Bill O'Reilly, music industry expert

The Fox News host badly misrepresents reality as he claims victory in his latest public feud.

Published August 1, 2008 3:09PM (EDT)

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has a real talent for getting himself in public feuds. O'Reilly has been declaring victory in one of his most recent entanglements, this one with rapper Nas, but it turns out that he had to grossly misrepresent some facts in order to do so.

On his show last week, O'Reilly gloated, Nas' "new album is a bomb, a disaster, a catastrophe ... Two years ago, his last album sold 355,000 copies in its first week, and this one has sold 187,000 copies. Not good. I hope I'm not a 'racist' for pointing that out." (In that last sentence, O'Reilly was referring to a rally Nas led against Fox News last week, when he also delivered a petition signed by more than 600,000 people calling on the network to "end its pattern of racist attacks.")

Then, in his "Pinheads and Patriots" segment this Wednesday, O'Reilly took a moment to dance on Nas' grave again. "When we last left this rapper, he was calling FOX racist in a pathetic attempt to promote his new album. As we reported, the album is a bomb. It opened weak, and in its second week dropped 66 percent in sales. Normally, we wouldn't gloat over something like that, but Nas is a bad guy, in addition to being a pinhead," the host said.

Both statements were stunning if only for some rather pertinent -- and easily ascertained -- details O'Reilly left out. Nas' most recent album, "Untitled," debuted at No. 1, becoming only the third rap album to top the charts this year. And even with the big drop in sales from last week to this one, "Untitled" remains No. 1 on Billboard's list of the top-selling hip-hop and R&B albums, and is still at No. 8 overall.

On top of that, there are at least a couple of good reasons why early sales of the rapper's previous album, 2006's "Hip Hop Is Dead," were so much better than the sales of this latest release. Foremost among them? "Hip Hop Is Dead" was released less than a week before Christmas. You could of course still try to argue that a No. 1 album was "a bomb, a disaster, a catastrophe" if it failed to meet high expectations, but O'Reilly appears to be the only person saying that. In fact, Billboard's Geoff Mayfield -- in contrast to O'Reilly, an actual industry expert -- considered the album a success. "Nas' first week is lighter than the 355,000-unit start of 'Hip-Hop Is Dead,' not uncommon in today's music climate and all the more understandable when you consider that his 2006 album hit stores during the busiest shopping week of the year," Mayfield wrote in a recent article. "This, in fact, marks Nas' first studio set to arrive outside the confines of November or December since his 1999 title, "I Am ..."

I know, this isn't exactly an earth-shattering issue. But even after years of following O'Reilly, I was still surprised by this. Even for him, this is just so brazen. Normally, he at least makes some effort to not get caught in untruths, but this time what he said was so obviously contradicted by the facts, which were available to anyone with an Internet connection and a minute to spare. So I have to wonder -- does O'Reilly just have very, very little faith in the reasoning abilities of his audience, or is he lying to himself too?

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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