Dear Bill O’Reilly:
Let’s talk insults.
Me, I like a good put-down as much as the next pundit. Judiciously employed, it can be an effective rhetorical tool, the equivalent of a slam dunk over the defense. You don’t just score, but you also demoralize and embarrass the other team.
Similarly, to drop an insult into a political debate tells us you regard the opponent as so utterly hapless she doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. It tells us you consider her arguments so stupid they aren’t even worth refuting
You, of course, are a past master of this. Has there ever been an episode of your Fox “News” program where you did not call someone a “pinhead,” or a “far-left loon”?
Last week, you attacked Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. In an appearance on Fox’s morning show, you responded as follows to a clip of her criticizing supporters of Donald Trump: “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.”
Waters, a fierce woman I call “Mad Max,” certainly doesn’t need me to defend her — or her coiffure. But I can’t help noting that you seem particularly quick to insult when discussing African-Americans.
Remember last year, when you told Trump black people can’t find work because “many of them are ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads”? It was a slander calculated to make nearly 40 million people seem unworthy, not simply of employment, but even of respect.
I’m tempted to respond in kind. There’s surely no shortage of ammunition.
I could call you a lousy excuse for a reporter who wouldn’t know a fact if it bit him on the butt after a career filled with spectacular errors, including that book of yours that places Abraham Lincoln in the Oval Office — which didn’t exist until 44 years after Lincoln died. (But hey, we all make mistakes.)
I could call you a blustering bully with all the self-control of a guest on “Jerry Springer” after that notorious video of you cursing and berating your crew on the set of “Inside Edition.” (But the little people need to be put in their places from time to time, don’t they?)
I could call you a serial fabulist with delusions of adequacy for all the times you claimed to have been places and experienced things — the murder of nuns in El Salvador, the suicide of a friend of Lee Harvey Oswald — where you were not and that you did not. (But seeing it in a picture is just like being there, right?)
I could call you a paranoiac jackass for that 2007 segment on nonexistent lesbian gangs packing pink pistols, terrorizing straight guys and raping young girls. (But who among us hasn’t wanted to cross the street when we see that Ellen DeGeneres coming?)
Point is, I could insult you, Bill, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll offer some unsolicited advice.
Insults have their place in your rhetorical toolbox. I try to use them sparingly myself — though I admit the frequency has risen precipitously since Trump came to political prominence. But even at that, it can’t be all insults all the time.
Name-calling is, after all, no substitute for reasoning. If mockery is the sum total of your argument, your credibility cannot help but suffer. An observer might even conclude that you insult because you cannot persuade.
There are other tools in that toolbox, Bill: logic, analogy, humor, pathos, irony. Surely you can learn to use some of them to make your case. Heck, you’re Bill-by-God-O’Reilly, one of the most revered figures in the pantheon of American journalism!
I know how it is, though, when you fall in love with a given rhetorical tool. It’s hard to wean yourself from it. You have a weakness for insults.
Me, I feel the same about sarcasm.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for The Miami Herald.