Friday, May 24, 2002

Why I Don't Watch Bill O'Reilly

Bill O'Reilly's latest column for World Net Daily is on, of course, the Catholic Church. It is yet another reminder of why I no longer watch the man's shows or buy into his self-promotion.

When the O'Reilly Factor first appeared on the air I watched it with great devotion. It was a breath of fresh air. But as time went on -- and O'Reilly's popularity grew -- I noticed some disturbing trends. First, he seems to go for the knee-jerk answer and he subscribes to a cheap populism that distrusts any authority. I first started to notice this problem in his coverage of economic issues where he simply refused to accept the idea that people need to be responsible and learn what they are investing in. He also tends to paint with a broad brush. "Everyone knows this" and "It's common knowledge that." Combined with his shameless and unrelenting promotion of his books, I reached a point where I couldn't watch him. (Does any other news personality get away with giving you daily updates about his book sales and pitching them as gifts for every holiday, from Christmas to Father's Day?) I'm surprised whenever I talk with other conservatives or Christians and hear them fawn over the man.

This article on the Church just reaffirms what I don't like about the man. Set aside the fact that he always applies a political/power angle to a story. Consider these quotes:

"It is widely known within the church that Pope John Paul II is so ill that he is almost entirely out of the decision-making process. Instead, there are a few powerful "little popes" who surround the pontiff and issue orders in his name."
Now, I don't doubt that the pope has delegated a fair number of tasks. But is this true? I think the degree of his incapacity due to illness is something that is of dispute. There are plenty of you who claim more intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Church, so correct me if I am wrong. But I dislike O'Reilly's casual way of putting it as if this is a fact for which he doesn't have to offer any support.
"And the orders right now to American bishops have come down to one thing: Stonewall."
Where does he get this? Yes there has been complaints about the media. But there is a right to complain about the media. I'm not a fan of the your-in-error-so-you-can't-call-me-on-my-error attitude that Americans have. Just because there have been cases of sexual abuse by priests doesn't mean that we should give the media a free pass and not require them to report things accurately. (Although I know most bloggers don't want to hear it, if this scandal didn't involve the Catholic Church it wouldn't be on the front page of the newspapers every day. Another simple test: check how often you see defendants in crimes identified as being Jewish or Muslim. But you can bet your last dollar that if it is a sex crime and you are or were a priest, altar boy or just Catholic it will be mentioned, regardless of its relevance.) As for the canon lawyer's comments, they have been overblown, both in what they meant and how much they reflect the Holy See's position. But that is all the "evidence" Bill gives us. That constitutes "stonewalling" in his opinion. Evidence to the contrary, such as the pope's comments that the abuse is a crime and unacceptable, isn't addressed.
"And it's the pope's own fault. Although sick now, he has consistently given power over the years to men who are autocratic and unyielding. These are hard men, not princes of the Church in the image of Jesus Christ. John Paul II tolerates no dissent and no reform. He has put the "image" of the Church before all else – including the welfare of children."
Again, you wonder if Bill ever re-reads his commentaries with a cool head. I hardly think that JPII can be described as neither tolerating reform nor dissent. I think he's tolerated a fair amount of both, frankly. And what's with all this about the pope? Come on, he has appointed plenty of bishops who haven't lived up to the likings of those commonly labeled as "conservatives". I think we need to face the facts that Bishops do have free will and some choose to do unwise things. And I think the last person who can be accused of putting the Church's "image" before all else is the pope.

I know O'Reilly would say in his defense that he is a commentator. Hog wash. He still has a duty to get facts right and owes us a reasoned opinion, not just heat. John Mallon, if you're reading, I would love to read your thoughts on the likes of O'Reilly and others sometime. The Dowds of this world are easy to dismiss and spot. The problems with the O'Reillys are a little less obvious.


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