10/06/2005

BlogRevolt.com: O'Reilly's Sneak Attack on Bloggers!

Last night I appeared on the conservative TV talk show The O'Reilly Factor, ostensibly to talk about political blogs and the impact they are having on the American political process.

Or so I was told by the two producers for the show who spent over an hour pre-interviewing me. Unbeknownst to me, however, the show turned out to be a total set-up job in which host Bill O'Reilly and guest Jed Babbin spent the entire time attacking the web site Media Matters for having posted commentary in the past critical of them both.

If you're interested in how shows like the O'Reilly Factor work, then let me explain how the ambush against Media Matters -- and against political blogs in general -- came about.

I got a call yesterday morning from Rob Manaco, a producer with the O'Reilly Factor. He said they were interested in having me appear on a segment they were preparing on political blogs ..

Fine, I said. For one thing, it seemed like a good opportunity to showcase my new book and discuss the important ways that blogging is already transforming politics. Having seen the O'Reilly Factor once or twice in the past, I assumed that O'Reilly would try to spin the dicussion to imply that conservative blogs were more reliable and influential, but I could deal with that..

Then I got a second call -- this time from Monaco's boss, Ron Mitchell. He said he was concerned that the segment might not be "juicy" enough as presently conceived, and would I be willing to talk about some of the loony ideas being circulated by some of the more conspiratorial-minded bloggers. No names, he assured me. Just mention some of the unreliable political comments you can find online. ..

That still seemed fine with me -- I mean, the O'Reilly Factor isn't the only show that depends upon controversy and polemic for its ratings -- so I said sure.

But I told Mitchell: "Look, if you're hoping I'm going to trash political blogs as harmful to the country, forget it. Because I think they're the best thing to happen to American politics since ... well, since the advent of the TV talk show. They encourage public participation in the democratic process."

"Perfect," said Mitchell. "That's exactly what we want."

And then they did the old bait-and-switch.

There I was, sitting in the remote studio location, and as our segment goes on, I hear the following over my earpiece:

O'Reilly: "Tonight: political smear sites! They operate on both sides of the political spectrum. There are no rules. These people will do and say pretty much anything to harm people with whom they disagree politically."

Whereupon O'Reilly and the other guest, conservative commentator Jed Babbin, begin complaining about the so-called smear attacks each claims to have received from Media Matters. The whole segment, as it turned out, was devoted to slamming Media Matters for having published material critical of the two.

Nonetheless, I did manage to get one half-way smart comment in:

KLINE: "Let's not be babies about the partisanship. The kind of partisanship that you're seeing on the Web with these blogs, yes, some of it is vicious, some of it is just loony. But it's not all that different than what used to go on in the media before the advent of corporate media. I mean, most people before World War II grew up with 10, 15, 20 newspapers, all with different points of view. And what's interesting about those times, and I think we're going back to those times with a very partisan media, is that the electorate was much more engaged, and people were much more involved in the democratic process."

To which O'Reilly replied thusly:

O'REILLY: "Absolutely valid, excellent point. But here's the problem: these people are so vicious, and they -- the media is so corrupt in taking their uncorroborated, as Mr. Babbin pointed out -- defamation that most people now won't run for office, sir... when we had to book this segment, I couldn't get people to come on and say what you guys are saying, because they were afraid that Media Matters would go after them. They -- I couldn't -- I had people turn down this segment -- a bunch of them -- what are you, crazy? I'm going to criticize these assassins? They'll come after me. And that's a chilling effect."

Which, as I found out today, is not exactly true.

According to this report, conservative Powerline blogger John Hinderaker (”Hindrocket”) told readers that his partner Paul Mirengoff would be appearing on last night’s O’Reilly segment about bloggers.. But later in the day, Mirengoff posted an update, saying that O’Reilly had chosen to go with someone else...

Anyway, I have two regrets about my appearance. First, not being familiar with Media Matters, I could not defend them or refute O'Reilly's and Babbin's accusations. And second, I wish I had managed to tell O'Reilly that, given his national forum and his audience of millions, he was just being a baby for whining about being criticized by bloggers...

BlogRevolt.com: O'Reilly's Sneak Attack on Bloggers!

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