Gore sold CurrentTV to Al-Jazeera is news; commentary on the mission of Al-Jazeera and the political beliefs of Al Gore is not news.
The American people deserve better than political operatives in suits posing as newscasters presenting opinion as fact. This type of coverage does not benefit anyone except for those with an agenda to misinform and mislead the American people. We, the people, deserve mass media we can trust, and refusing to watch Fox News is the first step towards civil discourse.
Zac Bears is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.