The O’Reilly Factor wasn’t a performance

Courtney Martin has experience of doing O’Reilly’s horrible show.

I was in my late 20s and headed to The O’Reilly Factor to defend now-deceased journalist Helen Thomas. O’Reilly had referred to her as the “Wicked Witch of the East,” and I was joining the show to argue that the most veteran White House correspondent (she covered 10 presidencies) should be evaluated on the basis of her reporting — not on her appearance or age.

Political correctness run riot! Victimhood! Snowflake! Of course women should be attacked for being old and ugly; it makes them stronger! Old ugly women should be thanking people like O’Reilly for this quick and easy strengthening exercise.

She got the makeup and hair treatment and they sat her down on the set.

O’Reilly walked in a few moments later; sat down in his chair, which was raised several inches above all the others; swiveled toward me; and without so much as a hello, barked, “Do you even know what you’re here to talk about?”

Ah his chair was raised. Of course it was. I’ve always hated the way he looms over people and shouts them down, but I never watched him enough to figure out that his chair was higher. Doesn’t that just stand for the whole thing – the bully ethos writ large.

Though I’d written multiple books by then, my chyron simply read “Feminist” — a telling sign in and of itself as to what O’Reilly and his team thought about my credentials. In their world, either you’re an old hag, like Helen Thomas, or you’re a rabid feminist, like me. None of our actual work meant shit inside of O’Reilly’s studio. Our value was our capacity to fill roles in his own bizarro world of extremes, not our knowledge or experience (as expertise is actually defined). Caricature is at the core of conservative media’s operating model; lure people like me on with the allure of five seconds of fame and a false sense of righteousness, and you’ve got yourself “good television.” Problem is, such “good television” creates hateful citizens. Real viewers saw the real world through O’Reilly’s notoriously reductive lens.

Did and still do.

She paid a price, of course.

When I got back to my apartment that night and opened my laptop, my jaw dropped at the number of new emails in my inbox. I’d never seen anything like it — email after email, hundreds over a few days, referring to me in every single sexist term you can imagine (and some you probably can’t). To make things really meta, the majority of them attacked my appearance…When I was getting my makeup done before the show started, I had chatted with the producer a bit, realizing that we had gone to the same high school back in Colorado Springs. So when the flood of misogyny came, I thought I’d let him know. He seemed like a decent guy. His response? In a nutshell: “That’s horrible. We would never condone that kind of behavior.”

Condone? That would be timid. How about model and fuel? And, of course, now we know that O’Reilly wasn’t just modeling on-air, but behind the scenes, too.

Assholes gonna asshole.

Which is to say, The O’Reilly Factor wasn’t a performance. No matter how much conservative pundits (and probably a few liberal ones) would like to believe they are just “putting on a show” for their viewers, there are real consequences. Hearts and minds are shaped. Citizens are influenced…Is it any wonder that a reality television star was elected president when so many Americans have grown accustomed to watching bullies reduce people to types and fan the flames of fear every night on the news?

Is it any wonder a bully was elected president when so many Americans have grown accustomed to admiring bullies? No, it’s not.

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