Argument against Bill O'Reilly?
November 20, 2009 12:18 PM   Subscribe

My uncle loves "The O'Reilly Factor" and relies on it for much of his news consumption. He sees Bill O'Reilly as a "straight-shooter". I'm trying to convince him of the folly of his ways. What evidence can I point to? thank you!
posted by grammalvsu to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

Bill O'Reilly Versus The Truth: Confronting The Propaganda Of Bill O'Reilly And The Scam Of The "No-Spin" Zone. The book, written by an economist, "analyses quotes, statistics, and arguments" to show bias.

I worry that Franken's book might be perceived by your uncle as "biased liberal media." Disclaimer: I have not read the book linked above, but it was the result of an Amazon search for some sort of statistical backup to the assumption that O'Reilly's commentary is factually flawed.
posted by bunnycup at 12:30 PM on November 20, 2009

PS, this article seemed interesting, too, with some very certain statistics. I'm just getting all of this from Google and Amazon searches for phrases like "O'Reilly statistics" or "prove O'Reilly wrong," and there seems to be a wealth of information out there. Some of it from very inflammatory perspectives (O' and others more reasoned.
posted by bunnycup at 12:34 PM on November 20, 2009

His opinion has to do with emotions, not facts, so you probably will not be able to sway him with facts. From personal experience with my relatives, any facts you present (no matter how reasonably conveyed) will rely on authorities or sources he will not trust (such as the "liberal media").

And on preview: Jaltcoh, yeah right, the uncle is going to accept the word of Al Franken.
posted by aught at 12:34 PM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

He doesn't care about the constitution.

Of course, I don't think he actually doesn't care about the constitution, but to brush it aside for the sake of convenience or making a point is to render any other argument you make hypocritical.
posted by crickets at 12:37 PM on November 20, 2009

I'd counsel patience. Seriously. Don't attack with a bunch of "here's why you're wrong and your hero is stupid" (not that you would) and expect him to suddenly say, "Wow, thank goodness you've shown me the truth!" However, if you show him a fact here and a new perspective there, gently, demonstrating that you hear and understand his fears and objections, then he might come around in a year or two. Which is better, a whole lot better, than never.
posted by amtho at 12:38 PM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

A montage of those Daily Show segments where they compare O'Reilly (or another bighead) to his own words from a different show are golden. The contradictions (if a Democrat does it it's treason, if a Republican does it it's patriotism) are pretty galling.

Perhaps a whole lot of those could be edited together into a 30-minute barrage.
posted by rokusan at 12:40 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Indiana Universty propaganda study
posted by goethean at 12:41 PM on November 20, 2009

Jaltcoh, yeah right, the uncle is going to accept the word of Al Franken.

He might be more likely to actually read something in narrative form that's meant to be entertaining and funny, rather than a statistical analysis. It was just a suggestion; the OP is free to take it or leave it.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:41 PM on November 20, 2009

If you attack Bill O'Reilly to someone who admires him as a person, the most likely reaction will be defensiveness. I recommend either letting him believes what he wants, or if you feel you must, work on discrediting the ideas O'Reilly presents rather than the man himself.
posted by Kimberly at 12:48 PM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

This is more of an anecdote than a thorough debunking, but it's one of my favorites.

Bill O'Reilly announced a boycott of France when France didn't back the Iraq war. Later, unsurprisingly, he announced that his boycott was a huge success. When a guest challenged him on it, he said that the "Paris Business Review" had reported that France had lost billions of dollars because of the boycott.

Not only was there no such article, there's no "Paris Business Review." He made it up on the spot. But someone was smart enough to register and The .com address is sadly defunct, but it was hilarious, full of "Zut alors! Ze boycott is keeling us!" and graphs like this. is still up.

Here's the transcript:

O'REILLY: Now if the [Canadian] government -- if your government harbors these two deserter [sic], doesn't send them back ... there will be a boycott of your country which will hurt your country enormously. France is now feeling that sting.

