"Unfair Freedom of Speech Did Him In."


That's Bill O'Reilly's surprising (read: moronic) conclusion to the the Dan Rather Debacle. From the NY Daily News' version of the No-Spinmeister's syndicated col:

Dan Rather is guilty of not being skeptical enough about a story that was politically loaded….Dan Rather was slimed. It was disgraceful.

But you'll be seeing more of this kind of thing in the future. All famous and successful Americans are now targets. Unscrupulous people know that any accusation can be dumped on the Internet and within hours the mainstream media will pick it up. It will be printed in the papers, discussed on radio and TV and become part of the unfortunate person's resume whether he or she is guilty or not. A click of the Internet mouse can wipe out a lifetime of honor and hard work. Just the accusation or allegation can be ruinous.

Let me ask you something: In the future, do you think potential public servants and social crusaders are going to risk being brutally attacked within this insane system? I don't. I think many good people are simply going to walk away from the public arena….

Unfair freedom of speech did [Rather] in. This is not your grandfather's country anymore.

Whole thing here.

Dan Rather was slimed? How, exactly? He was mocked and derided for putting out a phony story–a brilliant denouement to a career clogged with other sorts of laughable weirdnesses. Nobody was accusing him of murder, or rape, or any sort of unsubstantiated ad hominem charges. They said he was a dupe, witting or not, of the need for a big story that apparently supported his personal political view. He got burned because he jettisoned his journalistic standards at the precise moment he needed to stand by them. For that, he deserves to get beaten about the kidneys professionally. In any case, he's not going to hell as a result–he's capping off a 1,000 year career as one of the most-underwatched newsbots in the history of TV. That's pretty freaking good work if you can get it. And, Billy O, don't worry about running out of replacements for the Rathers of the world. Dandy Dan's pay, and the immense, typically monstrous power that "public servants and social crusaders" get to wield, suggest that particular well won't be running dry anytime soon. The unsupported argument that public scrutiny of politicians has driven good people out of that arena is weak enough; to claim that the same dynamic is at work in TV journalism borders on the insane.

O'Reilly's siding with the wealthy and renowned is not simply a result of his own recent brush with scandal; he's been on the side of the rich and famous against "attackers" for a very long time, especially Web-based scribes. But it's no less convincing in this case than in any other. "Unfair freedom of speech?" What a load of bullspin that phrase is. Freedom of speech is never unfair. It's the essential thing that allows something like truth to emerge from the marketplace of ideas and information.

And by the way, what can it possibly mean to invoke that pre-lapsarian paradise known as "your grandfather's country"? Without reciting a list of cliched truths (and exaggerations) about old-tyme discrimination against folks with names like O'Reilly, what exactly was better about the United States 50 or 75 years ago? That the social talkback mechanism in virtually every instance was totally stacked against the little people O'Reilly says he protects? I remain a big fan of (and, I hope, occasional guest on) The O'Reilly Factor, which continues to set the pace of cable yak shows for any number of good reasons. But in this latest dyspeptic burp of a col, Bill has produced little more than the next installment of his "Most Ridiculous Item of the Day" bit.

[Thanks to reader Rodney Smith for the link]

NEXT: Medical Pot in the Dock

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Can O’Reilly even write properly? The “click of the Internet mouse…” Really now.

  2. O’Really is worried about people being slimed by unfair attacks with no factual support? That’s a good one.

    Oh, no, wait, he’s not. He’s worried that the unfair attacks might be carried out by people who aren’t contractually obligated to the corporate media. Not so ironic after all.

  3. Click.

    Two lives ruined before your eyes.

  4. Even O’Reilly has learned to fear the dreaded dark corners of interweb.

    I’m kind of sad that people argue against stupidity like this, it just encourages it. The fact that Nick got himself riled enough to write three fat paragraphs is exactly why O’Reilly has any pull. It’s often said that the solution to bad speech is more speech. But I think the solution to speech like this is actually complete indifference.

  5. I like Dan… definitely in relation to Peter and Tom.
    I will not slime him. I will not shoot silly string at him.
    When the CBS internal report is released, I may change my mind, but I think that report may slime Dubya, which will be fine by me.
    Has anyone else thought Gwen Ifil would be a good replacement for Dan this spring?

  6. “He made a mistake,as we all do,but he is not a dishonnest man”
    Nixon was not a crook.
    Clinton never lied.
    O`reilly did not have phone sex with “that” woman.

    What is the meaning of the word SPIN?

