In a democracy, news media organizations are supposed to serve as watchdogs, educating members of the public about crucial issues so they can make informed decisions. News media outlets are also supposed to monitor the powerful and ensure that a country’s democratic institutions are not undermined or otherwise imperiled.
Of course, news organizations are not constrained to play that role. They can also abandon those basic tenets and instead choose to make the unconscionable something acceptable, spin lies into truth and present demagogues and political thugs as noble and virtuous.
Enter Donald Trump. He does not respect democratic norms, traditions or values; wants to restrict freedom of the press and First Amendment rights; threatens political opponents with violence; encourages violence from his public against their shared political enemies; wants to target Muslims and other groups for harassment and possible mass incarceration. He promises to violate the constitutional rights of blacks and Latinos under the guise of stop and frisk policies and surrounds himself with white nationalists and avowed racists.
Moreover, many of Trump’s supporters are openly hostile to immigrants and, as repeatedly shown by public opinion surveys and other measures, hold deep animus and hostility towards African-Americans and other people of color. Trump has also surrounded himself with political cronies, putting family members in key advisory and leadership positions, and appears dedicated to personally enriching himself from his presidential election.
There are words for these things. They scare some people. Authoritarian leader, strongman and potential fascist dictator only begin to capture the possibilities of Donald Trump.
Fox News has long served as a type of semi-official propaganda arm for the Republican Party and movement conservatives. Although Fox management was originally skeptical about Trump and would have preferred another candidate, it has become clear that the channel will continue that role during Trump’s administration. To that end, Bill O’Reilly will be one of Trump’s leading mouthpieces. O’Reilly, long one of Fox's most popular commentators and hosts, will be tasked with normalizing and legitimating Trump’s rule and (quite literally) whitewashing his anti-democratic behavior.
O’Reilly performed this role perfectly in Monday’s edition of his show, when he defended Trump against accusations of fascism, racism and white supremacist ideology.
To begin his show, O’Reilly made the following pronouncement:
Creating a mythological situation, that is the subject of the third Talking Points memo. The liberal press furious that Donald Trump won the election, so now they are putting out absurd storylines designed to denigrate those who voted for Mr. Trump. The top one is that somehow the white power movement is gaining momentum in the USA, because of Trump. You may remember that on November 19th about 275 hapless nuts showed up for a white nationalist conference in Washington, D.C. Fifty reporters were there to greet them. Let me give you that again, 275 morons covered by 50 journalists.
O’Reilly also claimed that "the folks who voted for Trump" were being depicted by the media as "some kind of fascist cadre,” adding that “Donald Trump won the election because of economics, but the press will never tell you the truth. Instead, they continue to brook rubbish.”
All this, in O'Reilly's view, is the product of a nonexistent “liberal media”: The press has trumped up, if you'll pardon the pun, a white power movement storyline that simply doesn't exist.
O’Reilly trotted out supposed statistics to illustrate his thesis:
Now for some stats. According to the FBI, in 2015, there were about 1,200,000 violent crimes committed here in the U.S.A. The same year, there were less than 6,000 hate crimes reported. I mean, come on. That sound like an epidemic of hate-driven violence to you? Does it?
Bill O’Reilly is a lazy liar. His defense of Donald Trump is easily discredited and refuted by the following facts:
Donald Trump is a reflection of the white power movement. One of Donald Trump’s closest advisers is Steve Bannon, who has served as the head of Breitbart News, which has been frequently described as a mouthpiece for white nationalist and white supremacist viewpoints.
Trump has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Sessions has a long record of racist statements and associations and clearly wants to overturn the civil rights gains of African-Americans and other groups. He has joked about supporting the Ku Klux Klan, described a white civil rights attorney as a “traitor to his race,” addressed a black attorney as “boy” and was regarded as so extreme that a Republican-led Senate rejected him for a federal judgeship in 1986.
Avowed white supremacists and white nationalists such as David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan are enthusiastic about Trump and have publicly and repeatedly identified him as a champion for their cause. Neo-Nazis and other bigots have harassed journalists at Trump's campaign events. Trump has used white identity politics and white nationalism as cornerstones of his presidential campaign — and those things will certainly influence his policies as president.
White hate organizations have identified Donald Trump’s campaign as fueling an increase in the number of people joining their cause.
The election of Donald Trump has incited a record increase in hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs, Latinos, African-Americans and other people of color.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented at least 867 such incidents in the first 10 days following Trump's election. These have included physical assaults, street harassment, vandalism and other acts. America’s schools are now seeing an epidemic of Trump-inspired bullying and harassment.
Trump’s supporters are more likely than the general public to hold authoritarian, racist or ethnocentric views and to fear nonwhite people. This has been shown by social scientists such as Jonathan Weiler and Marc Hetherington, as well as public opinion and other survey data gathered by Pew, Gallup and the American National Election Studies.
By voting for and otherwise supporting Donald Trump, his backer have has actively endorsed fascism, authoritarianism and racism or passively accepted them.
Donald Trump won the White House not primarily because of economic issues but rather because he was able to use white racial resentment and overt bigotry to create anxiety among white voters across all income levels about their present and future social status in an increasingly diverse world.
As a skilled propagandist, Bill O’Reilly follows a script and formula for presenting a distorted “post-truth” reality to his audience. Like other Fox News personalities, he ignores or distorts facts, mines racial resentment to manipulate his older white viewers, persistently and repetitiously presents the same talking points over and over again, depicts conservatives (and Trump) as victims, and alludes to a “conspiracy” by “liberals” that is somehow working against real Americans like his viewers.
All this is made much easier by the fact that Fox News viewers are much less informed than other members of the general public and have willfully immersed themselves in a right-wing media bubble that makes them extremely compliant and thus more susceptible to disinformation and lies.
O’Reilly is a type of pied piper, leading his lemmings off a cliff. Unfortunately, now that Donald Trump has been elected president, many more people will be dragged down with them, as collateral damage from the destructive and hateful politics made legitimate by Fox News and the right-wing news entertainment media machine.