MALLICK: I don't think for a moment such a boycott would take place because we are your biggest trading partners.

O'REILLY: No, it will take place, madam. In France ...

MALLICK: I don't think that your French boycott has done too well ...

O'REILLY: ...they've lost billions of dollars in France according to "The Paris Business Review."

MALLICK: I think that's nonsense.
posted by Clambone at 12:48 PM on November 20, 2009 [11 favorites]

I think Al Franken books would be counter-productive evidence regarding any conversation in which you try to persuade somebody that O'Reilly is a fool. The facts in it might be helpful, however.

The best way, I think, is to take the time and discuss specific O'Reilly episodes after they air, and counter specific things that are stated therein. Most of O'Reilly's problematic blustering is not so as much that he misrepresents facts, per se, but that he consistently mischaracterizes (or intentionally misinterprets) people, their actions, and things like legislation. So, bone up on what's happening in politics so that you can speak intelligently on them, to show that the mischaracterizations are invalid. Pick and choose your targets; for instance, be careful defending some people - like Nancy Pelosi - lest you want to totally look like a bad Liberal.

It takes a lot of time and effort to do this. I don't think there is an easy way to discredit O'Reilly, as to someone who thinks he's a straight-shooter.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:52 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I don't think there is much you can do for him. I think most people realize on some level these folks are entertainers. There isn't much that logic can do to help this situation because people like O'Reilly on the right and Maddow on the left are always going to provoke strong reactions from those that don't agree with them. This is how they make lots and lots of money.
posted by timpanogos at 12:55 PM on November 20, 2009

Speaking from frustrating experience of watching my parents and other family members get sucked into the FOXNews vortex over the past decade (and trying to do exactly what you want to do), I can report that evidence is precisely what people who love O'Reilly largely don't care about; indeed, they tend to be actively hostile to fact-based evidence both for its own sake and as a basis of logical reasoning.

Which is to say, "trying to convince him of the folly of his ways" may be a fool's errand. First off, people (in general, regardless of political viewpoint) don't tend to respond well to being targeted by a "you're wrong and let me convince you" campaign. But more particularly, the FOX News worldview satisfies specific needs in its acolytes that an evidence-based worldview doesn't. There's no magic bullet to reverse this; I wish like hell there was, because I genuinely miss my old parents (i.e., the people my parents used to be who would have recognized that rants about how Obama is a socialist Muslim murderer are CRAZY and not REAL). But those people are gone and they're not coming back, and it sucks, and yet it's the cold hard truth of the matter.

So from my point of view, I don't know if there is an answer to your specific question. The real question might be, how can you find ways to maintain a constructive relationship with your uncle despite his going down the rabbit hole of paranoia and fantasy?
posted by scody at 12:58 PM on November 20, 2009 [8 favorites]

People who enjoy O'Reilly and his ilk are not necessarily impressed by such things as "logic" or "facts."

Permit me to derail a bit here: for a similar example, look at the [non]debate about evolution vs. creationism and see how many of the people coming down on the side of creationism are simply not scientists at all. They can make up facts (as described above) and because of their tone of voice, they will be accepted.

The excellent film Flock of Dodos features a cheery roundtable of evolutionary biologists who refuse to admit that there even IS a debate, and are quite irate about that fact. And therein lies the problem. If you can't even find consensus about whether the DEBATE exists, how can you listen to each other on the much more touchy subjects down the line?

What this film shows most conclusively is that the people who are most likely completely correct -- the biologists in this film, or (for example) anyone who dares to question Bill O'Reilly -- have continually shot themselves in the foot by continually stating how stupid the people on the other side are. Which may be true, but how does that help the cause? We've all seen how the teabaggers just get angrier and stupider as the people who question them point out the inaccuracies they espouse. And on and on.

