Last week, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly told morning news host Bill Hemmer about a grave situation brewing among the country’s media conglomerates:

It’s a complicated situation, but I think everyone can agree — except for the media organizations that now have ordered their employees to destroy [Donald] Trump — there’s at least three of them. And, I can’t say who they are right now because I don’t have it nailed down, but I am 100 percent convinced, and these media organizations have actually put out, ‘If you support Trump, your career is done done here.’ … I’m talking about big conglomerates. … News organizations have sent, not officially, but through the corporate grapevine that we don’t want anybody supporting Trump. If you study it, you can see which ones they are.

Stephen Colbert, host of CBS’s “Late Show,” wanted to know more about this conspiracy. Who are these three media organizations? “I told the person that asked me that question that I wouldn’t say because the people who told me will not come and say who they are. They’re anonymous sources, I don’t use anonymous sources.”

Right, except on a Fox News broadcast.

Colbert objected: “You said that it’s happening, but then you don’t support it with any proof.”

O’Reilly: “No, and I don’t care whether you believe me or not. Doesn’t matter to me. I’m not trying to convince anybody of anything.”

Colbert: “Of course we believe you. You’re Bill O’Reilly.”

O’Reilly: “Thank you.”

Colbert: “You’re in the no spin zone, but don’t your viewers. … they’re gonna believe you.”

O’Reilly: “Again, I don’t use anonymous sources so if you tell me something and I believe it, and I do believe these three news organizations just despise Trump across the board, but I’m not gonna name them because it’s not fair to them.”

If it weren’t so easy to see past O’Reilly’s sleight of hand, we might call it brilliant or something like that. But it isn’t. The Fox News host is using anonymous sources — to effect a crude and clear indictment of U.S. media “conglomerates.” There are only so many of those.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump believes there's a global conspiracy to stop him from becoming president – but it's not the first time he's pushed unfounded theories. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

All this would be risible if not for the context. Trump is attempting to convince people of a wide-ranging conspiracy against him, one that includes the media as a prominent agent. “This is a conspiracy against you, the American people, and we cannot let this happen or continue,” said the GOP nominee last week. Attacks of this sort against the media have reporters feeling downright scared at Trump rallies. In the hands of Trump, media criticism has transitioned from common, harmless GOP rhetoric to something bordering on incitement.

What O’Reilly is doing is half-alleging a grand campaign among big U.S. media companies against Trump. He provides just enough specificity to float a charge that will help his vanilla-milkshake-sharing pal and just enough uncertainty to weasel out of accountability for it. Like a true coward.