Andrew Bacevich on Carl Becker, Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, and the Writing of History


Carl Becker

Historian and foreign policy scholar Andrew Bacevich brings these three figures together in a provocative essay about how we write history.  Here is just a small taste:

Contrast the influence wielded by prominent historians in Becker’s day—during the first third of the 20th century, they included, along with Becker, such formidables as Henry Adams, Charles and Mary Beard, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and Frederick Jackson Turner—with the role played by historians today. The issue here is not erudition, which today’s scholars possess in abundance, but impact. On that score, the disparity between then and now is immense.

In effect, professional historians have ceded the field to a new group of bards and minstrels. So the bestselling “historian” in the United States today is Bill O’Reilly, whose books routinely sell more than a million copies each. Were Donald Trump given to reading books, he would likely find O’Reilly’s both accessible and agreeable. But O’Reilly is in the entertainment business. He has neither any interest nor the genuine ability to create what Becker called “history that does work in the world.”

Still, history itself works in mysterious ways known only to God or to Providence. Only after the fact do its purposes become evident. It may yet surprise us.

Read the entire piece at The Nation.

Bill O’Reilly on Writing About the American Revolution From “Top to Bottom”

Killing EnglandThis is the title of Bill O’Reilly’s next book.  The official title is Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence.  It will be released on September 19, 2017.

In a recent interview, O’Reilly explained why he has decided to write about the American Revolution.  His words will leave all historians of the American Revolution rolling their eyes.

The book will be co-written by O’Reilly’s longtime collaborator, Martin Dugard. The six previous Killing books, which include Killing Lincoln, Killing Reagan and Killing Kennedy, have consistently sold more than 1 million copies each in hardcover, a rare achievement in publishing for nonfiction. O’Reilly said he chose the American Revolution because he had never read a book that explained it “top to bottom” and was also anxious to show the personal sides of George Washington and other leaders.

Unbelievable.  This speaks volumes.  I will leave it at that for now.

Thanks to Michael Hattem for bringing this interview to my attention.

Evangelicals Defending Bill O’Reilly


Katelyn Beaty, an editor at large for Christianity Today and the author of A Women’s Place, wonders why evangelicals (mostly men) who are defending Bill O’Reilly do not seem to show much empathy for the women he harassed.  She is particularly hard on Christian radio host Eric Metaxas.

I have noticed the same thing with Metaxas and others.  Their default position is to defend O’Reilly and not the victims.

Here is a taste of Beaty’s piece at The New York Times:

Eric Metaxas, a best-selling Christian author, tweeted after the firing that Mr. O’Reilly’s ouster was “tremendously sad” and that his show had been a “blessing to millions.” When people responding to his tweet noted that he was silent on the harassment itself, he wrote “Jesus loves Bill O’Reilly” and told his followers to pray for their enemies…

Within the ranks of conservative church leadership, this default empathy for powerful men is coupled with tone deafness for victims. But the phenomenon is also a misapplication of the Christian teaching on forgiveness. Mr. Metaxas wrote a biography of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so he is surely familiar with his teaching on cheap grace — “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.” Cheap grace wrongly separates absolution of sin from acknowledgment of that sin. In Christian teaching, God forgives people before they confess wrongdoing. But among individuals, groups and nations, there can be no forgiveness when wrongdoing isn’t named…

If conservative Christians want to protect the faith — especially in a time when they fear loss of cultural power — they must show preferential care not for the powerful but for victims. They must be just as quick to extend empathy to women who have been harassed as they are to extend forgiveness to harassers.

This is the hard work that epitomizes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s conception of “costly grace.” An application of costly grace would mean showing perpetrators that their actions have real consequences. It would also ensure that victims are heard and given tools for healing long before there is any talk of restoring their abusers.

Read the entire piece here.


Old School

oldschool_large_395x600As I write this Bill O’Reilly’s recent book Old School: Life in the Sane Lane is ranked number 19 in sales at Amazon. That is pretty good.  I imagine O’Reilly’s firing from Fox might be energizing some of his so-called “base.”  It would be interesting to have some data on the overlap between fans who still stand behind O’Reilly after the sexual harassment allegations and those who voted, and continue to support, Donald Trump.

When I learned O’Reilly was in trouble I decided to learn a little bit more about Old School.  I read the free excerpt available on Amazon. In chapter 1, O’Reilly writes:

I will concede that America will never go back to the Old School curriculum that many Baby Boomers experienced.  Not gonna happen with so many lawyers running wild.

Here’s what I am talking about.

If I’d worn a bicycle helmet when I was a kid, I would have been mocked beyond belief, and the helmet would immediately have been taken off my head and placed somewhere far away.  Maybe Rhode Island.

If my mom had defended me after a kid-on-kid altercation, I could never have left the house again.

If my dad had yelled at the Little League coach, air might have left the tires of our family car.

If I’d borrowed money from another kid to buy a Three Musketeers and didn’t pay it back, no one would have played with me.

If a kid kicked someone in a fight, he was blacklisted.  Only fists, and no hitting when someone was down.

If a girl cursed, silence ensued.  For a long time.  And boys never bothered girls because of the “Brother and His Large Friends” rule

I definitely “get” the world of O’Reilly’s Long Island childhood. I can relate to some of it. It was similar to how I grew up as a working-class kid in northern New Jersey.  We can debate whether or not there was anything good or virtuous about this world, but that would require a few more posts.  Whatever the case, this world shaped people like me and O’Reilly.

At the end of chapter one of Old School O”Reilly writes: “It is not Old School to live in the past, but remembering how things were as opposed to how things are now is a required course. So let’s get started.”  This seems disingenuous.  I’ve watched some of O”Reilly’s television show and know that for all his talk about not living in the past he actually does believe that the world of his childhood was better than today’s world. He wants to reclaim it.

