The other night on "The O'Reilly Factor," host Bill O'Reilly aired a segment that's not only the most vile Fox News Channel segment ever -- which is saying a lot -- but it was also illustrative of why conservatives are both unfunny and increasingly unpopular. On every possible level, it was inhumane, racially insensitive, cruel, self-satirical and, frankly, unchristian. Meanwhile, the host of the segment, O'Reilly's one-man goon squad Jesse Watters, appears to be completely unaffected by the fact that he publicly shamed and embarrassed human beings who are barely surviving at the lowest possible level of society.
As Salon initially wrote earlier this week, O'Reilly aired a report in which Watters trolled homeless people in Manhattan's Penn Station as a comment on the city's homelessness problem and, specifically, rules in the train station that forbid loitering and panhandling. Rather than interviewing Mayor Bill de Blasio or other city officials about the issue, Watters accosted an array of homeless men and women who happened to have been camped out in the train station.
It's difficult to fully articulate Watters' tone of voice in words. Imagine a smarmy frat-boy, or better yet imagine David Spade's insufferable flight attendant character from "SNL," but with less tact, restraint or heart. This attitude and tone of voice might be fine, I suppose, if Watters' smart-ass attitude was aimed at the mayor or an arrogant Wall Street CEO, but when Watters uses it to badger homeless people who are literally fighting every day merely to survive, it only serves to amplify the hideousness by a factor of thousands.
Watters began by announcing that loitering, panhandling and sleeping on the floor are serious violations "that should get you kicked out, fined or thrown in jail." Without going so far as to personally arrest homeless people, Watters went around and basically threatened them, all but outright saying that they should be tossed in prison. Again, we're talking about homeless people here.
Questioning one homeless woman, Watters asked with that smug, snotty attitude, "You live here?" Then, "You sleep here, too?" The woman finally and bashfully replied, "Yes." Watters continued by channeling a haughty assistant principal who just nabbed a few eighth graders smoking behind the cafeteria: "Are you allowed to sleep here?"
Watters went on to browbeat several other people, including a man who was barely coherent, requiring subtitles for air, about whether the authorities have tried to boot him out of the station. And then it got worse. Watters made a point of emphasizing how several of the interviewees were on welfare and Medicaid, as a too-hamfisted way of highlighting how even though they have incomes they're still living in the station, scaring tourists, and making white people uncomfortable. Indeed, just on the heels of the welfare question, Watters harassed two men about their drinking habits -- a clever means of suggesting that government money is being wasted by layabout homeless people to buy beer and rum.
Watters asked one man, "Do you think you need help with your drinking?" The man replied, "No." Then Watters pointed at the man's front pants pocket, "Do you have rum in your pocket right there?" Again, all in that insinuating, privileged, superior tone of voice.
The segment ended with Watters interviewing white suburban tourists who emphasized how they've been allegedly groped or bothered by homeless people in the station. Because, yes, we have to totally protect the relatively wealthy white people from the unwashed boozers or else.
There was an overall tone of look at these mumbling drunken black people living off the government teat (snicker, snicker). In a sane and decent world, Watters would be swiftly driven off television for this. Instead, based on his interactions on Twitter, the only thing that seems to have phased him was a negative remark about his suit, buried in a sea of #tcot kudos. For most of us, it'd be difficult to sell out our integrity and sense of morality for the sake of a gig with the O'Reilly show. But Watters owns his slimy self-righteousness like a champ. He just doesn't care that the point of his latest segment was to literally take away shelter from people who have nothing. Because in his sociopathic universe, that's entertainment.
It reminds me of the ongoing meme about how there's very few conservative funny people. This video, in addition to being just plain cruel, is a salient reminder of exactly why: Conservatives punch down.
And punching down is neither funny nor endearing, except among other assholes. In the simplest terms, it's unfair and it's mean. But being unfair and mean is Watters' entire career. He exists among a series of conservative media stooges who never hesitate to attack noncombatants -- those who exist outside the political debate. That includes dead children like Trayvon Martin, who was mercilessly smeared and dissected by the conservative entertainment complex after he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.
Let's review some more recent examples of this phenomenon:
• There was Sandra Fluke, whose only trespass was to testify to Congress about healthcare. She was subsequently bashed as a slut by Rush Limbaugh, as well as most of his pathetic imitators.
• Beck once maniacally ranted about an Islamic private school in Northern Virginia when the school's sole newsworthy trespass was that an application to expand its campus was approved by the local zoning board. But Beck went on an extended googly-eyed rant about the school being a de facto training camp for would-be terrorists, and even invoked September 11th imagery -- collapsed buildings and the like -- in the process. It's a grade school where large groups of children go for seven hours a day. Really smart. Outing a school for "terrorists" on the ultra-conservative Fox News Channel on a show that was viewed by loyal conspiracy wackaloons during a time when anti-terrorist fear-mongering and militant anti-Muslim hatred is at an all-time high. Worse, the school is full of children who then became potential targets. All because the school's zoning application was approved.
• Rewind to 2009 during the health care reform debate when an 11-year-old girl asked President Obama a question during a town hall meeting about the "mean things" she observed on various protest signs outside. Michelle Malkin and other conservatives swooped into action like flying monkeys, investigating and exposing the girl and her parents for being "Obamabots."
• You might also recall how Malkin famously stalked a 12-year-old accident survivor named Graeme Frost after he appeared in a commercial supporting SCHIP, the children's health insurance program.
• World Net Daily attacked a high school play. Anti-choice activists targeted the child of a landlord who rents space to a women's clinic. Limbaugh, once again, attacked a 13-year-old boy and called him a "Nazi stormtrooper." The entire right-wing media Kraken was released upon 11-year-old Marcelas Owens after he attended the Affordable Care Act signing ceremony.
As for Watters, here's just a sampling of the civilians he's accosted over the years (via ThinkProgress):
Homeless Veterans, 1/31/08: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts the group outside of Fox News headquarters as they try to deliver a petition to O'Reilly.
Helen Jones-Kelley, Director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 11/6/08: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters follows Jones-Kelley -- after she refused to talk to him -- to a fire station, where a police chief intervenes to stop the harassment.
Jenna Kern, Member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, 8/21/08: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Kern in her driveway outside of her home.
Rev. Michael Pfleger, Catholic Priest, 4/3/08: O'Reilly producer Porter Berry confronts Pfleger outside of his church.
Dr. George Garcia, Boulder High School Superintendent, 5/29/07: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Garcia on a wooded road away from his school.
You will be hard-pressed to find this kind of bullying and punching down from high profile talkers anywhere else in the American political discourse. In the absence of integrity, the last resort of a mindless posse is to target defenseless bystanders. Sadly, as the far-right becomes increasingly self-satirical and shrink-wrapped inside its own bubble, this will get worse as long as it continues to sell. And the mob loves it, so homeless people, and in too many cases children, continue to be targets of these thugs.
The ultimate irony is that the network and the television show that endlessly screech about the "War On Christmas" and the "War On Judeo-Christian Values" aired a segment Monday night that would likely prompt Jesus himself to hurl his television out the window.