Mike’s Prattle


Thoughts on the O’Reilly Obama Interview (after 3 parts)

Posted by Mike on September 10, 2008

OK politics have officially sucked me in.

The thought that struck me the most, especially after watching the third part of this very entertaining interview (the Olbermann/Obama interview reminds me of Chris Farley interviewing Martin Scorsese or numerous others on SNL many years ago), was how much this discussion is a microcosm of the left/right debate in so many venues today. The right seems to want fast answers, visceral gut-level responses, and not a hint of regret about calling a side in what are otherwise complex moral debates. The left seems to want to take the lecturer position, trying to cram complex issues into 10 second soundbites, leaving 2 of those seconds full of ahs and uhs and opening the right to constant interruptions.

As an unabashed progressive at this point (I’d have considered myself a paleo-conservative before the Clinton administration, but no more), I still don’t think you can cram an academic lecture, particularly one delivered relatively impassionately through the funnel of television media. Despite the fact you can very quickly look up independent analyses of both McCain and Obama policies on line and see the numbers yourself about which, say, economic policy would be cutting taxes for which population, this just does not translate to television (it’s akin to an infodump in a novel). I’m interested in what the Senate and Assembly and subcommittees decide on various issues, not so much on how they hash them out (although it should be said that I’ve seen plenty of committees rush very complicated health care issues through based on small 2 minute speeches by the pros and cons).

The pattern I saw in the interview and which repeated itself at least a dozen times (so far) was this. O’Reilly asks a very charged, controversial question. About 20 words into Obama’s answer O’Reilly cuts in again changing the angle or even subject of attack so fast that it gives the impression that Obama is actually having difficulty answering the questions when that’s anything but the case. Tangents grow out of the original question until most people would have originally forgotten what they were trying to explain in the first place due to all the distractions. Watching the interviews I could almost see every Fox viewer screaming “wishy washy” while not seeming to realize that these pauses most often came mid sentence after Obama was continually interrupted by O’Reilly. I was amazingly impressed that Obama managed to get back on the original question in almost every case, despite such an elevation unravelling O’Reilly into emotional outbursts. And I love that Obama sees humor in absurdity, as it’s one of my favorite styles of funny.

This sort of argument is generally exactly what I experience debating right wingers, including members of my own family. I feel often like I’m being asked to reduce something complex into a 10 second soundbite. But I think what it really portrays is that there’s really not a lot of listening going on and this was very apparent to me in the O’Reilly interview. He wasn’t really listening to Obama’s responses he was just firing away hoping that this technique of baiting the subject with a question and then switching to another subject might give his audience the idea that thoughtful, long answers show a man who probably can’t think fast on his feet. 

Take the abortion statements at the Rick Griffin “church town hall meetings.” Asked when life begins, Obama frames it as a philosophical question. McCain says “at conception.” Right wingers look at this in the same way they think of the would-be president standing over a red button. To them they see McCain pounding on the button without a second thought, while Obama just can’t make a decision.

Another thing that disturbed me was that on at least three occasions, O’Reilly asked a question where Obama would come back with “that’s not really fair” or some variant. In every occasion, O’Reilly ADMITTED he wasn’t being fair with the question. Was I the only one asking “Well why did you ask it in the first place?” For instance, O’Reilly presses Obama on which far-right wingers in the Senate he’s worked with or allied with. It seems like a “gotcha” moment and is likely considered that way by much of the audience, but the subtext which Obama acknowledges is that you don’t name names, as you’re basically calling them out causing difficulty for both parties. And then O’Reilly goes on to admit it’s not fair. But the gotcha moment doesn’t go away like the admission does. I think Rovian politics are largely based on this sort of thing.

The main thought for anyone who’s remotely scientically or rationally based in a debate is that when provided with sound evidence contrary to a previously held position, one changes their philosophical or ethical standpoint on that issue. For instance, when a family member/friend/coworker asks me whether I would vote for a candidate knowing they were an adulterer (John Edwards here), implying that the adultery implies a lack of honestly in all areas of life, one would think that they would not vote for another candidate with a prior history of adultery (John McCain). By not following through with this logic, a double standard is in play and I’ve been amazed at the responses to assuage McCain of Edwards’ sins (he’s a POW, it’s been a long time, he’s not an adulterer anymore). Those of us on the left, including myself, who see little connection between a person’s sexual activity and their ability to run a country often really don’t care so much about these things (Lewinsky was in no way responsible for the economic success of the Clinton era), we’re just baffled at the inability for right wingers to follow through with their own arguments.

This is an idea grounded in common sense. It’s a fact I’m sitting here typing this at a computer. That fact is not altered at all by who makes the statement. That is, it’s totally irrelevant if this fact comes from a right wing or left wing source, it’s either true or it’s not. There are very few unbiased, nonpartisan sources of media out there (my opinion is it’s something of a myth to say the media is conservative or liberal) and as such the only way we can make sense of things is if facts are facts. It’s a fact to say Obama attended Reverend Wright’s church. It’s not a fact to say that he agrees with everything in Wright’s sermons, by listening to it. To make such an argument is to say that I believe the world is 6000 years old by having gone to Baptist and Presbyterian churches for a good eight years of my life. I may have been forced to go, but there are numerous reasons for attending church that don’t necessarily have anything to do with what might be extremist views. Obama really tried and perhaps even succeeded in making this point to O’Reilly, but it’s still the original sting that will be most remembered.


6 Responses to “Thoughts on the O’Reilly Obama Interview (after 3 parts)”

  1. Mike B said

    Mike, I think it comes down to the fact that you can’t have a meaningful debate with someone who refuses to abide by reasonable rules of engagement. This is one of the reasons why I don’t watch much news coverage of the election – it is fairly content free.

    Another theme I’ve picked up is that conservatives tend to not appreciate or sometimes even get certain types of humor such as sarcasm. As a result one of the best ways to “debate” a conservative who does the above is to use sarcasm and humor. See “Daily Show, The”

  2. Mike said

    Hey Mike. Agreed. Interestingly enough apparently 24 Producer Joel Surnow was in on plans to create a right-wing analog to The Daily Show, but for some reason it never surfaced. I seem to remember that there was a study that analyzed the content of various news shows and The Daily Show and Colbert ranked really high. While I watch those for the funny first, they’re still about as incisive as it gets via that method. Colbert may be the one guy the conservatives have no idea how to spin. I highly recommend the youtube clips of his interview with O’Reilly.

  3. Mike B said

    I hate O’Reilly. He’s the only person who could make joking about the French uncool.

  4. Mike said

    Ha! I watched Part 4 last night. Mr. Obama had quite a bit of trouble even getting words out in some of it because Billo was getting so fired up. I decided to actually watch a little of the Factor afterwards and was really surprised to see Billo come out against this lipstick kerfuffle. Then they brought on this political analyst to spin the Obama interview, including saying that he had no answers for the Reverend Wright thing and it was time for Bones. If Obama’s a militant activist by this logic, then I must be a card carrying evangelist.

    Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of pundits on either side. You honestly couldn’t have two less uncharismatic guys than Matthews and Olbermann. It’s fortunate Rachel Maddow just started her show on MS-NBC as there wasn’t really anyone on TV before her who I liked outside of Stewart, Colbert, Maher etc.

  5. Mike B said

    BTW Mike, you need to get on Facebook 🙂

  6. Mike said

    Facebook is blocked here and since I barely want to see a computer by the time I get home, I probably wouldn’t pay much attention to it.

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