Why this should be front-page news: On Tuesday evening, Bill O’Reilly melted down on his semi-eponymous program.
He screamed and yelled at Alan Colmes, repeatedly saying that Colmes was lying about Obama’s budget proposals.
Before the segment was done, Mr. O began apologizing to Colmes. That said, the segment was monumentally crazy. But O'Reilly's follow-up segment on Wednesday night was a hundred times more significant. It ought to be front-page news, though of course it won’t be.
Here’s what happened:
Bill invited Kirsten Powers to help him review the session with Colmes. Mr. O began with a joke, then Powers defined the topic:
O’REILLY (3/6/13): Now for the Top Story tonight: Reaction from a Democrat joining us from Washington, Kirsten Powers, a Fox News analyst.Already, the question at issue was more clear than it had been the previous night. Mr. O wanted to know what new spending cuts Obama has proposed.
So Kirsten, I understand you visited Alan Colmes in the hospital today. Is he all right?
POWERS: I sent him flowers.
O'REILLY: Just a joke. OK, where am I going wrong, Powers? I'm sure I'm going wrong somewhere.
POWERS: I am— I am just shocked that you're doubling down on these claims that Obama has not proposed any spending cuts. You can go to the Web site WhiteHouse.gov. It has his fiscal cliff offers that has—
O'REILLY: OK wait—
O'REILLY: I assume you have gone there since you're touting it.
POWERS: I have a copy of it right here. Right here.
O'REILLY: OK, tell me what, the specific spending cuts the president has proposed.
What sorts of spending would Obama cut moving forward from here? On the One True Liberal Channel, some folk have rebutted O’Reilly by citing spending cuts from past years.
But O'Reilly was asking about future cuts. In response, Powers plowed ahead, citing the White House web site:
POWERS (continuing directly): OK, as people will know—and also, you can look at, his fiscal year 2013 budget has the exact same thing. He's—Powers cited a proposal for $400 billion in cuts to federal healthcare spending. At this point, Mr. O wanted more specifics:
You told Alan last night that he hasn't made any specific suggestions on Medicare. Completely untrue. $400 billion in cuts to federal healthcare spending laid out very clearly.
O'REILLY: OK, let me stop you there—
O'REILLY: Let me stop you there. $400 billion you are saying in Medicare, right, the President wants. Is that what you are saying?
POWERS: Yes, that's in his budget and now on his Web site.
O'REILLY (continuing directly): OK wait, wait, Powers! You know I'm a simple man and you can't go too fast with me. I have to absorb.This is where the high comedy starts. Watch what happens when Powers discusses the possibility of negotiating drug prices for Medicare, thus driving down Medicare spending:
POWERS: I will not disagree with that.
O'REILLY: So $400 million in Medicare President Obama wants.
O'REILLY: How would that manifest itself? What's going to be cut?
POWERS (continuing directly): Well, there's different things. They want to apply the Medicaid— With Medicaid, you can negotiate drug prices. They want to apply that to Medicare and get savings in drug prices. They want to raise—Powers said that Obama wants to negotiate prices with the drug companies. Attempting to show that this is a fraud, Mr. O asked if they have begun doing that yet. Attempting to show that the plan lacks specifics, he asked which drug companies Powers was talking about.
O'REILLY: OK wait, wait, wait! a simple man, a simple man. All right? They want to negotiate drug prices with whom?
POWERS: With the drug companies.
O'REILLY: With the drug companies. They want to? Wait, wait, wait. Have they begun doing that? And, if so, which drug companies are they talking with?
Duh. As everyone knows, the administration can’t negotiate Medicare drug prices with drug companies under current law. Flummoxed perhaps by the oddness of Mr. O's reaction, Powers offered a weak rebuttal, then got back on track by citing Obama's proposal to adopt chained CPI.
We’ll show you where this nonsense eventually went:
POWERS: Bill hold on! See, this is what you do. You change the discussion. What you said last night was the president—Powers hadn’t named a specific drug company! This produced the evening’s finest statement, by a sarcastic Powers:
O'REILLY: No, I'm not. I want specifics.
POWERS: I'm giving you specifics. What you said last night was the president did not propose anything. The president proposed this to the Republicans. The Republicans circulated this plan. They know about the plan. There was also chained CPI in there I know you are not too simple to know about chained CPI. So the point is, the president has proposed these—
O'REILLY: No he hasn't. He has proposed generalities.
POWERS: They have not—yes they— Bill, you are 100 percent wrong. No, you are 100 percent wrong.
O'REILLY: OK, you are 100 percent wrong and we will let the folks decide. Now let me make my case.
POWERS: Go to the post at government Web site, WhiteHouse.gov, and see very specific right here.
POWERS: Broken down, the specific cuts.
O'REILLY: Powers, you don't have one drug company mentioned. You don't have any numbers.
POWERS: Oh, come on!
“Oh, come on!”
That said, the nonsense went on and on. Later, Powers said this:
POWERS: You need to admit you're wrong.The clowning was endless and was very amusing. Here’s why this should be front-page news in the nation’s newspapers:
POWERS: And you are wrong about this and now you are playing a game because we can't name a drug company? I mean, come on.
O'REILLY: Listen, Powers, you say you're going to negotiate with drug companies to bring down spending on drugs and you don't have one company mentioned that you are in negotiations with.
POWERS: It's the same company that doing it with Medicaid. That's the exact same companies they are dealing with Medicaid.
POWERS: You are totally moving the goal post. You are totally moving the goal post. What you screamed at Alan about last night yes, you're screaming at Alan last night saying that the president had not made any proposals.
O'REILLY: No. Any specific proposal, and I used that word 13 times.
POWERS: So you don't think, because the government negotiates with Medicaid, with drug companies, you don't think the government kind of knows who the drug companies are?
Roughly five million people watched O’Reilly’s three broadcasts this night. They watched a very famous newscaster engage in utterly ludicrous conduct, trying to maintain a claim which is simply wrong.
Is it true, by the way? Has Obama proposed negotiating drug prices for Medicare? We aren’t sure, but O’Reilly’s rebuttals on this point were patently absurd. Meanwhile, the proposal to adopt chained CPI does in fact sit right there on the White House web site. So do various other proposals which Powers didn’t cite.
We live at a time of crazy claims and relentless tribal disinformation. The functioning of our society is bending and breaking under the weight of this lunacy, which is very profitable for the companies and people who produce it.
O’Reilly has the largest ratings in cable news—the largest cable news ratings by far. In a rational world, it would be news when a major “news” broadcaster behaves in this ludicrous way.
But the New York Times would jump off a bridge before it would report this ludicrous misconduct. Meanwhile, Lawrence clowned on The One True Channel in response to this performance.
He didn’t demand that the New York Times report O’Reilly’s ridiculous conduct—and he never will. (People, it just isn't done!) Instead, Lawrence played tape of an old meltdown by Mr. O, a meltdown from many long years ago, before Fox News even started.
On our own ridiculous channel, this event was played for entertainment, for fun. Our own clown stuffed big bucks in his pants as he pretended to serve.