The people who worship O'Reilly like him because he's not constantly telling them how stupid they are. Maybe those of us on the other side should do a little better in that regard.
posted by Madamina at 1:08 PM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'd assume your uncle is responding to an emotional need for outrage and bluster delivered in a sanctimonious tone from a male authority figure, and doesn't really care about the content. You might want to get him to listen to Jim Hightower as an alternate "straight shooter" outrage generator.
posted by benzenedream at 1:08 PM on November 20, 2009

I have an alternative suggestion: it's ok to be a conservative.

I think the key thing in this type of situation is to convince the person that Bill O'Reilly (or Keith Olbermann, or any cable news entertainer/pundit) is a purveyor of entertainment rather than truth or facts. I would suggest you find some intelligent sources of conservative commentary to recommend to your uncle. Intelligent commentary identifies itself as opinion and allows for disagreements and acknowledges possibility of being wrong. It also doesn't have to resort to name-calling to get its point across. Perhaps you could look at one or two of the sources mentioned in this thread? Peggy Noonan might be a writer to look up; she has always seemed decent and fair-minded to me although I disagree with her pretty much all the time.

You could also get him a gift subscription to The Economist, which in my experience appeals to a fairly broad range of political perspectives.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:09 PM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

Also, thinking about my own family: perhaps your uncle is one of those types who likes to sit down in his chair and have talking heads blast away at them like background noise (except not). I know loads of people who just leave CNN or Fox News on all day. Perhaps getting his outrage up is a way of making him feel like he's participating in some larger, important movement. Maybe just casually encouraging him to watch or do something else could lower his outrage levels.
posted by Madamina at 1:17 PM on November 20, 2009

I'm going to nth just accepting that he likes O'Reilly, and there's little you can do about it. The best thing to do would be to focus on how to get along with your uncle. Try to steer the conversation away from politics.

Trying to show him the "folly in his ways" will just put him on the defensive. Since he's into O'Reilly, I get the impression he's more interested in maintaining his ideology than keeping up rational debate. All your sources will be called liberal bias, and he'll think your delusional and/or petty about small details that don't matter. As Jonathan Swift said, it is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

That said, if you're really passionate about destroying his hero, try mentioning the falafel thing. It's an undeniably disgusting, pervy thing O'Reilly did, and very hypocritical when he claims to be a "culture warrior" at the vanguard of protecting America's values, complete with a special edition of his book for children. But at best your uncle will probably shut you out. He might reconsider his love of The Factor, but is that really worth cutting the guy off?
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:17 PM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

This isn't going to work, because your uncle's affection for O'Reilly was not forged in a crucible of facts, evidence, and truth. FoxNews cultism is about affirming, reaffirming, and strengthening both social bonds, and a person's sense of where they stand and belong in society.

Everybody engages in behavior of that nature. You do, too, but hopefully you don't base your social understanding around a network of psychos.

You'd be more mature just to leave your uncle alone about this. If he gets a kick out of baiting you, learn how to gracefully sidestep.
posted by Coatlicue at 1:20 PM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Perhaps getting his outrage up is a way of making him feel like he's participating in some larger, important movement.

This. Much of what passes for "entertainment" these days (and all times) is fodder for false outrage to engage and compel.
posted by davejay at 1:39 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more thing: sometimes the best way to deal with someone who refuses to live a fact-based life is to refuse to engage. If he brings up something O'Rileup says, change the subject. If he insists on talking about it, leave the room. If he follows you, leave the house. If he calls you later to ask why, say "I don't argue with people who insist on wasting my time with fake, argumentative statements. If you want someone to fight with, go punch a bag." Then ask him how your aunt's doing or something.
posted by davejay at 1:42 PM on November 20, 2009

FoxNews cultism is about affirming, reaffirming, and strengthening both social bonds, and a person's sense of where they stand and belong in society.