  7. I think it’s safe to assume Drudge and Falafelgate are somewhere behind O’Reilly’s thinking.

  8. Unfair freedom of speech did him in. This is not your grandfather’s country anymore.

    I fear that either Bill O’Reilly has trouble expressing himself clearly or thinking clearly. What he meant to say was “unfair speech” not “unfair freedom of speech”. Oh well, at least that’s a better prospect than any remedies that he might concoct that would involve a curtailing of freedom of speech in order to bring back his vision of granddad’s country.

    Another example of his sloppy speech, is that he used to, or maybe still does ( I haven’t watched Fox of late-I can’t forgive them for their Soviet style, rah rah war coverage) refer to criticism of the Israeli government as “anti-Semitism”. Although, I think that this misstatement might have come at the behest of his bosses at Fox.

  9. In the improbable community of reality, what goes around doesn’t always come around. This time it did and I for one plan to jeer Dan Rather into his rather comfortable retirement.

    As for fair free speech? Huh?

    I understand fully the point being made but speech itself is unfair (read: inaccurate, biased, slanted, or outright lies) as often as not. O’Reilly’s distortion of how the Red Cross operates that came in the wake of 9-11 just being one in a file cabinet filled with examples.

  10. HA HA HA HA
    I hope this becomes a case of self-fulfilling prophecy, and Bill is hounded from public life as an incurable moron.

  11. “Let me ask you something: In the future, do you think potential public servants and social crusaders are going to risk being brutally attacked within this insane system? I don’t. I think many good people are simply going to walk away from the public arena….”

    My god, if only this was true. Click away, Internet Mouse! Click away for LIBERTY!

  12. Opponents of free trade have been advocating “fair” trade for years. It was only a matter of time before some yahoo started advocating “fair” speech, too.

    Come to think of it, is there ANY kind of freedom that someone doesn’t attack using vague references to fairness? It almost sounds as if the word “unfair” has become a synonym for “I don’t like it.”

  13. The kettle is black.

  14. Of course, O’reilly has obvious personal motives for this spin. Without actually reading his article, my reaction is also that perhaps he realizes the Rather incident is classic Karl Rove treachery. It masterfully diverted attention from the facts of Bush’s record to plagiarized docs.

  15. I’d guess O’Reilly thinks that my right to speech should be curtailed to prevent me from mentioning that he likes to use a vibrator on himself while sexually harassing his employees with unwanted sexually explicit phone calls…

    Aw, c’mon now! That’s not fair!

  16. O’Reilly’s a blowhard. He’s only taking this line on Rather’s fall to protect his own position.

    The interesting and false argument is the one that asserts that politics today are so nasty that “good people” won’t play. Oh, please. O’Reilly’s little problem would have destroyed him only 20 years ago. Now he, Clinton Bennett, et. al. can get away with almost any “personal failing”.

    On a related note, if you don’t get the LA Times and don’t care about passwords, check Sunday’s article about the relationship between basketball players, referees and spectators when the game was played in a cage. The point is, before deciding things now are horrible, look to the past (and not just last week) when in most cases things were worse.

    Even as a card-carrying anti-changeite (I used a rotary dial telephone into the mid-90s) I retain enough reason to recognize that most things have gotten better during the last few centuries and even during my lifetime. Some developments, like those alleuded to by Marius, have been unfortunate, but most have been positive.

  17. in the area of speech, one would be hard-pressed to point to 75 years ago or 50 years ago or 25 years ago as better for “free speech.”

    assuming one likes free speech and means it, at least in part, as “the greatest access to the greatest freedom for the greatest number of individuals.

    i think perhaps speech was what mr. gillespie was referring to.

    o’reilly is very entertaining, though i do hope he adopts a pair of bunny ears one day.

  18. I remain a big fan of … The O’Reilly Factor, which continues to set the pace of cable yak shows for any number of good reasons. (Nick Gillespie)

    Well, there’s another illusion shot to hell.

  19. O’Reilly is a paternalistic elitist. He yearns for the Levittown of the ’50s, when the mainstream media was controlled by “professionals” and the government schools taught the consensus reality on the Cold War, New Deal, and the rest of the FDR/Truman welfare-warfare state. And of course, when “the folks” had people like him “lookin’ out” for them. And “the Founding Fathers,” he adds, didn’t see freedom of the press as an adversarial system in which truth emerged from conflict. The First Amendment was intended to give professional protection to a “responsible” press, operating according to Walter Lippman’s technocratic canons of “objectivity.”

