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Fox’s O’Reilly, New Yorker’s Hertzberg Face Off in Gayola Smackdown

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Dec 8, 2008
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Distortion and taking commentary out of context is part and parcel of the infotainment industry, and talk news relies on an especially noxious brand of the practice. Even so, Fox News schlockmeister Bill O’Reilly’s recent ambushing of Hendrick Hertzberg, a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two-time editor of The New Republic, and contributor to The New Yorker magazine, set a new standard well below the previous low-water mark.

In the Dec. 1 issue of The New Yorker Magazine, Hertzberg recounted an appearance by Newt Gingrich on O’Reily’s show in which O’Reilly and Gingrich were discussing the reaction of the GLBT community to the Nov. 4 approval of Proposition 8 by California voters.

Proposition 8 is the anti-gay amendment to the state constitution that revokes what had been the existing right for gay and lesbian families to enter into marriage.

In the wake of Proposition 8, demonstrations took place in 300 cities to protest the revocation of a minority’s rights though majority vote.

Almost all of those demonstrations were peaceful and proceeded without incident.

However, O’Reilly and Gingrich did not address that fact. Instead, they chose to focus on a few isolated incidents that may have been propelled in part by Proposition 8’s passage, but were not specifically protests against the anti-family equality amendment.

O’Reilly made mention of gay anarchists invading a church service at Mt. Hope Church in Eaton Country, Michigan, on Nov. 9.

As reported at EDGE, the action was undertaken by a group calling itself Bash Back and promoting anarchism. Bash Back deployed a contingent of neatly dressed activists with Bibles into the church while a second party remained outside. At a predetermined time, those inside the church rose up and began to spread leaflets, shout their message at parishioners, and, it was reported, attempted to hang a banner from the ceiling.

Outside, meantime, demonstrators with signs began to picket the church.

Proposition 8 was not specifically mentioned: the group’s literature declared, "We specialize in confronting homophobia, transphobia and every and all other forms of oppression.

"We strive for the liberation of all people."

Reportedly, the group’s Web site also included the message, "The church works to institutionalize transphobia and homophobia through several repulsive projects including organized ’ex-gay’ conferences and so-called ’hell houses,’ which depict queers, trannies and womyn who seek abortions as the horrors.

"Mt. Hope is complicit in the repression of queers in Michigan and beyond."

Again, Proposition 8 was not cited as a specific reason for the group’s action. Right-wing online media outlets immediately made that assumption, and branded the group "fascists" and "liberals," despite anarchism’s general philosophical opposition to fascism.

O’Reilly also referred to a Nov. 7 incident at a candle light vigil in Palm Springs, where an elderly woman named Phyllis Burgess waded into the thick of a crowd that had gathered to peacefully, and quietly, protest the revocation of marriage rights in California.

Burgess carried a Styrofoam cross, similar to the one she had carried when she protested at a Gay Pride event five days previously.

When several members of the crowd grew angry at Burgess’ invasion, they snatched the cross from her and stomped on it.

What O’Reilly did not mention was that, according to witnesses, Burgess was pushing her way through the middle of the crowd in an attempt to get the attention of a news film crew--the same film crew that had videotaped her at the Pride event less than a week before.

O’Reilly also neglected to mention that the vigil’s organizers called out for peace and calm from the crowd. Nor did O’Reilly mention that Burgess received an apology later on from one of the men who had taken the cross from her.

O’Reilly also mentioned that Christian demonstrators had been beset by an angry gay mob in San Francisco, but he failed to address the particulars of the situation.

The group in question had taken up position on a street corner in San Francisco’s predominantly gay Castro district on Nov. 9, where they encouraged passers-by to "give up" homosexuality and "convert" to heterosexuality. The group claimed to have paid similar visits to the Castro on many previous occasions, but this night their incursion took place only days after marriage equality had been rescinded by voters.

When the group attracted angry attention, they refused to leave; as a crowd grew around them, they still refused to leave the Castro, and even when police arrived and urged them to leave, the group expressed a desire to stay put. Finally, the police escorted the group out of the Castro. An account of the ugly situation purportedly written by one of the Christian demonstrators later on claimed that the group of gay men had begun attempting to sexually assault at least one of the Christian demonstrators, though witnesses contradicted these claims.

