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Punch, meet Judy: Bill O'Reilly visits 'The View' [video]

October 14, 2010 | 12:12 pm


If you wanted to know what's wrong with American politics, all you had to do was watch “The View” on Thursday, when co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off the set after Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly announced that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.”  In the wake of their departure, co-host Barbara Walters, who is becoming more schoolmarmish with every passing year, admonished her colleagues, telling the audience, “You have just seen what should never happen,” and adding that “we” should be able to sit down and talk calmly about politics even if we disagree.

Girlfriend, please.

There are only two reasons to invite Bill O’Reilly on the show, or anywhere on television, for that matter: to rouse the right or provoke the left. O’Reilly has built a very successful career on his patent refusal to have a conversation. He doesn’t speak; depending on your political persuasion, he either rants or declaims. He rarely lets anyone, including those with whom he is in complete agreement, finish a sentence, much less an argument. As a television performer he is an archetype — the unapologetic hectoring provocateur: a role in which the ladies of "The View,"  Behar, Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck in particular, also occasionally dabble.

O’Reilly outguns them in terms of seniority, volume and inability to acknowledge, much less concede, the possibility of contradiction or complexity, but there were five of them and one of him, so it evened out as the conversation heated up.

Actually, “heated up” implies something more sophisticated than what happened, just as “conversation” lends a credibility to the exchange that was not present. O’Reilly was criticizing the president, as is his wont, and brought up the case of the mosque that may be built near ground zero, a site he referred to, in a fascinating twist of etymology, as “9/11.” His original point — that President Obama has not clarified his feelings beyond acknowledging that “they” had a right to build a mosque there — was quickly lost as the argument turned toward the much more incendiary topic of religious freedom vis-a-vis Islam. Which is when O’Reilly said that “Muslims killed us on 9/11,” and Goldberg and Behar got up and left. (They came back later, after O'Reilly added "extremist" to Muslim, which was embarrassing to everyone.)

In their defense, there was nothing else, short of physical violence, that they could have done. O’Reilly had pulled himself to full height and carnival barker tones. Only Hasselbeck’s shrill soprano of outrage had any chance of piercing his oratorical fusillade. And she, being a good conservative, was clearly torn.

Actually, that’s not true. What they all could have done, and what any real host  would have done in the case of a guest making a loud and offensive comment, is offer a small chilly smile and change the subject. But O’Reilly was on the show precisely for this reason, so he could get up on the table and do his little dance, then Goldberg and Behar could get mad when he broke a few plates.

The only one who was being disingenuous was Walters. Conversation had nothing to do with what she was overseeing because conversation is not why O’Reilly, or much of television political commentary, exists. There’s no dialogue in a Punch and Judy show, just a whole lot of shouting, and then out comes the bat. Why does Judy hit Punch in the head with a bat? Because he’s Punch and she’s Judy. Bam, bam, bam.

As anyone who has attended a family reunion knows, people either shouting or waiting for their turn to shout is not conversation or communication of any sort.  

If Goldberg and Behar really find O’Reilly so offensive, and certainly they have every reason to, then they should have refused to have him on in the first place. Why give the man a wider platform than he already has? But they weren’t trying to learn anything or change anyone’s mind. They were just puttin' on a show. Bill O’Reilly on “The View” is slapstick, pure and simple.

One would hope that Americans would not allow discussions of religious freedom and how our country has changed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to become the stuff of slapstick, but sometimes it's hard to hear what the people are saying over the din.

— Mary McNamara


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