If you know who I am, you know why I get letters like this one from a certain Linden S., who lives in Rochester, New York:
O'Reilly, dislike and contempt dominate your thoughts. So highly charged is your bias that it is a constant astonishment to realize that you are unaware of the effect of your own thinking. A thoughtful, deliberative person doesn't stand a chance with you.
That's only one letter, selected at random. They come in bushels every day. Something about me and my nightly news analysis program, The O'Reilly Factor, drives some people up the wall.
But, hey, I'm used to it. I didn't even have to have the top-rated cable news program to get the same response from my first-grade teacher. I was controversial in the first grade, Linden! I come by it honestly!
It took Sister Mary Claudia only to the second day of first grade at St. Brigid's School in Westbury, New York, to get my number. When she ordered our class of sixty six-year-olds to open our Think and Do books, I slumped in my seat and let loose a deep sigh. See, I have always had a thing about lies, lying, and liars--and this book was pure propaganda. The illustrations of kids smiling while doing math problems was a major lie. I knew that at six years old.
But Sister Mary Claudia didn't care and leapt on me like a mongoose.
"William," she shouted. "You are a bold, fresh piece of humanity! You will open your book and close your mouth. You are bold!"
Thus was laid down the course of my life and career, as writers of another age might put it. Ever since, I have starred in a series of confrontations with overreaching authority figures. Sometimes I was just being a pain in the rear. (Hey, you have to practice these things!) But a lot of the time I was challenging the prevailing wisdom because my sense of justice or truth was outraged. That outrage became my passion . . . and my vocation. Today I get paid a healthy sum for pursuing that passion on national television in prime time. The O'Reilly Factor has been on the air for four years, and they say the ratings are steadily rising while the overall prime-time ratings for cable news networks are sinking. Sister Mary Claudia, can you hear me over the harps?
Doesn't matter. If the good sister's not in touch, there are always people like the Reverend and Mrs. Dennis N. of Georgia:
Mr. O'Reilly, you have lost us as viewers. We are sure your lies are born of ignorance. Repent while you still can.
Thanks for the concern, but it's too late, Reverend.
If you've tuned in to The O'Reilly Factor, you know that I usually have five guests on my hour-long program. You might see me interviewing George W. Bush about the latest wrinkle in his campaign. Or bugging former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr about his refusal to go public with all he suspects about the Clintons and their sleazy shenanigans. Or getting former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta to admit that the Clinton administration doesn't know what happened to some $1 billion it sent to Haiti. Some people think Iâ€™m a tough interviewer, but I think Iâ€™m fair. And I'm appreciative of my guests. It takes guts for some of these people to come on the Factor, because they don't know which way I'm gonna go.
Sometimes I bring on my paid on-air consultants, like Newt Gingrich, Geraldine Ferraro, and Dick Morris. They don't usually agree with each other, as you might expect, and they don't usually agree with me. And I always begin each program with a "Talking Point." You'll see what I mean as you read this book, because I use a few here. And I always give the floor at the end of the program to viewer reactions, which are by far the liveliest in all of broadcasting. Some of those comments are scattered throughout these pages.
If you haven't seen The O'Reilly Factor, you might be wondering whether I'm conservative, liberal, libertarian, or exactly what. I hope you're still wondering when you do catch my program and also after you've read this book, my first attempt to put my thoughts in print.
See, I don't want to fit any of those labels, because I believe that the truth doesn't have labels. When I see corruption, I try to expose it. When I see exploitation, I try to fight it. That's my political position.
And in this book, just as on the Factor, I will not waste your time. Count on it. I will get to the pith quickly and undiplomatically--even if the pith pithes you off. Sorry, but that's not my problem. I tell it. You hear it. The truth is often annoying. It's always easier to look the other way. But it is essential that we all look at American life the way it really is today. If we don't do that job, we're gonna lose the battles to the frauds, fools, and thieves--the kind of people you are going to be hearing about in this book.
I love doing the Factor. I'm proud of my work. But television can be frustrating because there are so many subjects every day, and so little time every night. So I decided to write a book that would have no commercial interruptions and no director signaling me that a segment's got to end. I took my time writing this book, and I hope you will take your time reading it and thinking about my ideas. What I've tried to do here is give a blunt look at our times, which are very complicated. America in the twenty-first century can be a savage place, full of ridiculous situations and idiotic people. Life in the U.S.A. can also be fun and rewarding. But to make that happen, you have to separate the good from the bad from the ridiculous. I'm trying to help you do that . . . in a none-too-gentle way.
The O'Reilly Factor, the book, is divided into three sections. The first part of the book deals with what you as an individual are up against in your life as an American: That means things like your status in soci- ety, money, sex, and the ever-present media. Then we focus on personal relationships--the important ties that bind you to family, friends, and bosses. The final chapters concern America itself and what is happening to the country today.
