He Doth Froth Too Much
I almost was afraid to write this column. I’m mentioning the name of one of the most popular opinion show hosts in the United States – Bill O’Reilly. And those who write about O’Reilly often become the subject of his and his followers’ wrath.
Take Macarena Hernandez, a young editorial columnist who began working for The Dallas Morning News two months ago. In one of her first columns, which ran on Saturday, Oct. 15, she included two sentences that referred to O’Reilly’s broadcasts. The next week, O’Reilly went on the air with his fangs out, a pit bull ready to attack. On his Fox News television show, The O’Reilly Factor, he called Hernandez “dishonest” and a “liar” and urged his listeners to boycott the newspaper.
Whew! What a way to start a new job.
So what horrible, slanderous comments did Hernandez write about O’Reilly?
Her column addressed acts of violence against immigrants. She wrote about six Mexican farm workers beaten to death in September in southern Georgia, possibly in the course of getting robbed. She also cited the recent robberies and shootings of ice cream vendors in Grand Prairie and Oak Cliff and the rape and killing in March of a woman in far north Dallas. All were immigrants from south of the border.
Hernandez pointed out that undocumented immigrants are easy targets for crime because they keep their cash instead of banking it and are unlikely to report offenses to police for fear of deportation. She noted that the mayor of a Georgia town where the September killings happened flew the Mexican flag at City Hall to show “sorrow for the Hispanic community” – which raised a cry of protest from some in that town.
The paragraph that followed started the battle with O’Reilly.
“Were the complainers angrier about the red, white and green Mexican flag fluttering in the Georgia air than they were about the horrific murders?” Hernandez wrote. “Do they watch Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, where the anchor and the callers constantly point to the southern border as the birth of all America’s ills? (Sample comment: ‘Each one of those people is a biological weapon.’)”
“It is one thing,” she wrote, “to want to secure the borders and another to preach hate.”
O’Reilly took this to mean Hernandez was accusing him of “fostering hate toward Mexican migrant workers,” as he wrote on FoxNews.com on Oct. 21. “That is absolutely false. And we have the tapes to prove it.”
Granted, Hernandez did confuse O’Reilly’s Fox News television show, The O’Reilly Factor, with his radio show, The Radio Factor with Bill O’Reilly. The tv show doesn’t have callers and the radio show does. However, she never accused O’Reilly himself of fostering hate; she cited the venom spewed by some of his callers.
Her column referred to a conversation between O’Reilly and a caller on his April 15 radio show. Media Matters for America, a liberal-leaning nonprofit group, posted the transcript on its web site. The caller said, “… the illegals crossing the border, that are coming across with, say, tuberculosis, syphilis, leprosy – each one of those people is a biological weapon. And I believe that illegal immigration … equals and surpasses the impact of 9/11.”
O’Reilly then pointed out that 11 million illegal immigrants are estimated to be in the U.S.: “You got 3,000 dead on 9/11, so you do the math, and you say, ‘Well, how many of these 11 million people have impacted negatively on American citizens?’ I think you could probably make an airtight case that more than 3,000 Americans have been either killed or injured, based on the 11 million illegals that are here.”
After O’Reilly complained, his supporters took their anger out on Hernandez. In a follow-up column on Friday, Oct. 21, she published a few of their comments. (To be fair, some of the reaction could have come from News readers who don’t listen to O’Reilly – but not 2,000-plus responses to a Saturday op-ed piece.) A few called Hernandez nasty names, including “wetback,” “beaner,” “spic” and “stupid Mexican,” and some told her to go back where she came from, which would be difficult since she’s from Texas.
It must be tough, as she pointed out, to be “the first Latina to write a regular editorial column at The Dallas Morning News.”
I’ve noticed O’Reilly likes to take on targets that he probably perceives as easy, such as young columnists or college journalists. Two years ago, I taught journalism at a university in Washington state. Students there organized an event to provide information about sex, sexuality, birth control, and similar issues. In typical sophomoric college style, they decided to call it “National Outdoor Intercourse Day.”
One activity involved screening pornographic movies, then discussing the impact such films have on women, men, and sexuality. When O’Reilly heard about this, he used it as an opportunity to rail against wasting taxpayer money on immoral frivolity. He invited the naïve editor of the student newspaper to be on his show, then proceeded to shred the 21-year-old.
Hernandez didn’t take O’Reilly’s bait. She declined to appear on his show. “No Jerry Springer showdowns for me,” she wrote.
Who can blame her? Maybe O’Reilly should invite some of his more rabid supporters onto his show instead. Now that would be interesting tv.
Tracy Everbach is a journalism professor at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at TracyEverbach@hotmail.com.