On November 20, 2006, Bill O'Reilly interrupted his vacation to call in to his own Fox News program, guest-hosted that evening by Laura Ingraham, and gloat. Earlier that day, News Corp. had announced that Fox Broadcasting would not be airing a special based on O.J. Simpson's book, If I Did It. O'Reilly, who had been hammering at the story, wanted to crow about his influence and unquestioned independence from his corporate masters:
O'REILLY: You hit it on the head. It's a culture war victory. The folks did it, and I am the messenger.
But there's a few things that are really important to understand here. Number one, this should put to rest, once and for all, the independence of FOX News.
How many times, Laura, have you heard, FOX News is this; FOX News is that, bop-bop-bop-ba-boo? What other network, Laura, would have allowed its commentators to go on and to slam, to hammer the programming arm? FOX News Channel has nothing to do with FOX Broadcasting. We made that quite clear.
Here, FOX News stepped up big. And, once we did, the folks got it, because, obviously, we have a very big reach. And, when the folks heard it, just as you said in your “Memo,” they let FOX know.
And, to its credit, to its credit, News Corporation, led by Rupert Murdoch, said: OK. We're hearing you. We're not going to run it. They did the right thing. [The O'Reilly Factor, 11/20/06, retrieved via Nexis]
It is true that, on this matter, he took on News Corp. and scored a minor victory in the never-ending culture war. In the past couple of weeks, however, as the rest of his network has slowly, begrudgingly, and inadequately covered the increasingly toxic News Corp. phone-hacking scandal, Bill O'Reilly has not uttered a single word about it on the air.
When viewed at the most basic level, that is surprising. O'Reilly's continued intense coverage of the well-aged O.J. Simpson saga and his near single-minded focus on the Casey Anthony trial are proof enough that he has a taste for the sort of tabloid salaciousness in which the News Corp. scandal is drenched.
But, more significantly, O'Reilly has made it his mission in recent years to expose what he sees as the unhealthy comingling of the media and government. And his primary target has been General Electric, the parent company of Fox News competitor MSNBC.
On April 23, 2009, O'Reilly launched one of his many broadsides against GE, claiming that he had sniffed out a conspiracy involving the Obama administration's push for cap-and-trade legislation and GE's promotion of green technology:
O'REILLY: According to reporting by “The Washington Examiner” , GE is heavily lobbying the Obama administration for bailout money. The company is also pushing for the proposed cap and trade program. Apparently GE has set up a joint venture it hopes would manage billions of dollars in cap and trade transactions should that corporate carbon tax pass Congress.
Now, think about this, ladies and gentlemen. A failing corporation, General Electric, might reap billions of dollars if the Feds okay the carbon deal. By the way, GE is already getting taxpayer bailout money for its financial unit.
So it's not a stretch to assume Immelt would want to help President Obama as much as possible.
Now, we've asked Mr. Immelt a number of times to appear here on “The Factor,” but he will not. And that's why we sent Jesse down to see him.
This is obviously a major story. When a powerful corporation, which controls a major part of the American media may be using its power and the airwaves to influence politics in order to make money from government contracts. That kind of corruption would make Watergate look small. We hope it is not true. [The O'Reilly Factor, 4/23/09, retrieved via Nexis]
O'Reilly's exposé suffered from the fact that cap-and-trade never came to fruition. But the sort of corruption O'Reilly thought he saw between GE and the Obama White House is actually playing out in the United Kingdom.
In a July 14 Telegraph column, Peter Oborne detailed how the British media -- led by the Murdoch empire -- “had taken over the function of Parliament” and warped the governing process:
These parties were, in effect, a conspiracy between the British media and the political class against the country as a whole. They were the men and women who governed Britain and decided who was up and who was out. Government policy was influenced and sometimes created. I doubt very much whether Britain would have invaded Iraq but for the foolhardy support of the Murdoch press.
The effect on government policy was wretched. Decisions were determined by consideration of the following day's headlines rather than sound analysis. Furthermore, private favours were dispensed; Blair when prime minister spoke to his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi about one of Murdoch's business deals in Italy. Of course it was all kept secret, though details did sometimes leak out.
It's a story that is (almost) tailor-made for O'Reilly's journalistic sensibilities. And yet, he's said nothing. Perhaps his “independence” from News Corp.'s influence isn't as beyond reproach as he would have us believe.
What say you, Mr. O'Reilly?