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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That being said,
Bill O'Reilly should be very flattered by MSNBC.
After the success of The O'Reilly Factor, MSNBC--one of Fox News' closest competitors--introduced a string of new shows in Factor format, a clear indication that the network had every intention of duplicating O'Reilly's success.
In its first attempt, MSNBC introduced Alan Keyes is Making Sense, a program that featured a Republican speaker--just like O'Reilly, right?--as a host. Despite Keyes' best efforts to imitate O'Reilly's format, his program suffered low ratings and was canceled prematurely. MSNBC then introduced an outspoken ideologue and gave him a show that encouraged shouting matches over serious debate--just like the O'Reilly Factor, right?--Donahue. It, too, was canceled due to low ratings. Most recently, the network enrolled an opinionated conservative pundit--just like O'Reilly, right?--Joe Scarborough. His program, Scarborough Country, has not been canceled but still suffers ratings almost as poor as the Factor facsimiles that preceded it.
MSNBC's efforts appear to reflect the common misconceptions about O'Reilly. He is often perceived as a right-winger, but even if he does have right-of-center tendencies, O'Reilly is by no means an ideologue; he makes no qualms about criticizing Republican politicians like George W. Bush (regarding, for example, his positions on the environment and immigration). That is the difference between Alan Keyes and O'Reilly; O'Reilly will expose dishonesty wherever it is found, but Keyes has firmly aligned himself with the Republican Party, which he will consistently defend.
Another misconception: O'Reilly shouts. O'Reilly yells. O'Reilly is a bully. To an extent, this is true; yes, O'Reilly will sometimes yell or interrupt a guest, but it is never without cause. "Spin" is stopped dead in its tracks, something we rarely see in other interviews. It seems that MSNBC's Donahue--which in some ways was more reminiscent of Jerry Springer than it was of The O'Reilly Factor--attempted to capitalize on O'Reilly's fervor but failed to capture the meaning behind it.
What makes The O'Reilly Factor such a success, though, is the fact that it is remarkably informative. When O'Reilly makes a point, he backs it up with facts. For example, in a recent "Talking Points" memo titled "The Truth About 9/11 and the War in Iraq," large portions of the 567-page 9/11 commission report were used to explain the apparent connections between Iraq and Afghanistan (quoting, for instance, page 66, which specifically stated "Iraqi officials offered bin Laden a safe haven in Iraq"). Those on the left claim no connections have been found; those on the right claim WMDs actually have been found. O'Reilly will concede that intelligence assessments on Saddam's possession of WMDs were faulty, but the connections between bin Laden and Iraq are also made known to his audience--something that no other political pundits had been doing at the time.
Had it not been for The Factor, I would not be aware of the specific connections between bin Laden and Iraq. I would also not be aware of other pressing domestic issues, such as America's massive immigration problem. Other pundits and commentators will not touch these subjects; and that, of course, is what makes Bill O'Reilly so popular.
Bill's most vehement critics, including Al Franken and Michael Moore, prefer sarcasm and aspersion over intelligent, in-depth analysis, which is exactly what has made Bill O'Reilly famous. I began to appreciate O'Reilly's style of reporting back in 1999 when he covered the Kosovo crisis for more time and more thoroughly than other programs--at the cost of ratings. More recently, O'Reilly refused to report information on the Condit-Levy story he believed to be faulty, which cost him tremendously in terms of ratings when other news programs went ahead and ran the story. Even when Bill makes errors of his own, he will apologize and explain why his reporting was wrong. As a journalist, Bill O'Reilly has remarkable integrity. That's far more than I can say for some of his toughest critics.
As long as O'Reilly continues reporting the way that he has--with remarkably thorough reporting and notable journalistic integrity--I will continue to be a fan. Fan or not, though, O'Reilly is worth listening to for two reasons: He covers stories that other news programs do not, and the stories that are covered are researched and analyzed comprehensively--without spin. And for those reasons, news is better off with Bill O'Reilly.