    Despite his fake populist facade, O’Reilly fairly drips with paternalism. He came right out and said, after his on-air meltdown with Jeremy Glick, that he wouldn’t “allow” his audience to hear such nonsensical claims because he had a duty to protect them from (I guess) the danger of finding them persuasive. At heart, he has the same view of the marketplace of ideas as did the sophists and rhetoricians of 5th century BC Athens: the human mind is not a tool for evaluating conflicting arguments, but rather waits to be captured by the most forceful rhetoric. Therefore, the many must be protected from error by the few who are capable of perceiving the real truth.

    Thank God “the folks” have O’Reilly “lookin’ out” for them.

    What a despicable whore he is.

  20. Xlrq: You’re spot on about the word “fair”. I have come to loathe that word in a political context because it means nothing more than “stuff I like.” But it sounds good, because who could be against fairness? Other meaningless, emotionally loaded words and terms include “exploitation” and “social justice.”

    Mr. Nice Guy: LOL! Yeah, I’ve had quite enough “crusaders” already, thanks…

  21. i would add “freedom” to that list.

    most who extole it don’t seem very into it (when it comes to the actions of others, of course).

  22. I kind of enjoy his show sometimes, but the dude cetrainly can be a toolbox.

  23. So you can actually tell the validity of a position by whether its proponents use the word “fair?”

    I guess fairness, like peace, is something Americans aren’t supposed to value anymore.

  24. Joe,
    Not to anwer the obvious, but I think what was being talked about is how “fair” has become a euphemism. That in many cases means something quite different from the original meaning in the English language.

    Much like your people have used “peoples republic” to describe something that is not really a peoples republic.

  25. kwais, there are some seriously lazy thinkers on this board. There are people who, on a regular basis, decide they are one one side of an issue because the other side describes it cause as benefitting children – I’m not making that up, just hang around for a day or two.

    Now JD and Xlrq decide that it’s appropriate to dismiss arguments that use the word “fair.” Just pointing out the sloppy thinking that goes unchallenged in these parts.

  26. While I can’t stand the guy Nick, I think you misrepresented one of O’Reily’s points.

    When he says: “I think many good people are simply going to walk away from the public arena….”
    he’s not saying that we’ll run out of celebrity journalists. He’s saying that GOOD people will shy away from the profession. Which, as far as I can tell, is already starting to happen.

  27. If we had realized that our first amendment would be used to embarass people like Dan Rather and Bill O’Reilly, we would have done quite a few things differently, let me assure you of that!

    For starters, we would have incorporated freedom of speech and freedom of the press into the original Constitution, rather than waiting to tack it on as an amendment.

  28. joe, are you seriously saying that when certain parties use, for example, “freedom” – a president comes to mind – you don’t automatically assume he’s going to blow sunshine up your ass?

    same thing, different cause. generally speaking, i find that the “what about the children” brigade to be worth ignoring because it’s used to justify just about every single law, rule and measure ever created. from the war in iraq to banning video games to the much maligned lawn dart, etc.

    rhetorically, it’s somewhat effective because it’s like “fairness” or “social justice” or “freedom” in that the definition is as vague as the positive association with the words or phrases.

  29. generally speaking, i find that the “what about the children” brigade to be worth ignoring because it’s used to justify just about every single law, rule and measure ever created.

    statistically effective, mr dhex, but not intellectually rigorous. 🙂

  30. alas, i have become lazy in things regarding politics, but some of us have to work, you know.

    my rigor is steep’d in mortis. 🙂

    i am still myopic enough, for example, to assume that people automatically conjure up a mental image of sunshine being blown up a butt every time some dingbat in a suit stands up on tv and talks about “freedom” like it was some sort of manufacturing byproduct of steel.

    it is a long and winding road.

  31. dhex, freedom is a core value of mine, and of every other person I’ve ever seen speak about politics.

    Sometimes, people who speak about freedom are full of it. But I try not to dismiss ideas for such shallow reasons.

  32. everyone i’ve ever talked to is big up on freedom.

    yet i’ve rarely met more than a few people who define it the same way. politicians may be big on freedom in a speech where, five minutes later, they’re talking about the need to restrict it, or parody it entirely.

    the war on some drugs, to use the most blatant, obvious, bi-partisan example.

    what i’m saying is that using the term “freedom” in the context of political rhetoric is just that, rhetoric, and should be duly ignored because it’s nothing more than an attempt at emotional manipulation. because like you point out, everyone identifies with the word. what they see in their head, or carry out in their lives, is something else entirely. i distrust such vagaries for the same reason i take pamphlets from the jehova’s witnesses.

