(AP/Frank Franklin II/Mary Altaffer)

When will Ailes rein in O'Reilly?

Roger Ailes put Karl Rove on a short leash after his election night meltdown, but lets Bill lie about Ann Coulter

Joan Walsh
December 7, 2012 1:37AM (UTC)

I wrote earlier today about Fox boss Roger Ailes' humiliation of longtime "contributor" Karl Rove. After Rove's embarrassing meltdown on election night, when he tried to stop Fox from calling Ohio for President Obama, Ailes told his staff that any booker who wanted to use Rove had to get permission from a higher-up. Ailes apparently woke up and realized that peddling his audience self-soothing falsehoods is probably not the way to build a GOP majority coalition in this country any time soon. And it might even be bad for business, too.

But what about Bill O'Reilly? He had his own meltdown on election night, blaming Obama's reelection on the disappearance of "traditional America" and "the white establishment." A few days later he began an ongoing jihad against "secular progressives" and the "far left" that was as fact-free as it was vicious. I wrote at the time that O'Reilly seemed to be going the way of Glenn Beck, who lost his Fox show after his paranoia and anti-Obama vitriol became too much even for Ailes.


This week he went so far as to lie about his fellow entertainer Ann Coulter's travails at Fordham University. In a bilious segment he claimed Fordham "banned" Coulter, when in fact the university's student Republicans rescinded her invitation. While university president Father Joseph McShane indeed had criticized the invitation, he was firmly on record defending her right to speak and opposing any effort to "ban" her, despite outrage among campus liberals.

There's evidence that someone at Fox News knows O'Reilly lied about Fordham. On O'Reilly's personal website, where you can pay extra money for a dollop of extra bullshit with a "premium" membership, the headline on the Fordham hit piece says, "Fordham University bans Ann Coulter: Jesse Watters investigates why the conservative commentator was barred from speaking on campus." But on the official Fox News site, the very same video bears the headline "Fordham University snubs Ann Coulter: Jesse Watters investigates why college cancelled conservative commentator." Of course "snubs" and "cancelled" are more accurate than "banned" or "barred." Somebody at Fox knows the difference.

What is Ailes' excuse for letting O'Reilly slur the reputation of a local New York Jesuit university? I've made clear why I care personally about this story: My daughter went to Fordham, and got a great education. Although its leaders are conservative on social issues, they run a campus that's dedicated to the free exchange of ideas. I've heard through the Fordham grapevine that although O'Reilly stooge Watters only interviews that made students look either stupid or biased or both, he interviewed Fordham students who understood the controversy and described it accurately – but, of course, the show didn't use those clips.


A passionate rejoinder by Fordham student Nicholas Milanes is making its way around social media. Milanes notes Coulter's history of homophobic idiocy – remember "Disown Your [gay] Son Day"? -- explains the truth about her rescinded invitation, and defends his school and classmates. He says his parents are avid O'Reilly viewers. Maybe Ailes should read it. I'm reprinting it here, with permission.

Mr. O’Reilly:

My name is Nicholas Milanes. I am currently a senior at Fordham University, the school that your colleague, Mr. Watters, painted as a gated community of dunces through intensive editing and selective exposure in this video.  As you can likely tell from my tone, I take issue with your program’s overly-simplistic portrayal of my soon-to-be alma mater and of the controversy surrounding Ann Coulter’s invitation to speak at our campus. Presumably you needed to fill some time in your program, and so you sent the celebrated Mr. Watters off to the Bronx, a borough with which I’m sure he’s thoroughly well-acquainted, to lackadaisically film a few sleepy students walking to class and paint a simple enough picture of a complex situation for your viewers to swallow. Since it’s clear that you lack a proper research team, or simply prefer to gloss over such inconsequential details as our school’s population, administrative activity and recent history, allow me to elucidate the key factors that influenced the university’s backlash against Coulter’s invitation.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, Coulter’s invective makes regular use of hate speech that is particularly offensive to our student body. Among her store of racist, sexist and otherwise marginalizing terminology is a particular fondness for homophobic language. Had your research team done its job– I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt from here on out and assume that you do, in fact, have a research team–they would have found that Fordham is home to a large LGBTQ community. Given that Coulter’s comments more often than not tend to inflame and propagate homophobic sentiments rather than engage in mature, grounded discussion about her views and those of her detractors–exemplified most efficiently in her infamous "Disown Your Son Day" tweet -- it stands to reason that the Fordham student body would strongly oppose the College Republicans’ actions.

