Fox News and Bill O’Reilly are, at this point in modern television, low-hanging fruit. If you want to find someone who adeptly creates outrage out of nothing, look no further than O’Reilly. Despite trying to rebrand himself as a popular historian in recent years with his books about the deaths of Jesus, Lincoln, and JFK, he has always made a career out of being angry at whatever popular left-leaning folks — from President Obama to George Clooney — are doing. The guy is easily offended, at least for the sake of good TV, and in turn creates controversy to piss off the people who hate-watch him. It’s a vicious circle, indeed, and this week he’s found his typical ire in the familiar (Obama) and the unexpected (Beyoncé).
Let’s just say that Barack Obama appearing on Between Two Ferns was quite a surprise, but there’s nothing shocking about Bill O’Reilly judging it to be a misstep. While O’Reilly gave the disclosure that Obama sat down with host Zach Galifianakis weeks ago, before Russia invaded Crimea, he pointed out that having the President of the United States appear on an Internet comedy show sends the wrong message to Vladimir Putin, who, sure, probably spends a lot of time on Funny or Die (likely clicking “Die” and cackling maniacally) in between sending troops to foreign lands and “testing” Obama’s diplomatic strengths.
Obama’s biggest offense? Not respecting the dignity of the presidency, of course, in the way, oh, Lincoln would have done.
Was Obama’s appearance on Between Two Ferns demeaning to the executive office, or was it great PR? As a nation, we’re torn, naturally. But we can all agree with the one fact that O’Reilly asserts: Lincoln would have never gone on Between Two Ferns — because, you know, back in the 1860s video cameras and the Internet did not exist.
Of course, this wasn’t even the first stupid assertion O’Reilly has made about pop culture this week; on Monday night, he invited Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons on the show to discuss, of all things, the terrible offenses that Beyoncé has committed with “Partition,” from her recent self-titled album. As you’re probably aware, and have been for some time, the song is about Beyoncé having sex in the back of a limousine with her husband, Jay Z. In terms of artistic crimes against humanity, it seems pretty tame, but O’Reilly — always concerned about the welfare of young women of color! — thinks “Partition” is “exploitative garbage” that harms the lives of those who are most at risk of teen pregnancy.
The real question is: really? Is a song that “glorifies” having sex in the back of a limousine with the person to whom you are married actually influencing teenage girls of color to have unprotected sex that results in unwanted pregnancies? Probably not. I am betting that a pop song alone isn’t going responsible for anyone having sex, because people, generally, throughout the annals of history, have been pretty good at having sex — not because of artistic and cultural influences but because they simply want to.
Russell Simmons, of course, tried to deflect O’Reilly’s idiotic questions (instead attempting to start a conversation about meditation, sure), but naturally did not assuage the host’s furor. Not that anyone could have expected him to — much less O’Reilly himself, who I don’t even believe actually thinks so much about pop stars or Funny or Die videos. He is, like Beyoncé and Between Two Ferns, popular entertainment — yet so rarely do we identify him as such and hold him to the same standards he applies to his entertainment peers.