I love that scene in Sense and Sensibility (yeah, besides being a girly-man who loves opera, I can’t get enough of Jane Austen adaptations) when Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon is finally divulging his history, and he tells Emma Thompson’s Elinor Dashwood, “No doubt — no doubt — you have already been told…” The emphasis on the second “no doubt,” and the knowing look he gives Elinor, are great.
Anyway, no doubt you have already heard about the ongoing feud between Bill O’Reilly and Al Franken (among others) over O’Reilly’s habit of lying and bullying, and then lying and bullying some more in an effort to silence those who are pointing out his lying and bullying.
Another in the seemingly endless series of examples of that was provided a few days ago, in a column O’Reilly wrote for the New York Daily News: I’m feeling the sting of media’s lefty bias. It’s a long rant about Franken (well, he doesn’t mention Franken by name, but that’s who he’s talking about) and all the sympathetic coverage Franken’s been getting from those left-wing media outlets. In his typical way, O’Reilly works himself up to a righteous fit by the end of the piece, which concludes thusly:
So, they’re counterattacking. My name is no longer Bill O’Reilly. It’s “gasbag,” “bully,” “liar” and “blowhard.” Those descriptions are not confined to opinion pieces but are used in hard news stories as well. There’s good news, though. Never again will some news organizations be able to claim fairness or nonpartisanship. They’ve been exposed for all to see. Excuse me for a moment – something just went whizzing by my head.
Hard news stories referred to him as a “gasbag”? Wow. Except that, of course, it isn’t true. See the following debunking from Spinsanity’s Brenden Nyhan: O’Reilly continues dissembling. Those terms were used in opinion pieces, or, in the case of straight news stories, were directly attributed to people like Franken.
(Update: Alerted by commenter John Q., I actually followed up on that “gasbag” reference in Newsweek, and it’s true: the magazine did refer to him as such in introducing an interview with rapper Ludacris in a feature for the “Newsmakers” section — Newsweek’s equivalent of People magazine, sort of. Still not a hard news story, as O’Reilly claimed, but not an opinion piece, either. The Spinsanity piece makes this clear; I didn’t. Oops.)
So I go back and look at what O’Reilly wrote in his piece, and glory be, he didn’t really lie, at least if you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and employ the kind of hypertechnically strict linguistic parsing that seems to be as necessary a tool for modern life as, say, lungs. What he said was that those descriptions were “used” in hard news stories. Well, saying, “Al Franken repeatedly characterized O’Reilly as a ‘lying gasbag bullly’ in his remarks” would be “using” those terms, wouldn’t it?
Yes. No. Maybe.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter. When someone says something that is hypertechnically true, from a certain point of view, but does so in a way that meets the reasonable-person standard for having been intentionally crafted to create a false impression, that’s a lie. It just is.
Yeah, I know O’Reilly got beaten up by his dad as a kid, and had his big defining moment in life at 17, when he realized that he was now bigger and stronger than his dad, and didn’t need to be physically afraid of him anymore. And yeah, I realize that the psychological damage from such a childhood could well contribute to someone’s becoming a bully who sincerely believes, on some level, that he is being righteous and just in lashing out at critics and telling them to “shut up. Shut up. Shut up. Just shut up.”
It’s possible to feel sorry for Bill O’Reilly. It’s even possible to believe that in the heat of the moment, when he’s worked himself up to it, he really believes the stuff he says that isn’t quite true, such that one could charitably describe him as merely being very, very confused, at least at those moments, rather than wilfully dishonest.
It’s possible to describe him that way. But I’m not going to. I’ve got better things to do with my time. So I’m just going to use the simpler approach, and call him a liar. Because he is, you know. He really is.