Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is laughing off a claim that he leveled a sexist attack on a State Department spokeswoman. “Nah, not me,” giggled the King of Cable News in a short segment last night.
The riff was the latest volley in a nice little Washington tete-a-tete. The action started on Wednesday night, when O’Reilly was chatting with Fox News correspondent James Rosen about a contradiction in the Obama administration’s position on the Islamic State. When Rosen noted that he encountered some flak from State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on this matter, O’Reilly issued his appraisal: “With all due respect … that woman looks way out of her depth over there. Just the way she delivers, she doesn’t look like she has the gravitas for the job.”
Marie Harf, the department’s deputy spokesperson, denounced the denunciation on Twitter: “.@statedeptspox explains foreign policy w/ intelligence & class. Too bad we can’t say the same about @oreillyfactor: http://bit.ly/WfVr6v”
From the podium yesterday at the State Department, Harf used more than 140 characters: “I think that when the anchor of a leading cable news show uses quite frankly sexist, personally offensive language that I actually don’t think they would ever use about a man, against the person that shares this podium with me, I think I have an obligation and I think it’s important to step up and say that’s not OK.”
As a housekeeping measure, let’s toss the “personally offensive” claim right in the trash heap. In slighting Psaki, O’Reilly stuck strictly to her performance as a professional, something that is well within his ambit as a cable news anchor. If a SPOKESWOMAN cannot be evaluated on the basis of how she presents herself to the public, then nothing is fair game.
Now to the matter of sexism. O’Reilly’s dis was short and powerful. He used the term “that woman” as opposed to her name, which is a bit dicey.
Whether O’Reilly would speak in such terms and tones regarding a man sounds like a stretch. The guy delights in bashing — and men pop up consistently in his denunciations. Take the Erik Wemple Blog, for example. In March, we ripped O’Reilly for whining about media overkill on the MH370 story. On his show, O’Reilly dismissed us in much the same style he did Psaki: “It is simply incredible that the Washington Post would pay a man as foolish as that.”
What about the gravitas thing? To Nexis we go, in search of discernible patterns of usage. Alas, there’s nothing too solid: Sure, “gravitas” gets mentioned a fair bit in relation to former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, which seems about right. It also pops up in reference to Katie Couric’s run as an evening news anchor.
And! Check out the transcript from the Dec. 3, 2008, edition of “The O’Reilly Factor,” in which the host opines on a prominent woman:
O’REILLY: … I don’t mind Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State. I think she has a certain gravitas out there. And I think she’s pretty tough. …
Maybe O’Reilly is even-handed with assessments of the gravitas of women at the State Department. He told viewers to expect an extensive segment on the matter tonight.