Moreover, neighborhood said that the religious protesters were not subjected to any violence.

The article quoted Joe Schmitz, who said, "Their rights were respected."

Added Schmitz, "They got a chance to go ahead and pray on the sidewalk and I had the opportunity to express my freedom of speech which is telling them to get out of my neighborhood."

Asked by O’Reilly about these incidents--two out of three of which had not taken place at any of the 300 demonstrations that were organized in response to Proposition 8’s passing--Gingrich declared, "Look, I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants impose its will on the rest of us. It is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government, if it can get control of it."

Added Gingrich, "I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion. And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact, and frankly for that matter if you believe in the historic version of Islam or the historic version of Judaism, you have to confront the reality that the secular extremists are determined to impose on you acceptance of a series of values that are antithetical, they’re the opposite of what you’re taught in Sunday school.

In his Dec. 1 article in The New Yorker, Hertzberg quoted Gingrich’s remarks at the end of an article examining the passage of Proposition 8.

Hertzberg then ended his article with the observation that, "This sort of sludge may or may not prove to be of some slight utility in the 2012 Republican primaries, but it is, increasingly, history."

O’Reilly promptly denounced Hertzberg’s article in the air, saying on his show that, "Next to the New York Times, The New Yorker magazine is perhaps the most politically correct publication in the mainstream media.

"And one of their columnists, Hendrik Hertzberg, is a flat-out deceiver."

The following day,O’Reilly (or his producer) dispatched two young men with a camera and a microphone to waylay Hertzberg as he emerged from his home and headed off to work early in the morning.

In the video, which can be seen at the Web site Gawker, O’Reilly introduces the segment with a smile; Hertzberg is clearly bewildered as to who these young men might be. In a Dec. 5 posting at The New Yorker Online, Hertzberg describes the encounter from his own point of view, writing, "My first inkling of my week as a Bill O’Reilly guest star came on Tuesday morning, December 2nd, as I was leaving home to go to work. I hadn’t had my coffee yet. I hadn’t even checked my e-mail. I was not at my most intellectually acute."

Hertzberg then recalls that, "Two youngish guys dressed in slacker clothes-one with a microphone, the other with a camera-accosted me on the sidewalk in front of my apartment building.

"The guy with the microphone stuck it in my face and started badgering me with questions about why I had called Newt Gingrich a bigot."

Recounts Hertzberg, "The guy didn’t say who he was or whom he represented, and his mike didn’t have one of those identifying doohickeys on it, so it took me a minute or two to figure out what was going on.

"It helped when he mentioned O’Reilly--that conjured up a vague memory of seeing something similar on ’The O’Reilly Factor.’ (Maybe when the ’ambushee’ was Bill Moyers?)"

Writing about O’Reilly’s on-air condemnation of himself the night before, Hertzberg quotes O’Reilly as saying, "What Hertzberg did not tell New Yorker readers is that that conversation with Speaker Gingrich was about gay violence against a Christian missionary in San Francisco. It had nothing to do with the gay marriage vote, only militant reaction to it."

Added O’Reilly, "Hertzberg does this kind of dishonest stuff all the time, because he knows many of his readers never watch ’The Factor’ and Gingrich and I are easy targets for his distortions.

"Hertzberg owes Newt Gingrich a written apology for taking his remarks completely out of context. And The New Yorker magazine should be ashamed to publish a dishonest guy like this."

For some, this sort of thing coming from Bill O’Reilly might be taken as the pot hurling invectives at the kettle. However, Hendrick went on to recount that O’Reilly producer Ron Mitchell then sent an email to New Yorker editor David Remnick, saying, "Mr. Hertzberg, who recounts a recent installment of The O’Reilly Factor, has accused former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of being an anti-gay ’bigot’ while ignoring the context of the conversation between Speaker Gingrich and Mr. O’Reilly.

"It seems unlikely that Mr. Hertzberg actually saw the show, but relied upon 2nd hand accounts of that conversation."

