The O'Reilly treatment


Wednesday, January 17
Bill O'Reilly of "The O'Reilly Factor" on the Fox network really is a force of nature, isn't he? The question is, is this a force for good or ill? I, for one, am no longer in doubt.

Of course, everyone in the news business knows O'Reilly's reputation for slanting, smearing and sensationalizing, but before the past few days I was unaware exactly how the O'Reilly treatment worked. Now, I know. So, in fact, does the entire state of Vermont.

First, one of O'Reilly's henchmen might call you on a Friday afternoon, say, at the Bennington Banner office, and ask for your file photos of a local judge and prosecutor involved in a child molestation case.

Now, say you have a few concerns — as we certainly did — about how Fox might use a Banner photo in a hatchet job against local officials, and you decide not to be a part of that and turn them down.

Bad move. Because later that night, as you are heading home after a long day, you would be ambushed by a horde of "60 Minutes" wannabes with cameras and lights blazing. And they would harass you all the way to your car, shouting insinuating questions like "do you protect judges who are soft on child molesters?"

Oh, and somewhere in there someone says, "why didn't you give Fox a photo of the judge? Do you hate Fox?"

No comment ... Except to say that now we have the true motivation for this pathetic stunt.

Maybe I'm mistaken, but wouldn't a legitimate newsperson call to ask for an interview or an opinion on a subject like this case, especially when that person is not in any way involved in the case? Do you simply attack him as if he were O.J. leaving the courtroom, or Britney leaving a bar?

If you are part of O'Reilly's crew you would. I suppose that's why they have such a stellar reputation for fair and balanced reporting.

Then, after a day or two, O'Reilly gets really wound up about the court case and the state of Vermont and attacks not only the judge, the prosecutor and the Banner, but just about every official in Vermont. The governor is acting "cowardly," he charges, and everyone here is too liberal and soft on molesters.

Never mind the facts of the case; never mind that people closer to the case than O'Reilly think a conviction would have been very difficult if the judge had rejected a plea agreement that spared the defendant jail time.

Never mind, because O'Reilly obviously knows everything.

Never mind that the defendant did plead guilty to a felony and must register as a sexual offender, and if he so much as flunks his treatment program he will get prison time. Or that had this gone to trial and the prosecution lost, the man would have walked completely free.

I wonder whether O'Reilly would have been willing to take that gamble.

And never mind that he insinuated in his tirade that the Banner did not report on this case, when we ran two stories on it, one on the front page. Of course, we didn't launch a campaign to vilify the judge and prosecutor. But, hey, why steal O'Reilly's thunder?

Like I said, Bill O'Reilly is a force of nature, all right. An extremely dark one.

Jim Therrien is editor of the Bennington Banner.


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