With the murder of George Tiller, we’ve witnessed a media
storm. Hours after the first reports, people were already pointing fingers. It looks like in this instance, Bill O’Reilly will receive much of the blame. Since 2005, Tiller has been mentioned on O’Reilly’s show on 28 separate occasions. The accusations against Tiller were brutal: he was nick-named "Tiller the Baby Killer"; he was called a Nazi; he was said to be "operating a death mill"; and "has blood on his hands." During one segment, O’Reilly said:
"I wouldn’t want to be these people if there is a Judgment Day. I just — you know … Kansas is a great state, but this is a disgrace upon everyone who lives in Kansas. Is it not?"
Perhaps it’s unfair to blame a grisly murder committed by a
sociopath on a television host. But what O’Reilly does – and he does it very well – is nourish the rage of his viewers and then profit off of it. He’s a source of comfort for his viewers, while he simultaneously feeds their discomfort.
Watch O’Reilly, if you must, and there’s something primeval at work. Ignore the garbage he’s actually spouting on air, and listen instead to the gradual rise in his speech, from a calm, reasonable tone, to red-faced rage. It’s practiced, intentional, and effective. It creates a dissonance that,
by the end of the show, isn’t relieved. And as the weeks go by, the outrages stack up, and though O’Reilly’s regular viewers might be comforted by the fact that he embodies a simplistic worldview similar to their own, below the surface, the show perpetuates an embedded discomfort. As the pressure builds, eventually, someone might snap.
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The show disguises itself as a daily political debate, but it’s really a daily confrontation. There isn’t a search for understanding because trenches were already dug before the show even started. The guest on each show is a hated other, who, in the minds of O’Reilly’s audience, is the personification of their deepest fears. The guests are on the receiving end of a massive exercise in primal scream therapy.
And it isn’t just O’Reilly. You can just as easily replace him with Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh; the formats of each of their shows are essentially the same. It’s easy to dislike these hosts because of their political views, but the really sinister stuff is just below the surface. As we can now see, the results can be incredibly dangerous.