  33. Joe, I never said it was appropriate to dismiss all arguments that use the word “fair.” Legitimate fairness issues are fine. What’s not fine is phony, vague rhetorical appeals to “fairness” on a topic that has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with the fact that the speaker simply does not like it.

    Take O’Reilly’s “it ain’t fair” defense of Rather. Why the hell not? O’Reilly doesn’t say. If pressed on the issue, I suspect he’d end up saying “OK, you got me there, this has nothing to do with fairness, I just think it sucks.” Or maybe not. Maybe he would suprprise us all by presenting a legitimate fairness issue after all, like this one:

    Dan Rather should not have lost his job just because he made crap up and tried to pass it off as news. Other news anchors do that all the time, and they don’t get canned. I make crap up and try to pass it off as news all the time. Do you see Fox firing me? Of course not! So why is Rather being singled out? That’s so not fair!

    It’s fine to argue fairness issues by showing that something is unfair. What’s not OK is to throw around the f-word every time one does not get one’s own way.

  34. joe,

    Whatever your values are, you clearly believe that freedom is subordinate to providing for people’s needs and probably some of their simple desires. I don’t think you can honestly claim freedom as one of your “core” values. (Pot…kettle, re: sloppy thinking).


  35. Now JD and Xlrq decide that it’s appropriate to
    dismiss arguments that use the word “fair.”

    Joe, if there’s any sloppy thinking going around, it’s yours. You’re taking what I said and replacing it with what you want me to have said. I don’t think that one should automatically dismiss any argument that uses the word “fair”. I do think that the addition of the word “fair” adds nothing to the argument, since

    1. everyone has a different definition of fair
    2. everyone claims to be interested in being fair.

    Tell me, when was the last time you heard an argument stated explicitly, by its proponent, as an “anti-fairness” position, Joe? An argument may or may not stand on its merits for other reasons, but claiming that it is “fair” tells me nothing other than that the proponent likes it. There are different kinds of fairness, for one thing, such as process fairness or result fairness, and people can and do disagree on which of them should be called “fair”.

  36. “This is not your grandfather’s country anymore.”

    In an odd way O’Reilly is right. In my grandfather’s country any man who made unwanted sexually explicit phone calls to a young lady risked a few swift lashes from the buggy whip of one of her larger and more surly relatives.

    So you see, some things were better back then. But I’m sure it’s terribly unfair of me to point that out.

  37. Joe,
    no retort for the “peoples republic” part of my comment. Come on man, I thought it was funny. You have to have a witty reply to that somewhere.

  38. To be fair, I must say this, while I’m really, really hating it, but nonetheless, it has to be said in all fairness: joe is an asshat!

  39. It is interesting that O’Reilly has yet to pronounce his “findings of the Rather matter”. He said he would but he has not. I guess he just likes to lash out at detractors. I noticed two years ago when Bill took a fancy to Porn Stars and now it comes out why. Also, it is facinating to watch Bill the last 9 months since he is the ratings champ on cable who has “mellowed” and does not “attack”. He said that he wants to take discourse back to the high road. I guess he wanted some sympathy for when his phone sex problem became known. I guess it worked very well for him his viewership has gone up and his wife has staid by his side. He is no different from Rather. I used to think Bill had some self respect but now I know it can be bought.

  40. kwais, neither the Iris, nor the Italians, nor the liberals, nor the residents of Massachusetts, have ever used the word “people’s republic” to describe any sort of government. I’m not sure which “my people” you’re referring to.

    JD, it’s good that you have evolved from this: “I have come to loathe that word in a political context because it means nothing more than “stuff I like.”

    to this: ‘I don’t think that one should automatically dismiss any argument that uses the word “fair”.’

    Phil, I do not believe people are free unless they have the opportunity to realize their freedoms. This includes making sure they can provide for their needs; in particular, it includes making sure the structures of power that shape the world we live in allow for individuals to realize the ideals of freedom. When the English landowners expropriated the right of the rural populace to graze their sheep on their lands, it did not just reduce their wealth, it reduced their freedom.

  41. joe,

    The use of feudal England as as example is a non sequitur. By definition, serfs are not free.

    If “opportunity to realize freedom” includes the political power to appropriate the property of others then the word “freedom” loses all meaning. Freedom from coercion for everyone also implies that everyone also assume the risk of failure.

    If rights are subject to popular vote or some other utilitarian calculation, then on what grounds do you object when ANY group imposes their agenda on the rest of us through political means? (other than some variant of “it sucks that my side lost”). Rights should never be subject to political manipulation (and it’s not a “right” if someone else is providing it).


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.