Tag Archives: Bill O’Reilly

James Brown’s hair

One reason we started this blog so many years ago was to create a repository of examples of bad arguments. There were, we thought, so many. There are, we still think, so many.

Since then, we’ve expanded our focus to theoretical questions about argumentation. One such question is whether there are actually any fallacious arguments at all. Part of this question concerns the usefulness of a meta-language of argument evaluation. Argument has a tendency to eat everything around it, which means evaluations of arguments will be included in the argument itself. To use a sports analogy, penalties are not separate from the game, they’re part of the strategy of the game. The use of fallacies, then, is just another layer of argument strategy and practice.

That’s not the usual argument, I think, against employing a meta-language of fallacy evaluation. Often rather the discussion hinges one whether such moves can be precisely identified, or whether it’s practically useful to point them out. These, like the first, are both excellent considerations.

On the other hand, there’s a heuristic usefulness to a set of meta-terms for argument evaluation. For one, it’s nice to have an organized mind about these things.  Second, people tend to make the same moves over and over. Consider this one from Bill O’Reilly last week:


In case you can’t watch, a brief summary (courtesy of CNN):

During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” O’Reilly reacted to a clip of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) delivering a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives.

I didn’t hear a word she said,” O’Reilly said of Waters. “I was looking at the James Brown wig.”

“If we have a picture of James Brown — it’s the same wig,” he added.

The classical version of the ad hominem goes like this: some speaker is disqualified on grounds not relevant to their competence, accuracy, etc. This seems like a pretty textbook example.

This brings me to another reason people have for skepticism about the usefulness of fallacy theory: fallacies, such as the one above, are so rare that it’s just not useful to spend time theorizing about them.

I don’t think so.


Masters of war

This morning, I caught the tail end of an NPR interview with David Kilcullen who has written Out of the Mountains, a book about war.  One point he made struck me: some people make conflict their business.  These people are conflict entrepreneurs.  I know this is kind of obvious–the masters of war and all–but you do not hear much about it in descriptions of conflicts.  You will hear about the reasons group x has gone to war with group y, but you will not hear about, as parties to the conflict, people whose interests lies in the conflict itself.  These people are war trolls.  He says:

And to me that’s a great example. Right now we have what I would call a lot of conflict entrepreneurs. They’re prolonging conflicts not because they want to win some political goal or because they want to change the form of government of a particular area, but just because they make a lot of money, they get a lot of power from conflict and they want to preserve that conflict to keep going. So I think part of it is about shifting people away from being conflict entrepreneurs to being stakeholders in a peaceful environment.

This is another under-theorized (in my mind at least) connection between just war theory and argumentation.  Argumentation tends to take as its central focus the study of reasons–good ones, bad ones, etc, as they are oriented towards the objectives of argumentation (being correct, convincing, etc.).   So we watch Bill O’Reilly and we shake our heads at the poverty of good reasoning, thinking him and his ilk to be ignorant or dishonest.

Maybe, however, their objectives are not the objectives of anyone else: they’re not trying to be correct, to show someone else to be incorrect, maybe they’re not even trying to win an argument at all.  They’re just making sure that unresolvable argumentation continues indefinitely.  This is their job.

**UPDATE: links, other info added above.

Santa Baby

Photo of Santa

People are probably familiar with the controversy over the racial identity of Santa, Santa Claus, or St.Nick, or Saint Nicholas.  TL;DR: Megyn Kelly, Fox News personality, alleged that “Santa is white” and Jesus was white” are “historical facts.”  See here for discussion

According to some of the older kids at my school, there really isn’t a Santa, he’s just you’re parents.  This explains why a lot of very good kids don’t get any presents at Christmas.

This also explains why this assertion from Bill O’Reilly makes no sense (from TPM):

“In this case, Megyn Kelly is correct. Santa was a white person”

“was,” that’s funny, it’s almost as if O’Reilly thinks Santa no longer exists.

You’re hurting America

I missed the John Stewart-Bill O'Reilly debate.  But I did read Brett Lang's review of it in the Chicago Tribune.  The review of this debate is about as post-truth as the coverage of the Presidential debate.

Here is how Lang characterizes Stewart:

On "The Daily Show," Stewart's job is to skewer the media for not doing their own. He is best when looking at the hyper-partisan coverage that defines talking head program's like O'Reilly's and the political theater that both parties are guilty of deploying. But he is at his worst when he tries to be sincere. Case in point was his finger-wagging appearance on CNN's "Crossfire" a few moons ago during which he accused the rating-challenged show of ruining political discourse.