Quoted for truth, but I still think there's a chance of talking with your uncle about the issues Bill talks about. You could try starting conversations while watching Bill O'Reilly with your uncle, to see what he reacts to and whatnot. Is he most moved by the emotional side, or does he like that Bill speaks the things that your uncle (to whatever degree) believes to be true? Or is it both?

Instead of challenging the facts you know to be wrong with (your own) truth, maybe start by commenting that the last fact/segment seemed off or incorrect in some of the assumptions, and the you could ask your uncle if he agrees (if he hasn't already provided his thoughts). Turn it into a conversation instead of a lecture. If your uncle is sure Bill is right, you could look for support together, even if you already know where to look.

Sidenote: It amuses me that the fictional Paris Business Review has the initials PBR.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:43 PM on November 20, 2009

I just wanted to say that I think Meg_Murry's suggestion is brilliant. After all, is the problem that your uncle is falling for lies and propaganda, or is the problem that he's "one of them"?

Assuming that you'd have no problem with your uncle being a well-informed, reasonable fellow who happens to be politically right-wing, it's also almost certainly true that he has no problem with it either. And if you don't try to get him to "join your side", but just give him access to a well informed (if right-wing) source of news, he might feel that he can ditch O'Reilly.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 2:14 PM on November 20, 2009

rokusan: "A montage of those Daily Show segments where they compare O'Reilly (or another bighead) to his own words from a different show are golden. The contradictions (if a Democrat does it it's treason, if a Republican does it it's patriotism) are pretty galling."

I found this clip particularly damning. It doesn't just illustrate O'Reilly's hypocrisy by comparing statements made weeks or months apart -- they show the guy accomplishing complete ideological whiplash between two segments on the same episode. Virtually the same breath.

"Perhaps a whole lot of those could be edited together into a 30-minute barrage."

This collection of clips from the shows' official blog looks like a good bet: The Daily Show and Colbert's Best Bill O'Reilly Moments
posted by Rhaomi at 2:15 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bill O'Reilley is a straight shooter. Meaning he's a bully, of course, but for some people, assholism and square talk are identical. I don't think you're going to be able to convince nobody of nothing.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:05 PM on November 20, 2009

I'm sorry, but you're screwed.

Evidence of the "folly of his ways" is nearly everywhere but in the Fox News sphere of influence.

If logic actually worked with the hard right wing, there would be no hard right wing.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:07 PM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

He has made up his mind and it will be a difficult battle to even gain a toehold. I know some people who watch him often, accept his drivel as gospel and absolutely refuse to consider as anything else. I generally just don't talk about anything related to the garbage he spews. And if it does come up by them then I have zero issue with point blank telling them that quoting O'Reilly is bullshit and has no value. They get it, I get it, we leave politics at the door.

You could present the clearest and most comprehensive list of his lies, distortions and other "crimes" and your uncle, as all the other sheep, would wave it off without even considering it. It is sad but there it is.

Same thing for the idiots who watch Glenn Beck and buy his BS schtick too.
posted by fenriq at 3:18 PM on November 20, 2009

Another little thing: Jon Stewart is great and all, and I think he's fantastically clever, but he's an entertainer just like Bill O'Reilly is. Even when he says "This is actual footage from the O'Reilly Factor..." it isn't as if he is bound by law to show unedited video in a thoughtful and fair way. I'm not actually accusing Stewart of anything, I just mean it's a little foolish to say that Jon Stewart's "logic" is the antidote to Bill O'Reilly non-logic just because his entertainment style is more palatable to those of us on the left.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:34 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

What I would do is make sure your uncle understands that the show he likes to watch is part of Fox News Channel's lineup of editorial programming, not news programming. I've taken to doing this with my parents, and have helped them see that their favorite things to watch on Fox News have little to do with news and lots to do with opinion. They like to say they get their news from Fox, but then I remind them, no, they get their opinion from Fox.
posted by emelenjr at 3:57 PM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I disagree that it is impossible to change your uncle's mind. After all, what hope do we have if no such mind can change?
posted by jabberjaw at 4:19 PM on November 20, 2009

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

If you go that route, and I recommend it, try to get the book on tape. It's read by Al Franken himself, and of course, he has a comedian's gift of vocal delivery.

