March 7, 2013

On Tuesday night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly shouted down Fox News contributor Alan Colmes. At issue was federal spending cuts: Colmes claimed that President Obama had proposed some—to Medicare, in fact; O’Reilly was calling nonsense. In a high-volume outburst, he claimed Colmes was “lying,” a term for which he later apologized.

Wednesday was a slow news day, so why not rehash the entire affair again? That’s what happened. In a monologue on the spat over budget-cutting, O’Reilly explained his rant against Colmes, saying that the government just isn’t getting down to the business of scaling back its expenses: “This is economic madness.”

Then he showed a nuanced understanding of his franchise: “That’s the reason I raised my voice last night—to get everybody’s attention. I think I succeeded.”

Oh yes. Here’s just a partial list of news sites that picked up on the voice-raising: Politico, Daily Caller, Washington Times, Mediaite, WND, Raw Story, Real Clear Politics, Business Insider, Free Republic, the Blaze, TPM, Huffington Post and more.

When Bill O’Reilly sits at that round table, jabs his finger at a guest and shouts, people link. That very sequence played out last November, when he got with David Silverman of American Atheists as part of the host’s recurring feature on the assault against Christmas. The two ignited over the question of whether O’Reilly would object if a sign celebrating the winter solstice were placed on the door of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

O’Reilly: “I got no problem with it.”

Silverman: “Yeah, you would.”

That’s when O’Reilly took out the index finger.

With the holidays long since past, O’Reilly has moved on to a topic far more worthy of on-air ire. Over a couple of segments last night, he refused to budge from his position vis-a-vis Colmes that the president hadn’t proposed specific program cuts. He paused on “specific,” saying that only a high level of detail will calm the needle on his accountability meter.

In a chat with Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers, O’Reilly stumbled grandly. Powers introduced the president’s proposal to achieve $400 billion in health savings. O’Reilly, summing up, said, “So, $400 million, Medicare cuts.”

Powers, interrupting, said, “Billion.”

The difference between million and billion in discussing the federal budget is the difference between pennies and dollars in discussing a child’s allowance.

But where O’Reilly drifted into babble territory was in addressing Obama’s proposal to save $140 billion by reducing payments to drug companies. Not good enough for O’Reilly. Which drug companies, he demanded to know.

At that point, he and Powers went into the drug-company-naming rabbit hole.

POWERS: So you don’t think because the government negotiates with Medicaid, with — with drug companies, you don’t think the government kind of knows who the drug companies are? Do you think the fact that it’s not on the Web site.

O’REILLY: Why don’t we know them? Why don’t we know them?

POWERS: I’m sure that somebody at HHS could tell you. But the point is.

O’REILLY: No, no. I don’t want — I want President Obama to tell me.

Now there’s an optimal use of time for the commander-in-chief.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.