Bill O'Reilly is smarter than Edward R. Murrow.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, September 15, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Four Unpalatable Political-Psychological Truths -- Guaranteed to Offend Liberals and Conservatives Alike
1. Bill O'Reilly is smarter than Edward R. Murrow. As viewers of the 2005 film (produced and directed by George Clooney), "Good Night and Good Luck," are aware, Murrow's most famous confrontation - with "tail-gunner" Joe McCarthy - was an entirely scripted program, where Murrow read from a text prepared in advance by his staff.
Murrow never confronted McCarthy directly. O'Reilly, on the other hand, actually poses questions, gets answers, and reframes his thinking as he sits before millions of viewers, frequently coming up with brilliant rejoinders or, at least, new ways of phrasing questions to sidestep defensive moves by those he interviews.
As a result, the two best political interviews of this presidential campaign were O'Reilly's of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (separately), where real differences were aired and explored - since, of course, O'Reilly was as interested in expressing his views as hearing the candidates'.
2. Voters have no interest in hearing candidates debate issues. At any moment in the campaign, half to two-thirds of Americans are tuned out, because politics is too complicated and bores them. The better-informed they are, the more likely they are to have set opinions, and to back a candidate strongly already.
Campaigns and debates are about candidates processing phrases, looking presidential (but personable also), and hoping the other candidate will say something idiotic. The most potent vote-grabbing ideas - "low taxes," "getting tough" - are more likely to be harmful to the country than helpful. Occasionally, the smarter, better candidate is elected, but the democratic political process does not reliably produce this outcome. More likely, the mass of uninformed voters stampede when they smell that one candidate is different, weak, or - God forbid - thoughtful and complicated.
3. Tina Fey bears no resemblance to Sarah Palin. I pride myself on discerning resemblances that are not immediately obvious, but I cannot recognize Sarah Palin in Tina Fey, even (or especially) on the recent Saturday Night Live skit. Tina Fey conveys a self-awareness and consciousness that are entirely absent from the visage of Palin, who confidently sees the world as she - and her fellow Christian fundamentalists - imagine it.
4. John McCain is not brave. When I was in high school, I was shocked when a large, physically imposing football player I knew allowed a friend to bully a girl with epilepsy. Of course, he simply wanted to be accepted by the other kids, who felt better about themselves when mocking and harassing someone with a disability. John McCain learned the meaning of military honor as a midshipman - stand by your men, accept punishment from captors, endure physical pain. McCain is not strong enough emotionally, morally, or intellectually to map out an unpopular position and stand by it. And he'll gang tackle the weak among us with the gusto of a kamikaze pilot.