Before last night I’d never given a second thought to Senator Chris Dodd. Boring and flavorless, the white-haired presidential hopeful had been a non-factor in every debate I’ve watched, a hackysack for the other Democratic candidates to kick around. He was a nonentity, the dull guy from Connecticut whose name I could never remember because even that was unspectacular.
Nothing about Dodd distinguished him from the pack. There was no authentic aura accompanying him at the podium, or brazenly innovative ideas hiding up his sleeve. His only redeeming trait, actually, was his ability to make other candidates to look good. Maybe that was his function all along, to be the beige background that illuminated the top-tier candidates, so that Hillary would seem candid and Obama spontaneous.
When I heard that Dodd was slated to appear on the O’Reilly Factor, my first thought was to feel sorry for him. The show’s domineering pundit, Bill O’Reilly, who had mastered the art of intimidation interrupting. I figured O’Reilly would bully Dodd for the entire segment, reducing his guest to a bystander and then gloating about it afterward to his pseudo-celeb sidekick Dennis Miller. O’Reilly’s success lies in his arguing style, rather than from any inherent validity in his arguments themselves. Guests who disagree with the hard-headed host hardly get the chance to introduce themselves, much less to voice their opinions. When someone does manage to slip in a decent point, O’Reilly either cuts their microphones or boots them off the set, as demonstrated in the following two interviews (with Colonel Ann Wright and Jeremy Glick, respectively):
And if the O’Reilly Factor seems perpetually obsessed with yesterday’s headlines, it’s because the show’s producers need ample time to erase whatever meaningful dialog O’Reilly’s loud voice failed to smother in the original interview. The final product is an airbrushed conversation about old news, in which nobody but O’Reilly says anything coherent. Those are the rules.
Most Democratic politicians keep their distance from this Fox propaganda mill, so O’Reilly must have wetted himself when a presidential candidate agreed to appear on the show. When given the opportunity to sit down with a prospective president, one might expect a serious “news anchor” to agonize over which issues are most important to discuss in the limited time available. Yet the topic that O’Reilly deemed most newsworthy was his own bizarre pissing contest with the bloggers at DailyKos.
A few weeks ago O’Reilly sparked this feud by bullying JetBlue into reneging on their sponsorship of the Yearly Kos Convention, and Bill-O hasn’t let up since. Given that this was the best version of the conversation his producers could produce, I imagine we’d be stunned if we got our hands on the uncut interview. Dodd several times managed to say things O’Reilly hasn’t allowed anyone to mention in recent weeks, including:
- The fact that any website that supports free speech will inevitably result in the expression of objectionable ideas.
- The fact that O’Reilly himself often says hateful things.
- The suggestion that O’Reilly’s real objection with DailyKos is not its bad apples but its liberal politics.
- The accusation that O’Reilly is grossly exaggerating the prevalence of hateful material on the DailyKos, cherry-picking the most extreme sound bytes in order to misrepresent an online community of 500,000 people.
As he body-slammed Bill O’Reilly on Bill’s home turf, Chris Dodd convinced me that even the most bush-league politicians can dwarf the Fox News talking heads if they know what not to get intimidated by. I haven’t seen O’Reilly look this disoriented on the set of The Factor since his 2005 thrashing at the hands of Phil Donahue, a video I’m always psyched to show: