Bill O’Reilly’s deteriorating mental state has been on display for many months, even years. From the recently uncovered “We’ll do it live“ meltdown, to the unhinged “Don’t block the shot“ hysterics, O’Reilly has demonstrated the makings of an unprecedentedly public psychological collapse.
One of the core symptoms of the sort of delusional paranoia that O’Reilly exhibits is a personality so disordered that it sees enemies around every corner (see The O’Reilly Fear Factor: Collected Verses). The latest target of O’Reilly’s dementia is the A.C. Nielsen Company who is responsible for the television ratings used by networks, producers and advertisers. People often forget that the Nielsen ratings are a marketing tool because many try to use them as an indicator of popularity. In the business, however, it is well known that the numbers are routinely massaged to produce positive results for whomever is reporting them. But O’Reilly is stretching interpretation to the breaking point.
In his latest screed he is outraged by reports in the New York Times that address his program and its ratings. He begins by boasting that his ratings put him in front of every competitor. He notes that his program is number one in total audience and grew in the 25-54 year old demographic by 90%. However, after basking in the glow of Nielsen’s data, O’Reilly turns around and castigates them as having “major problems…that have benefited MSNBC” and asserts that…
“The bottom line on this is there may be some big-time cheating going on in the ratings system, and we hope the feds will investigate. Any fraud in the television rating system affects all Americans.”
What O’Reilly fails to grasp is that Nielsen is a private market research company that nobody is compelled to patronize. If O’Reilly and/or Fox News don’t trust the results, they can decline to renew their contract. But to suggest that the Feds investigate them is just plain crazy. O’Reilly is attempting to elevate Nielsen to some kind of public institution that is subject to scrutiny from government overseers. It’s not. If O’Reilly had any evidence of wrongdoing, he could easily release it and Nielsen would be forced to respond. That’s how the free market, so revered by rightist ideologues like O’Reilly, actually operates.
Obviously O’Reilly has no such evidence. And he is exploring the boundaries of absurdity by proudly citing the Nielsen ratings as his source for how successful he is, then slandering them for cheating to make him look bad. If he wants us to be suspicious of Nielsen data, than shouldn’t we also question the data that shows him ahead?
As for his interpretation, O’Reilly is eager to complain that reporters from the New York Times leave out pertinent facts when profiling his performance. But so does he. His claim that he increased his 25-54 demo 90% needs to be put in context by noting that Keith Olbermann’s Countdown increased the same demo by over 300%. O’Reilly also likes to use the total audience numbers because they favor him. What he doesn’t say is that nobody in the business cares about them. Advertisers are focused on younger demos. In that area, O’Reilly lags severely. Only 22% of primetime Fox News viewers were in the 25-54 demo, compared to 31% for CNN and 38% for MSNBC. And Fox News is consistently the slowest growing of all the cable news networks.
O’Reilly’s attack on the Times has escalated into what he calls a war, and O’Reilly is fighting dirty. In a Herculean feat of irrelevance, he suggests that the Times’ performance on Wall Street is an affirmation of his position:
“The Times is suffering for its deceptive reporting. Its stock price is down 54 percent.”
Once again it is what O’Reilly leaves out that is most significant. First of all, he fails to note that the entire stock market has been brutalized by a sell-off of historic proportions. More to the point, the stock price of Fox News’ parent company, News Corp., is presently down 63% from it’s 52 week high. So by O’Reilly’s logic, Fox is 9% more deceptive than the Times.
I recognize that I’m being generous using the word “logic” in connection to anything O’Reilly does or says. But what’s notable about his latest “Reality Check” is how much farther it extends into the surreal than even he has ventured before. He has truly lost touch and now wanders a barren mental landscape in a vain search for sanity and safety from the demons he imagines are pursuing him.