Argument for that?  That was a rather pivotal moment for "Crossfire."  And Stewart was right. 

Here's Lang's portrait of O'Reilly:

Over at "The O'Reilly Factor," the pugnacious Fox News host has a talent for boiling down the most complex geo-political issues into common sense stew, theatrically badgering those who deign to see the world in shades of gray. It may be intellectually dishonest, but it makes for good television.

That was Stewart's point about "Crossfire."  Jeez.  The President of CNN even cited that event as a reason the show was canceled (and Tucker Carlson fired).

This review gets worse when Lang addresses the substance:

The biggest problem was that both O'Reilly and Stewart seemed like two people who read The New York Times over breakfast and maybe TiVo "Meet the Press," yet believe that makes them well-informed enough to give policy prescriptions on the myriad issues facing the country, from failing schools to the Muslim Brotherhood. That said, it's not like the answers offered up by Barack Obama or Mitt Romney last week were any more substantive or any less pandering. The major saving grace was that at least the Stewart-O'Reilly rumble wasn't moderated by Jim Lehrer.

O'Reilly is a political pundit, who gives policy prescriptions all of the time.  Stewart's point is that he is an intellectually dishonest, uniformed blowhard.  I think he's made that point.

Sadly, Lang doesn't realize that. After all, for him it's about television:

So in the end how did it stack up? I'd say it was slightly funnier than Stewart's never-ending "Rally to Restore Sanity," and a smidge more intelligent than O'Reilly's "Killing Lincoln."

Sadly, it was nowhere near as good as either of their shows.

They don't have the same type of show, you know.



Coffee achievers

By all accounts, whereby I mean, his own, Bill O'Reilly has achieved a lot.  But all of that now is in danger.  Behold:

O'REILLY: Here's the unintended consequence of Mr. Obama's revenue enhancing plan, and I must tell you, I want the feds to get more revenue. I don't want to starve them, as some people do. We need a robust military, a good transportation system and protections all over the place. But if you tax achievement, some of the achievers are going to pack it in.

For the uninitiated, he's threatening to "go Galt," which means he'll take his ball and go home.  We won't have the benefit of his genius anymore.

Post torture, ergo propter torture

Bill O'Reilly is happy Osama Bin Laden is dead.  Apparently, because there are political points to score.  OBL's assassination vindicates the use of torture, and that's cause to do a Bill O'Reilly in-your-face move. Like this:

[T]he big story to emerge from the action is that coerced interrogation gave the CIA vital information used to track bin Laden to his lair. . . .  Of course, that exposition is embarrassing to the left, including President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton, who are all on record as saying coerced interrogation does not work. Apparently, they were wrong in a big way.

Ah, so coerced information.  Yes, the result of enhanced interrogation.  Erm, torture.  OK, just so we're clear.  Yes, so, in your face, liberals and lefty-pansies!  And how do we know this?  Well, the story is clear:

The record shows that just three men were waterboarded: Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Rahim al-Nashiri, all al-Qaida big shots. Under duress, KSM gave up vital information that crippled his terror group and ultimately led U.S. authorities to watch bin Laden's top Pakistani courier. Eventually, that man led the CIA to the compound outside Islamabad.

Well, not so clear.  We captured KSM back in 2003, and he got about 183 sessions with waterboarding.  And then seven years later, we got OBL.  Case closed, right?   Well, no. If waterboarding works the miracles it supposedly does, then why did it take seven more years until we had the actionable intelligence to move on OBL?  If waterboarding works, then shouldn't we have caught him, like, earlier?  And, as I understand it (see the article here in Slate), KSM actually denied knowing the person known as OBL's courier.  That's, like, not what I'd expect as the slam-dunk case for enhancing interrogation.  'Cause aren't the tortured people supposed to say things that are true, instead of false?  That is, if torture works the way torture's supposed to work.  By 2005, remember, folks were saying the OBL trail had "grown cold".

Yeah, so here's another hypothesis.  We eventually stopped the simulated drownings of these folks and returned to the standard forms for interrogation — building trust, going over stories, treating prisoners with dignity.  And once that started working, then we started getting better intelligence.  There was an improvement in surveillance, and with info from Hassan Ghul (who was never waterboarded), OBL got tracked down.  Who knows… maybe the torture delayed the information coming out instead of hastened it.

But still, the far left won't budge. No matter what the facts are about the effectiveness of coerced interrogation, they will deny them. Infuriating.

Yep, it's infuriating, all right.  Infuriating.

