September 13, 2013
Geraldo Rivera, left, and Bill O'Reilly attend the Bloomberg Vanity Fair White House Correspondents' Association dinner afterparty earlier this year. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
Geraldo Rivera, left, and Bill O’Reilly attend the Bloomberg Vanity Fair White House Correspondents’ Association dinner afterparty earlier this year. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Fox News stalwarts Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly Thursday night inveighed against the alleged excesses of the United States Climate of Entitlement. It was a standard Fox News screed against big government. Host O’Reilly started out by showing a graphic illustrating how the percentages of poor people who own a television (96 percent), cellphone (81 percent), refrigerator (98 percent), air conditioner (83 percent), computer (58 percent) washer-dryer (65 percent). “Based on those stats, the poverty rate description may have to be redefined in America,” said O’Reilly, as if to say that too many people have clean clothes, information, a tolerable interior temperature. (Rivera stood up for universal access to appliances). O’Reilly laid out his argument: “So this is creating a class of people who don’t live well. I mean none of us are under the — none of us believe that poor people are living well. But they have the essentials, and they have some luxury items. So there is no incentive for many to break out of that.”

No question that O’Reilly and Rivera believe their contentions about our miserable welfare state, facts to the contrary notwithstanding. No question, too, that their comments play to the preferences of Fox News viewers.

Yet a close reading of the segment unearths an even more powerful motive for them to alight on the topic of work and bootstrapism. It enables them to indulge in ego-stroking and classic post-war nostalgism. Don’t believe the Erik Wemple Blog, huh? Let’s do some transcript action, then.

Example No. 1: Rivera the product of intense bootstrapping:

O’REILLY: So first of all you — you were raised in modest circumstances on Long Island. I was — I had a better deal than you did. Your father was a cabdriver and then a restaurant worker, right — kitchen worker? But you didn’t consider yourself poor right?
RIVERA: No, my dad never made more than $10,000 a year and we considered ourselves solidly in the middle class. I think that has changed tremendously.
I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas. But it’s one thing to be poor in India or even Mexico and it’s another thing to be poor according to these statistics in the United States.

Example No. 2: We did it by ourselves!

O’REILLY: When you were being raised, did you — did your home receive any government subsidies at all?
RIVERA: Not that I know of. My family, until my dad finally reached the age of 65, never received any government stipend as far as I know. It was considered very shameful in my family.

Example No. 3: Free riders today are socially acceptable, but not back in the day!

O’REILLY: …and in my neighborhood too in Levittown: Anybody who is on welfare or getting anything they were kind of a pariah they are — people are going like this everybody worked.

Example No. 4: Even more bootstrapping!

RIVERA: Here in New York we have a Democratic candidate for mayor who made the story of the tale of two cities, rich and poor and how the income gap is widening as it is. But what he does not say is the disincentive for so many of the poor to work stabilizes them at a sustainable, almost lower middle class existence that gives them no incentive to go out and boot strap themselves and invent something or go to work and work two jobs and three jobs.
I went to law school I worked two jobs all through law school. That was the way we did it back then. I think that there is as you suggest really a kind of an impulse to — where compassion has been overwhelmed by institutionalized kind of disability and entitlements. That really helped you.

The segment left viewers a bit short, because they didn’t hear a comparable rags-to-riches tale from O’Reilly himself. Careful “Factor” watchers, however, could fill in those blanks. Because late last month, O’Reilly used the occasion of the fast-food strike to wallow in his own, epic self-boosting:

My first job was at a Carvel ice cream stand I was paid minimum wage with free hot fudge sundaes as a perk. I was 17 years old when I got the job and I worked at Carvel for a year. I understood that I was a rookie in the labor force and could get a recommendation from my boss for the future so I didn’t complain about the low pay.

The next summer before I went college I took a Red Cross course. I got my lifeguard certification and then went on to become a water safety instructor. Immediately I made five times more money than I made at Carvel. And I didn’t have any trouble getting a job because Long Island is a beach place surrounded by water with plenty of pools as well.

The next year I needed more money because college demanded it so I started a painting business. I rounded up some of my thug friends and we painted houses for very reasonable price. We made a ton of money. I did that for five summers even after I graduated supplementing my very low income as a high school teacher.

Then I went to grad school and in summer I drove a taxi; flexible hours, tips off the books. Don’t tell the IRS. After graduating from Boston University with a Masters in broadcast journalism I took a very low paying job at a TV station in Scranton, Pennsylvania because it was hard to break into TV. So I had to work for peanuts but I knew that if I did good work I would rise up and that’s what happened.

(h/t Media Matters)

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