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What About The Wisdom? The View & Bill O'Reilly

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I don't know if I have the stomach to be able to stand writing about either The View or Bill O'Reilly individually, so I actually welcome the opportunity to deal with them both in one posting. It's kind of a two-birds-with-one-stone situation.

Fortunately, The View doesn't require much attention. As many people know by by now (because it passes as news), both Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the stage in the middle of an interview with Bill O'Reilly, the tone of which they apparently found too offensive to handle. The discussion, about the possible building of an Islamic center near the former site of the World Trade Center, is certainly a sensitive topic. One that can stir strong emotions. But bailing out on a guest on your own television program is such a bush league move that it's hard for me to believe the show airs on an actual nationwide TV network and is not part of some local cable access programming obligation. When you invite Bill O'Reilly on your show, do you not know what you're going to get?

I'd like to imagine the bit was in fact some kind of publicity maneuver, but I can't give the show that much credit. These women just let their emotions get the best of them. You or I might have done the same, but we're not professional interviewers who get paid handsomely to control what goes out over the airwaves on our watch.

Not cool, but not that surprising either. Barbara Walters has always worked hard at erasing the already blurred line between news and entertainment, and this supposed issues-oriented show (with nearly a half-dozen hosts, most of whom talk at the same time) makes CNN's old Crossfire show look like coverage of the British Parliament.

Mr. O'Reilly's behavior, on the other hand, demands closer inspection. He played by the rules; he showed up, said some controvertial things, and was completely ready to engage in head-to-head (-to-head, etc.) debate with the hosts. He takes himself seriously as a political analyst, so I don't quite understand why he'd feel the need to be a guest on The View in the first place; surely he gets enough exposure as it is, and in the right arenas. But there he was, and what he said, just before more than a quarter of the hosts exited in protest, was that while he agrees it is unconstitutional to prevent the building of a Muslim-oriented complex near Ground Zero, he questions the "wisdom" of allowing it. Naturally, this comment was merely a jumping-off point that led to blaming President Obama's low approval ratings on the fact that Obama offered no opinion on the wisdom of this right. It bothers people, according to O'Reilly, that the president won't say it's a bad idea even despite the fact that the Constitution allows it. He claims that 70% of Americans don't want the Mosque built, and as a result, Obama's refusal to give his opinion on whether or not he fell into that group irritated people.

Is the picture clear? O'Reilly feels voters are turned off by a president who doesn't opine on the wrongheadedness of certain Constitutional rights.

Now, Goldberg tried to get in the fact that Muslims died in the terrorist attacks. But it was poorly focused and off point. Had she and Behar prodded this issue like professional interviewers we have an expectation to see on network television, they might have come up with something like: The Second Amendment gives people the right to carry guns, Mr. O'Reilly, and any time anyone brings up the wisdom of reexamining in a musket-era right semiautomatic world, the right screams about how the Constitution can never, ever be second-guessed.

One can imagine how someone like satirist Harry Shearer might've handled the opportunity. Every week on his NPR radio program Le Show, he throws away cutting lines that could be mined deeply and seriously for his entire broadcast hour. In a quick mocking of the controversy over the Ground Zero Mosque a few weeks back, Shearer suggested that surely no Christian groups have been allowed to build anything near the Federal Building site in Oklahoma City, since Timothy McViegh is a Christian. Funny stuff, but why? Because it's patently absurd and indefensible.

Yet O'Reilly's not joking. How would he answer this question about a Christian terrorist? Goldberg and Behar were too busy feeling affronted to delve into an area like that. Instead, they moaned and scowled and let O'Reilly say "Muslims killed us on 9/11" a couple times so they could storm off.

O'Reilly may have been wrong on the politics, but he was on-point about television appearances, which is more than I can say for the women of The View.