The cover of Bill O’Reilly’s new book Pinheads and Patriots pits the Fox News host against President Barack Obama.
Red meat for the news channel’s audience, no doubt.
But inside the book O’Reilly is far more measured regarding the commander in chief. And while restraint makes The O’Reilly Factor a far better product than most television critics give it credit for, in text form the results are less appealing.
Perhaps it’s the continuing fallout of adding Glenn Beck to the Fox News lineup. Beck is the fire-breathing conservative many thought O’Reilly was for years. In comparison, O’Reilly is far more measured, and his new tome takes that approach to an uncomfortable degree.
The book uses the host’s “Pinheads and Patriots” TV segment, a pithy way to label folks in the news, to analyze the Obama administration. What works on the small screen feels like a stretch here. By O’Reilly’s measure, politicians have their pinhead moments and their patriot moments as well — sometimes within the same arenas of thought and action.
Is Obama a pinhead? Well, he is where it concerns southern border security, but so is former President George W. Bush.
Nuance works well within a talk show format where audiences want to hear both sides of the story. But in the book version of “P&P,” the results can be frustrating. Every time O’Reilly tees off against the president, he backpedals to reward him for something positive he’s done. And, as is often the case here, the author strains for balance so hard you can feel the muscles tightening in his neck.
Consider how O’Reilly calls Obama a patriot because he “works extremely hard,” or read this passage about the president’s economic policies:
“I don’t despise President Obama because he’s a big government liberal. I just think his philosophy will weaken the country in both the long and short term. I could be wrong, and the president could be right. We’ll see.”
That pretty much settles it then.
Here’s a new drinking game — down a shot every time O’Reilly writes “I may be wrong” or a variation thereof.
O’Reilly promises in the first chapter that readers will “know precisely what’s going on in the United States” after combing through the book. Sounds impressive until one reaches the later chapters where O’Reilly reveals the pinhead/patriot status of Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth, and Davy Crockett in a self-described stream of consciousness rant.
“P&P” does feature O’Reilly at his plainspoken best. Consider the author’s beautifully phrased tribute to the late Tony Snow, the ultimate patriot in O’Reilly’s eyes. His assessment of the McCain/Obama presidential race is sharply boiled down to a tech metaphor that makes sense in retrospect. The O’Reilly voice, blue collar and proud of it, comes through so clearly it’s as if he’s reading the book to you through a megaphone. A passage where he recreates the sounds at his dinner table growing up feels like a peek into the cauldron that forged the King of “No Spin.”
And it’s interesting to hear O’Reilly explain how he came up with his news analyst format from personal experience — including a controversial op-ed he penned during his college days — and years in the journalistic trenches. It’s no accident O’Reilly touched on a formula that made him one of the most successful news anchors ever.
The book still spends too much time on O’Reilly himself, from belaboring a point regarding a signed photograph of himself and the president to marveling at how kind Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama treated him during a White House Christmas party.
He risks coming off as an old fogy with passages bemoaning our high -tech culture. Yes, some social graces are suffering due to our reliance on texts and Tweets, but the average American can tap into a far greater wealth of information than ever before, and that’s bound to make the electorate sharper — if properly applied.
His point about technology connects to a certain presidential election — “Americans are losing the ability to think critically, and that will make it much easier for manipulative, charismatic politicians to gain power.”
Pinheads and Patriots touches on the bigger issues of the last two years, from the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts to the murders at Fort Hood. O’Reilly gives each his “No Spin” assessments, blasting both conventional wisdom and the left-leaning press in the process.
The book wheezes to a close by reprinting the text of O’Reilly’s 2008 interview with then-Sen. Obama. He stops occasionally to share his new reflections on the chat content.
O’Reilly clearly has a far different view of America and how it should be run than Obama. And yet Pinheads and Patriots can’t come out and say so without an asterisk attached.