I won't spoon over any Chicken Soup advice here. We're not gonna get "in the zone" or use New Age claptrap or find answers in any Mars-Venus conflict. This is just the straight story as I've lived it and you've lived it. You'll see.
1. THE CLASS factor
Note to Rev. Jesse Jackson: Sorry, Jesse. You're wrong. Racism gets all the ink, but the heart of America's somewhat unfair social setup is class, not race. This fact might cut into your power base, but it's true.
The question for this age in America is: What class are you?
Never thought about it? You should. Each one of us is born into a very specific economic and social class, regardless of color. Most of us remain in that class, for better or worse, until the day we die. The more observant among us can usually sum up a complete stranger's class background within minutes.
Politicians don't usually talk about class. It might open a dangerous door. Advertisers want us to believe we're all one class: the consuming class, equal as long as we keep spending. The rich want us to believe that anyone can make the quantum leap from bowling league to country club by just working a little harder. That's supposed to keep us motivated and quiet.
But does class really matter? Would every blue-collar family be happier and more productive if a long-lost relative died and a trust fund flew in the window overnight?
No, but class is not just about money. It is about opportunity for your kids or dashed hopes, about education or minds that close down for good, about enduring values or materialism that comes out as greed or self- indulgence or complete disregard for others. It is the bottom line, in a way, for every problem I talk about in this book. Class attitudes can be involved in unfair tax laws, or government indifference about our terrible drug problem, or what kind of entertainment is available at the local movie house. Class plays a role in gun control laws that restrict personal freedom for the little guy and in casual enforcement of drunk driving laws.
As someone once said, "Class in America is like sex in Victorian times: People believe that if no one talks about it, it will just go away."
Whatever I have done or will do in this life, I'm working-class Irish American Bill O'Reilly. No one ever told me or my sister that we were pretty far down the social totem pole while we were growing up in 1960s America. We took for granted that it was normal to buy cars only when they were secondhand, that every family clipped coupons to save money, and that luncheon meats were the special of the day. The municipal pool in our town on Long Island, New York, was pretty seedy, and we took the Greyhound bus to Miami for our annual vacation, but since air travel and private pools simply did not exist in our world, we never thought we were missing anything.
Ridiculous note: Deprivation works both ways, it seems. I'll never forget my astonishment reading that First Lady Jackie Kennedy learned about Green Stamps from a White House employee. This elegant, cultured upper-class young woman was delighted to find that these stamps, which were given out by retailers like supermarkets as a reward for shopping, could be redeemed for "free" electric blankets and the like. For a time, wealthy Mrs. Kennedy collected the stamps like mad.
My parents, who loved us both and wanted the best for us, believed that "the best" was playing it safe in life and not straying too far from the neighborhood. One of my grandfathers walked a police beat in Brooklyn, the other was a train conductor, my mother's mother was a telephone operator, and my uncle was a fireman. My sister became a nurse. I was expected to become a teacher or, if I got very lucky, a lawyer. My mother, not wanting me to become a nonconformist in the 1970s, would not rest until I wore a "leisure suit."
My father, who never made more than $35,000 a year while exhausting himself commuting daily from Levittown to New York City to work as currency accountant for an oil company, took for granted that college for his son meant one thing above all: employment security. He and my mother graduated from college, but they did not remember the experience as a life-altering event. Dad didn't want me rocking the boat or getting big ideas. He looked ready to throw up when I told him I was going to study abroad during my junior year.
"Why do you want to do that?" he snorted. "You could start on the football team!"
He didn't know, as I did by then, that the privileged classes saw the college years as an opportunity for learning a great many things that did not necessarily involve going home on weekends. Sure, some rich students I knew may have grandstanded about hangovers in Spain and sexy nights beside the canals in Venice, but they also learned from experience about different cultures and ways of thinking and saw firsthand some of the great achievements of European art and learning.
Of course, my father had never met such people of privilege, nor did he care to. He was proud of his spartan life with its fast foods, yearly three-week-long vacation, and four Robert Hall suits hanging in a small closet in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home. All of his friends lived much the same way and were just as proud.
Most of my childhood friends stayed in the neighborhood, married each other, and now live fairly comfortable middle-class lives. Some of them are happy, some aren't. But few of them realize how much their lives have been defined for them, even laid out for them, by a class system that discourages most of us from moving up the social ladder, no matter how hard we work.
Could some of them be happier or more productive if they had had the opportunity to go to graduate school to become architects or physicians or cancer researchers? Yes. It's not that one type of job is more important than another; it's that each of us should have the opportunity to use our own talents and follow our own dreams. A mind is a terrible thing to waste if you're held back by race or by gender. It is just as great a waste when you're held back by class. Right, Rev. Jackson?
Excerpted from The O'Reilly Factor by Bill O'Reilly. Copyright © 2002 by Bill O''Reilly. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.