erik lundegaard

The Journalistic Mission of Bill O'Reilly

In Brian Stelter’s article in The New York Times yesterday about the ambush journalism that Bill O’Reilly practices, which a producer of “The O’Reilly Factor” calls “part of the journalistic mission of the show,” and which is compared (favorably) with what Mike Wallace did on “60 Minutes” and (unfavorably) with what Michael Moore does in his movies, O’Reilly, in drawing distinction between himself and Moore, says he does what he does because “there’s no other way to hold these villains accountable.”
 
You don’t need to read any more.
 
Quick: What’s goal no. 1 for any journalist? To get the story first. To scoop the other bastards.
 
What’s goal no. 2? To be as objective as possible in doing this.
 
Journalistic mission? These villains? Does he know he's sticking his foot in, if not his own mouth, then his producer's mouth?
 
And what villains? Murderers? Torturers? Bernie Madoff types?
 
Not exactly. The ambushees include Mike Hoyt, executive editor of The Columbia Journalism Review, who assigned a story on right-wing media to a writer with a supposed liberal background. There’s Hendrik Hertzberg, my man from The New Yorker, who, the Times writes, “was confronted for what Mr. O’Reilly described as taking a ‘Factor’ segment out of context.” (No word from the Times on how Mr. Hertzberg described the incident.) There’s also Amanda Terkel of thinkprogress.org, who organized a protest against O’Reilly.
 
These are the villains. People who disagreed with Bill O’Reilly.
 
From what I remember of those “60 Minutes” segments, Wallace and his producers would use the ambush technique, when they used it, to confront either legitimately powerful people and/or crooks. It was a technique unmotivated by politics or personal vendettas.
 
Michael Moore, when he uses the ambush technique (which is often), uses it to confront legitimately powerful people: U.S. congressmen and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. His ambushes are, more often than not, motivated by politics but unmotivated by personal vendettas.

Both are examples of the journalistic mission, the journalistic mission, to speak truth to power.

Most of O’Reilly’s targets are less powerful than he is. His ambushes are simply another bullying aspect of his show. It’s less speaking truth to power than power picking on truth.

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Posted at 08:37 AM on Fri. Apr 17, 2009 in category Media  

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