[This review was published in The Middle American News, February 2002.]
The No Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Rich and Powerful in America
Broadway Books, 2001
Bill O'Reilly is today one of the most popular television journalists in America, and for good reason. When a viewer turns to "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News, he enters a "no spin zone" where, in O'Reilly's own words, "rationalizations are scorned, lies are rejected, equivocations are mocked."
The appeal lies in people's hunger for truth in an unauthentic world. O'Reilly's premise is that very little that is uttered is genuine. Americans may live in "the world's greatest democracy," but anyone with a critical capacity who paid attention during the 2000 presidential campaign will know what O'Reilly is talking about when he says that "both sides presented unprincipled mouthpieces to utter exhausting, incomprehensible bilge. And much of the press in America," he adds, "readily accepted all the garbage without analysis or reflection." His book provides many examples of "spin" from all sides of the political spectrum.
O'Reilly says that his "no spin zone" on television is just part of the "no spin life" he seeks to lead. What he wants is genuineness, but since he sees himself as "a journalistic gunslinger," an active man of the world, his craving comes through not as an introspective whine, as has been so common in the literature of the past two hundred years, but as a masculine insistence on the will to see, to know and to understand.
His earlier book, The O'Reilly Factor, was a New York Times bestseller. The present book gives a series of interviews with "opponents," with accompanying commentary. The fact that some of these – Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno, Republican congressman Tom DeLay, John Ashcroft, and others – have declined to appear hasn't kept O'Reilly from giving them a good grilling, such as where he includes an imaginary interview with Hillary. Some of those who have appeared include Dr. Jocelyn Elders, Steve Allen, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, Al Sharpton, Dr. Laura Schlesinger, John McCain, and Dan Rather. Since O'Reilly sets out precisely not to toss up "softball questions," the interviews crackle with electricity. This is not a new form of fluff; it leads to an exploration of real issues and a facing of real facts.
O'Reilly is independent enough that he defies clear categorizing in the usual terms. Both his ardent viewers and the Left, however, are bound to see him as strongly conservative. He opposes using the tax system for redistribution; considers the influx of undocumented aliens an "invasion"; points out that 35 years after LBJ declared his "war against poverty" the poverty rate is pretty much what it was before, and that the U.S. has witnessed the creation of "a semipermanent underclass that views government subsidies as their 'right'"; scorns the ACLU's defense of the North American Man-Boy Love Association; sees society as having become coarser, blaming "lazy parents" and an "exploitive entertainment industry"; and in general opposes the "non-judgmental" relativism that has become the predominant attitude of the American elite, offering "excuses to cover all misdeeds."
It would be a mistake, however, to see O'Reilly's stress on truth without a certain detachment. The fact is that he can go only so far. He survives, after all, as a major figure within a society that entertains a good many iron-clad taboos. Perhaps unconsciously, he avoids probing for truth about those. And a number of his positions coincide with what today's "political correctness" (which is nothing more than an insistence upon ideological conformity) demands: he agrees that racial profiling is "wrong"; accepts racial employment quotas; ranks Richard Nixon with Warren Harding and Bill Clinton as "the most corrupt presidents of the twentieth century"; agrees with Dan Rather that there isn't a leftward bias in the media; believes global warming "is real"; and sees the "good points" in the gay liberationists' drive toward an open public condonation of homosexuality. We would have no occasion to question his sincerity about any of these positions, but the fact that he takes them demonstrates both how hard he is truly to classify and the extent to which he remains within the mainstream of acceptable opinion.
The No Spin Zone is a provocative, valuable and entertaining book. Those who read it shouldn't expect to be confirmed in everything they believe, but to be stimulated to think.
Dwight D. Murphey