Added Mitchell’s letter, "I have included a timeline and transcript of what happened. It is clear that Speaker Gingrich is referring to several well-publicized accounts of gay marriage proponents engaged in activities such as storming a church in Michigan and assaulting a Christian group in San Francisco. He is not referring to an entire group of people."

For viewers hearing Gingrich’s comments, this may not have been entirely evident, but Mr. Mitchell did not offer to provide an on-air clarification. He did, however, demand an apology.

Wrote Mitchell, "We believe that Mr. Hertzberg owes Speaker Gingrich an apology and are asking for a statement from you on this matter."

Added Mitchell, "I am sure that you will agree that a serious allegation like this deserves your immediate attention."

A reading of the article in question does not reveal Hertzberg calling Gingrich, as Mitchell’s note claims, "a bigot," but it does make the assertion that, "Like a polluted swamp, anti-gay bigotry is likely to get thicker and more toxic as it dries up. Viciousness meets viscousness."

Hertzberg addresses that point in the Dec. 5 posting, noting, "For what it’s worth, in my original piece for the magazine, I didn’t accuse Gingrich of being a bigot, let alone a ’vicious bigot,’ as the guy with the mike put it.

"I think it’s fairly clear that what I did accuse him of was playing to bigotry."

Indeed, in that, Hertzberg joined several other media pundits who expressed distaste at Gingrich’s proclamation concerning gay fascists.

According to Herzberg’s online posting, New Yorker editor David Remnick’s responded to Bill O’Reilly producer Ron Mitchell by writing, "I’ve read your note carefully, and more than once, and, of course, have read Hendrik Hertzberg’s piece again.

"It’s simple: I stand behind, and with, Mr. Hertzberg; that is, as the editor of the magazine, I have no problem with the piece he wrote."

Noted Hertzberg in his posting, "The thuggery O’Reilly mentions was contemptible, but the rest of it was just normal democratic protest. (O’Reilly himself frequently asks his viewers to boycott businesses that offend him, such as department stores whose employees wish customers ’Happy Holidays’ instead of ’Merry Christmas.’)

"None of it comes anywhere near ’fascism,’ let alone some sort of fascist ’movement’ that could plausibly threaten to take over the government."

Added Hertzberg, "I don’t think it was at all unreasonable for me to infer that the targets of Mr. Gingrich’s ’fascism’ remarks were the mainstream gay-rights movement in general and the opponents of Proposition 8 in particular."

Hertzberg also addressed a claim that O’Reilly had made about Hertzberg having been invited to appear on O’Reilly’s program to explain himself. This, said Hertzberg, was "simply a lie."

Wrote Hertzberg, "Neither [O’Reilly] nor any of his staff asked me to appear on his program, either directly or through anyone else at The New Yorker.

"I’m puzzled that O’Reilly said otherwise, since he has to know that we know he was lying."

Continued Hertzberg, "I guess he just doesn’t care. He’s got his base."

In a later update to the posting, Herzberg appended an epilogue to the little tempest. Mitchell wrote once again to Remnick, saying, "I just still want to make sure that you are comfortable with the whole situation.

"If you think that you have not been treated fairly, please let me know, and we can do something with you on the air."

Responded Remnick, "Thanks for your courteous note."

Noted Remnick, "It’s an interesting contrast in tone with the fantastical on-air description of Rick as a left-wing zealot, the nonsense that he had refused a real interview before sending a crew to his apartment building, and the sneering descriptions of Rick, me, and the magazine from Mr O’Reilly on air. Quite a performance.

"So while I appreciate your note, you’ll forgive me if I pass in wanting to engage this any more."

Added Remnick, "What I said at the start stands: I thought Rick’s piece, considering Newt Gingrich’s language, was, as you might put it, fair and balanced."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments

  • Rico, 2008-12-08 21:28:46

    Does anybody at EDGE ever actually edit this clown, Melloy, for content, bias and tedious long drivel-ridden postings? My god, this queen goes on and on and on and on with the same shit over and over and over.


  • Kyle, 2008-12-09 07:47:16

    Wow... where did THAT come from?


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