By the time Nov. 8 rolls around, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly may well be the last guy sticking up for Donald Trump. Along with his colleague Sean Hannity, of course.
Just off a vacation to France and Ireland, the King of Cable News returned to the airwaves with a fresh commitment to shill for the Republican presidential candidate, without regard to the evidence and the facts. In summing up the state of the presidential race, O’Reilly noted that Trump is lagging opponent Hillary Clinton in the polls. And, like Trump himself, he blamed the media for the candidate’s current troubles.
These days, argued O’Reilly, Trump faces a tough situation: “When he makes a flamboyant statement, it’s rammed down his throat by a hostile press,” said O’Reilly. He even cited examples, like when Trump recently attacked Ghazala Khan, the mother of an Army captain who was killed while deployed in Iraq. You see, Ghazala Khan appeared onstage at the Democratic National Convention alongside her husband, Khizr Khan, to denounce Trump’s policies toward Muslims. Her mistake? She didn’t say anything. Trump wondered whether she had “not been allowed to have anything to say.”
Yes, the media jumped on the story.
Another of Trump’s “flamboyant” statements took place on the campaign trail last week, when he noted that a President Hillary Clinton would get to pick Supreme Court judges who could undermine the Second Amendment. “Nothing you can do, folks,” he said, adding, “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Yes, the media jumped on the story.
In his rearview-mirror assessment, O’Reilly lamented that the “Second Amendment people” remark had swamped coverage of new revelations about the overlap between Clinton’s work as secretary of state and the interests of the Clinton Foundation. He was particularly incensed by the following passage in a Washington Post editorial regarding Trump’s ad-libbing: “And encouraging armed resistance against the federal government is not the most worrisome of possible meanings. Other listeners assumed that Mr. Trump was encouraging supporters to train their weapons on Ms. Clinton herself.” (Disclosure: Though the Erik Wemple Blog isn’t a member of The Post’s editorial board, he works in the same division of The Post).
O’Reilly: “Think about how insane that sentence is. Other listeners assume Trump wants Clinton murdered. Yet the Washington Post editorial board put that sentence in the paper. Why? Well, they despise Donald Trump.” Later in his program, O’Reilly returned to the Post-bashing. “How would you react if The Washington Post said that … you possibly, you could have wanted Hillary Clinton assassinated? … And that’s the Washington Post editorial board.”
And he wasn’t finished. “The Washington Post editorial implying that some people feel that Trump is calling for the assassination of Secretary Clinton. Now, if you’re Donald Trump and you’re reading that, you’re saying, ‘Look, this is out of control. This hatred of me is out of control.’ ”
What’s actually out of control, of course, is Trump’s rhetoric itself, which always comes packaged with just enough winks and nods and innuendo to invite all manner of interpretations — one for every group that Trump wishes to target. As for The Post’s observation that some listeners interpreted the remark as inviting violence against Clinton, well, just look at the public record:
• Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, told CNN, “If someone else had said that said outside the hall, he’d be in the back of a police wagon now with the Secret Service questioning him.”
• Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) issued this tweet:
Don't treat this as a political misstep. It's an assassination threat, seriously upping the possibility of a national tragedy & crisis.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) August 9, 2016
• Dan Rather called it “a direct threat of violence against a political rival.”
As far as Trump enablers go, O’Reilly is putting himself in his own class. Sure, Hannity is more of an out-and-out cheerleader for the real-estate tycoon, but he doesn’t pretend to be an honest, objective broker. Last night, O’Reilly declared his commitment to “covering the Trump-Clinton race in a fair way,” even though the host himself has a three-decade-long friendship with one of the candidates. Guess which one!
Here, O’Reilly provided his friend a valuable service: Rhetorical excess cleanup, that is. Trump knows what he’s doing on the stump. The “Second Amendment people” remark was hardly the first instance in which the candidate whistled softly to his most extreme supporters, those who might just relish the suggestion of criminal acts against Clinton. When he makes these statements, though, Trump needs his friends to clean up the mess with a more mainstream crowd. O’Reilly is well positioned to do just that. As a bonus, he threw in an endorsement of Trump’s denial of credentials to unfriendly news organizations: “If somebody is really being dishonest, I’d strip them too,” said O’Reilly.