In recent years, our campus has unfortunately been defaced with graffiti spelling out racist and homophobic slurs. These incidents have engendered fear and uncertainty among our ethnic minority and LGBTQ students in an environment where they are supposed to feel safe and at home. Into this threatened environment the College Republicans decided to invite a woman whose rhetoric propagates homophobic and racist behavior. You wouldn’t invite a Klansman to speak at Fisk University, nor would you invite Coulter to speak at Fordham.

Secondly, the headline splayed across your website–”FORDHAM BANS ANN COULTER”–is false. Fordham University did not ban Coulter. The College Republicans cancelled her speech in response to the backlash of the administration and student body. Your words regarding Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J.–which you coupled with footage of him speaking at a podium, a narratorial decision that I presume was meant to depict him as some sort of censorial fascist–are groundless slander. I quote McShane’s statement, which all students received via email:

“Student groups are allowed, and encouraged, to invite speakers who represent diverse, and sometimes unpopular, points of view, in keeping with the canons of academic freedom. Accordingly, the University will not block the College Republicans from hosting their speaker of choice on campus.”

As you can see, the text plainly states that the university decided not to take any action to censor Coulter. You also claimed that McShane “insulted” Coulter. I’m unsure, as there is nothing resembling an insult in the body of the email, but I believe this is what you’re talking about:

“To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement. There are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction, but Ms. Coulter is not among them. Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative—more heat than light—and her message is aimed squarely at the darker side of our nature.”

McShane is simply stating what is already known. Coulter, a self-branded “provocateur,” seeks only to inflame, not to discuss.

This, thirdly, is the primary difference between Ann Coulter and Peter Singer, who Mr. Watters branded a proponent of infanticide without delving into the complexities of his viewpoints. While we may disagree with Singer’s views, Singer presents his opinions and ideas in a logical, thoughtout manner. The impetus behind Singer’s appearance at Fordham was discussion. Fordham’s founding Jesuit principles emphasize a need for discussion between proponents of varying viewpoints. It is by understanding these viewpoints that we Fordham students can come to embody the principle of cura personalis, the idea of individualized attention and care for others. Coulter’s speeches do not elicit discussion. She does not present her arguments in a rational manner open to debate, nor do her principles in any way supplement our Jesuit education.

I understand that in the current oversaturated media landscape, it’s of utmost importance for programs such as yours to paint the simplest possible narratives for viewers to gobble up piecemeal, rather than slowly consider the various complexities of any given “newsworthy” situation. This occurs in liberal and conservative media alike. However, I would expect the producers of a program with as vast a viewership as yours to feel some degree of responsibility to its viewers and its subjects. In turning the news into cheap entertainment, you have made my school the butt of a poorly-conceived joke and subsequently insulted its every student, professor and administrator. Your lackey, Mr. Watters, scoped out the most dubious-looking students he could find and held them up as representatives of a student body comprised of over eight thousand undergraduates. You then proceeded to call us all idiots.

Mr. O’Reilly, my parents–avid viewers of yours, in fact–and I are drowning in debt so that I can earn the best education I can–an education deserving of my parents’ sacrifices and my grandparents’ sacrifices. There are countless others like me attending Fordham University. We are not mudslinging toddlers who simply wanted to plug our ears and scream. We are not idiots. We are individuals who took action through expression of our opinions–a method of action fundamental to democracy. If you are indeed as committed to lauding patriots and honoring those who champion democracy as you claim to be, you will apologize for the deeply ignorant assault you leveled against me, my place of learning and my classmates.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have exams to study for.


Nicholas Milanes






Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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