And perhaps there are some things to reclaim from this past.  But the former history teacher and writer of several books about “killing” historical figures fails to recognize that times change.

We know that bicycle helmets save lives.

It is a good thing for parents to step-in when bullying occurs.

Parents still yell at Little League games, but the kind of local justice and thuggery that might lead one to let the air out of the tires of a disgruntled Little League parent”s car makes for an unhealthy neighborhood.

And apparently the “girls” O’Reilly harassed at Fox didn’t have big brothers or “large friends.” Hey, maybe the “Brother and His Large Friends” rule is a good one.  If this rule was still in operation today O”Reilly would not only be out a job, but he might also have a bloodied nose and few broken bones. 🙂

O’Reilly is learning his lesson in change over time the hard way.  But I am guessing he’ll be back.  The audience for this kind of Baby Boomers nostalgia is huge.

Does Sexual Indiscretion Matter Any More?


john Edwards

Earlier today I was reading a Newsweek article titled “America’s Disgraced Politicians: Where Are They Now?”  Several of these disgraced politicians were forced to leave office or surrender influence in society because of sex scandals of one variety or another.

Idaho congressman Larry Craig solicited sex in a men’s restroom. John Edwards had an affair and a baby with a campaign staffer.  Congressman Mark Foley sent sexually-explicit photos to teenage boys.  Dennis Hastert paid millions of dollars in hush money to a boy he sexually abused.  Congressman Eric Massa sexually harassed members of his staff.  New York Governor David Paterson had a long history of extramarital affairs.   His predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, made regular visits to high-priced prostitutes.  Congressman Anthony Weiner sent inappropriate selfies to a woman who was not his wife.

And I am sure we can add more to this list.

As I noted above, the careers of these men suffered as a result of their sexual indiscretions.  For many of them, their careers in the public eye came to an end.  They suffered the consequences of their actions.

But that was then.

Today we have a president who has had multiple affairs, brags about his sexual prowess, and dismisses sexual harassment charges from his past as politically motivated.

And then there is Bill O’Reilly.  Though he is not a politician, his case is still worth noting.

It was recently discovered that five women have accused the Fox News personality of sexual harassment.   Yet his recent book, Old School: Life in the Sane Lane, is a best-seller, currently #8 at Amazon.  As this Boston Globe article points out, the book “is billed as a defense of traditional values and includes advice on how men should treat women respectfully, not as sex objects.”

Though politicians and public figures have always done this kind of thing, there was a time, even recently, when such behavior, if made public, was detrimental to one’s success or career ambitions.  No more.  I guess we can no longer expect character to be a qualification for office.

Perhaps this will be a question of “change over time” for future historians.  Perhaps they will see the change as having something to do with the election of Donald Trump.

Michael Gerson Pulls No Punches on Fox News


Fox NewsAs many of you know, Michael Gerson is a conservative columnist for The Washington Post.  In his most recent column the former George W. Bush speechwriter tells us what he really thinks about Fox News.

Here is a taste:

Reading the accumulated sexual harassment accusations against Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and former network executive Roger Ailes is like a quick dip in a sewage treatment pond. After even a brief exposure, the stench stays with you for days.

If the accusations of dozens of women over two decades are correct — and it is hard to dismiss the women, as the accused have done, as unbalanced, dishonest or disgruntled — then Fox News is the focus of hypocrisy in the modern world. While preaching traditional values, it has operated, according to former Fox anchor Andrea Tantaros, “like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.”

Read the rest here.

George Will Hits Bill O’Reilly Again…Hard

In his book Killing Reagan, Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly argues that when Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981 his presidency was, for all intents and purposes, “killed.”  In other words, Reagan was never the same after the shooting and several of his aides wanted to remove him from office because he was mentally incompetent.

Last week columnist George Will challenged O’Reilly’s interpretation of Reagan  Then the two conservatives went head to head on O”Reilly’s show. 

Today Will went after O’Reilly again.  Here is a taste:

O’Reilly “reports” that the trauma of the assassination attempt was somehow causally related to the “fact” that Reagan was frequently so mentally incompetent that senior aides contemplated using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove him from office. But neither O’Reilly nor Dugard spoke with any of those aides — not with Ed Meese, Jim Baker, George Shultz or any of the scores of others who could, and would, have demolished O’Reilly’s theory. O’Reilly now airily dismisses them because they “have skin in the game.” His is an interesting approach to writing history: Never talk to anyone with firsthand knowledge of your subject.

Instead, O’Reilly made the book’s “centerpiece” a memo he has never seen and never tried to see until 27 days after the book was published. Then Dugard asked the Reagan Presidential Library to find it.

Recently on Fox News, O’Reilly put this on the screen from Sue Janzen of Yorba Linda, Calif.: “We went to the Reagan Library, and were told they do not sell Killing Reagan because it’s not factual.” Then O’Reilly said: “You were deceived, Sue. The Reagan Library is angry at Martin Dugard and me because we’re seeking” the Cannon memo. He added: “The memo’s disappeared. But Dugard and I are on the case and the library is not happy about it.”
“Disappeared”? His crude intimation was that the allegedly deceptive library is hiding the memo. The library, however, has never had it because when James Cannon wrote it, he was not a member of the White House staff, hence the memo was not a “presidential record.”
Read Will’s entire column here.

Conservatives Fighting Over Ronald Reagan

George Will vs. Bill O’Reilly.

I am not really sure I understand what they are arguing about.  Something about a meeting and a memo.  O’Reilly is in classic form here.  He does not let Will finish a sentence.  Then he calls one of the most prominent conservative columnists in the United States “a hack.”