You might also point out the book's notes about the research team that Franken uses, and how thorough they are.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:17 PM on November 20, 2009

Response by poster: Lots of great responses everyone. Thanks for this.

Part of me wants to just send him the link to this thread. But I'm thinking that would be counterproductive to say the least.

I'll use the material provided but present it carefully (not just be like "in your face, bust out") so as to not make him defensive.

And I'll stay conscious of the fact that this could very well be an exercise in futility and try not to let it keep me up at night!

We shall see.
posted by grammalvsu at 5:26 PM on November 20, 2009

It might not be futile, but it might well take a while. A lot of people will say "hogwash", but give something more consideration later, when they have the time and patience to reflect.
posted by amtho at 5:31 PM on November 20, 2009

How is this any different than him trying to convince you to follow O'Reilly?

He likes him, you don't. It's not that "he is wrong", you both just disagree with each other. Remember, he probably thinks you are "wrong" too.

If it was your wife or girlfriend, I'd say you could try to argue or persuade. But your UNCLE? Seriously? Just accept the fact that people like different things than you.
posted by santaliqueur at 7:54 PM on November 20, 2009

It's a difficult argument to win, because Bill O'Reilly is a straight-shooter about what Bill O'Reilly thinks, and Bill O'Reilly's job is to go on TV and say what Bill O'Reilly thinks. Also, watching that show and saying that about him doesn't necessarily mean you always agree with him or think he's right.

Of course, it's not a news program, it's analysis and opinion, so your uncle might be getting things very wrong if that's the place he thinks he's getting news. If you have the patience to sit there and watch that channel for awhile, there are some funny moments when the newscasters report, and later on O'Reilly does his talking points thing and says something completely contrary to the facts that were reported on the very same channel.

Good luck. DO IT LIVE!
posted by citron at 9:14 PM on November 20, 2009

BO's story on the lesbian gangs with the pink-painted guns put the final nail in the coffin of me ever taking O'Reilly seriously again.
posted by telstar at 10:41 PM on November 20, 2009

I wouldn't spend to much time on this. Old timers are pretty set in their ways. I'd be surprised if he isn't trying to think of a way to convince you to think like him.
posted by digsrus at 8:02 AM on November 21, 2009

Words of advice on the subject from reputed political activist Noam Chomsky.
Don’t believe anything you hear from power systems. So if Obama or the boss or the newspapers or anyone else tells you they’re doing this, that, or the other thing, dismiss it or assume the opposite is true, which it often is. You have to rely on yourself and your associates—gifts don’t come from above; you’re going to win them, or you won’t have them, and you win by struggle, and that requires understanding and serious analysis of the options and the circumstances, and then you can do a lot.

So take right now, for example, there is a right-wing populist uprising. It’s very common, even on the left, to just ridicule them, but that’s not the right reaction. If you look at those people and listen to them on talk radio, these are people with real grievances… The reaction we should be having [is] self-criticism. Why aren’t we organizing them? I mean, we are the ones that ought to be organizing them, not Rush Limbaugh…

The liberal democrats aren’t going to tell the average American, “Yeah, you’re being shafted because of the policies that we’ve established over the years that we’re maintaining now.” That’s not going to be an answer. And they’re not getting answers from the left. So, there’s an internal coherence and logic to what they get from Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the rest of these guys. And they sound very convincing, they’re very self-confident, and they have an answer to everything—a crazy answer, but it’s an answer. And it’s our fault if that goes on. So one thing to be done is don’t ridicule these people, join them, and talk about their real grievances and give them a sensible answer, like, “Take over your factories.”
posted by gmarceau at 11:21 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

A great site that hasn't updated in years: Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly.
posted by getawaysticks at 11:13 AM on November 30, 2009

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