Did it for the lulz*

For whatever reason, honestly and firmly believing what you argue seems to be a fundamental requirement in a critical discussion.  On account of this, a key challenge to an opponent is that not even she really believe what she's saying.  It's a kind of (non-fallacious) ad hominem scheme: "you don't believe what you're saying, so I'm not going to waste time with you."  Basically, it's an accusation of trolling.  Enter O'Reilly and Trump (via the Huffington Post–sorry, boycotting New York Times' pay wall):

O'Reilly said his show had looked into the claims about Obama's birth certificate. Once they found the two Honolulu newspapers which announced his birth, he said he "put [the issue] to bed," since "that is impossible to make happen" if Obama was not born in a Honolulu hospital. O'Reilly labeled Obama's mother a "hippie," and scoffed at the notion that there was a "sophisticated conspiracy" to smuggle Obama into the U.S. and forge his identity.

"What is he, baby Jesus?" he joked. Trump said that he remained convinced that there was something fishy going on. "People have birth certificates," he said. "He doesn't have one." He then repeated the speculation that had so angered Whoopi Goldberg—that something on the birth certificate must be so radioactive that Obama is covering it up. "Maybe it says he's a Muslim, I don't know," Trump said. "…If he wasn't born in this country, it's one of the great scams of this time."

O'Reilly finally said he didn't believe that Trump was serious in his skepticism. "It's provocative, I think it gets a lot of attention, but I don't think you believe it," he said.

This is an obviously legitimate employment of it–good for you Bill O'Reilly–but I wonder what you'd call the illegitimate use–should we just call it "trolling."  How might we identify it?  What might be the scheme?


UPDATE.  Can't believe I forgot the recent revelation from a Fox News personality that he advocated for an idea he found "privately" to be "far-fetched".  I guess he did it for the lulz. 

What about quests?

So Bill O'Reilly, cable TV blowhard hardly worth commenting on, has advanced the argumentum ad aestum (ex aesto?  ab aesto?–ideas anyone), or the argument from the tides, for the existence of God.  The thought goes something like this:

O'REILLY: I'll tell you why [religion's] not a scam, in my opinion: tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that.

SILVERMAN: Tide goes in, tide goes out?

O'REILLY: See, the water, the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can't explain that.

You can explain it–moon, gravity, etc. (from the same link as above):

Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth.

Most places in the ocean usually experience two high tides and two low tides each day (semidiurnal tide), but some locations experience only one high and one low tide each day (diurnal tide). The times and amplitude of the tides at the coast are influenced by the alignment of the Sun and Moon, by the pattern of tides in the deep ocean (see figure 4) and by the shape of the coastline and near-shore bathymetry.

O'Reilly remains unconvinced.  He replies:

Okay, how did the Moon get there? How'd the Moon get there? Look, you pinheads who attacked me for this, you guys are just desperate. How'd the Moon get there? How'd the Sun get there? How'd it get there? Can you explain that to me? How come we have that and Mars doesn't have it? Venus doesn't have it. How come? Why not? How'd it get here?

Now now Bill, there's no reason to throw around the insults.  There's a perfectly adequate explanation for all of this.  Besides, the original argument had to do with the regular behavior of the tides (a sign, I'd say, of an obsessive-compulsive deity), not with the existence of objects. 

In all seriousness, O'Reilly displays an unfortunate characteristic of the cable TV blowhard (print pundit, etc.)–the near constant attempt to make the closing argument.  It's not just that his objectors are wrong (they're not); it's that the argument with them (pinheads) is over; they're "desparate," they have nothing to contribute.  A mind such as O'Reilly's, however, will never use the closer alone, he'll use it in conjunction with some variety of straw man or other fallacy.  Here I think he's changed the subject, and then accused the objector with not having an answer to his new argument (in their old argument).  I suppose this is a representational straw man, as that wasn't the point in the first place of the objector's argument. 

*For the title: watch this, the greatest review of any kind anywhere.

Daily Show on Nutpicking

Watch at this link for a fun back-and-forth between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly on the argumentum ad Hitlerum. 

TL;DR for O'Reilly, his Nazi invocation (about "the left") is just fine because his assistants found an anonymous commenter at a blog who called Nancy Reagan evil and wished that she die soon (of natural causes).  What that has to do with the Nazis is beyond me. 

That, of course, is some classic nut picking, or as the experts call it, weak manning.  What makes it especially fallacious (if that is possible) is that it's deployed in an ideologically monochrome (should I drop this phrase? Should I not comment on my sentence during my sentence?) context in order to disqualify an opposing arguer on account of the very bad arguments they make.  This last part being critical to the nutpicker.