We’re All in the “No-Spine Zone” Now

From a media critic’s perspective, what could be more promising — Thursday Styles aside — than television news personalities interviewing one of their own?

And this week, TV news personality Bill O’Reilly is everywhere: In addition to his nightly program on Fox News, he has popped up this week on CBS’s “Early Show” on Monday, Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” on Wednesday, and NBC’s “Today Show” this morning (where, for a brief moment, the on-screen banner read “The No-Spine Zone” before it was changed to the actual verbatim O’Reilly-ism, “The No-Spin Zone”), not to mention an “exclusive” print interview in yesterday’s Newsday “which O’Reilly initiated” and on which Newsday’s Verne Gay gamely took him up.

What makes Mr. O’Reilly so newsworthy this particular week? A book to flog, what else — to be precise, the very important occasion of the release of his best-selling book, “The O’Reilly Factor for Kids” in paperback, the title and cover of which have gotten almost as much air time this week as O’Reilly himself. (Anderson Cooper, you may want to take notes.)

So just what is left to discuss about a book that has been around since September 2004? (Even the paperback, which does include some new material, has been out for six weeks now, and got its shout-out on ABC’s morning show all the way back on September 27.) Answer: Not much.

Still, CBS’s Hannah Storm managed to stay on-topic, soldiering on for several minutes discussing the particulars of O’Reilly’s “latest book” (“You talk about all sorts of things. You talk about money. You talk about religion. You talk about politics.”) Jon Stewart promoted the paperback at the end of his interview — “I’m going to hold up the book now, because I think it’s the right thing to do” — but spent much of his interview pressing O’Reilly about his on-air style and his mission.

Stewart: Why so angry?

O’Reilly: There are a lot of wrongs we have to right. We have to take out a lot of bad people …

Stewart: And when are you going to start doing that?

And later:

O’Reilly: I have to bring basically every night to the table a sense of outrage, because there’s lots of things wrong. You know, we’re not playing it for giggles like you. Look at you. The world could blow the hell up, he’d be giggling, “Ah, this is a riot!” How many people are dead in Katrina? How can we make fun of it? See, that’s what you do.

Stewart: I will say this: We do add insult to injury … but you add the injury.

NBC’s Katie Couric, too, wandered off the topic of O’Reilly’s paperback this morning and, taking a cue from Stewart, queried O’Reilly about his demeanor. “Is there any way you could do this job and be more conciliatory?” she wondered. No, O’Reilly replied, he could not. (“If I start to go in there and be Mr. Rogers … nobody is going to watch me.”) Couric also picked O’Reilly’s brain on key current events such as — as the on-screen banner read — “Will Miers Be Confirmed?” and “Will O’Reilly Retire?” (“You were interviewed,” Couric noted. “You said you might retire? Really? Were you just having a bad day or you serious?” O’Reilly replied that he is exhausted, as “every famous person on the air in the news capacity knows,” and that he’ll just “have to weigh it.” In other words, stay tuned.)

That was the other “newsy” bit that fueled this week’s O’Reilly PR storm — will he or won’t he soon retire? — something O’Reilly dangled before readers in yesterday’s Newsday piece.

In the end, it’s hard to know who needs whom more. O’Reilly wants the paperback version of his book to sell as well as the hardcover. Television news anchors and media writers need people to interview to fill airtime and column inches. (You can’t retire, Bill!)

But there’s another co-dependent in this circle, another sort of person for whom O’Reilly’s possible retirement would be news, unwelcome news: the talking heads who frequently appear on O’Reilly’s show — like Larry Sabato, director of The Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, described in the Newsday piece as “a frequent ‘Factor’ guest,” and quoted in the story dismissing talk of an O’Reilly retirement.

Because if there’s no “Factor,” Sabato loses a key outlet for his accumulated wisdom of the moment.

But at least he’ll always have print — and his thousands of citations to prove it.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.