There's Nothing Sly About Bill O'Reilly

Here's the no-spin truth: Bill O'Reilly offers a fairer, more balanced version of the latest political headlines than MSNBC's nighttime ideologues.

Don't get me wrong. The Fox News commentator remains the most combustible on-air personality since Morton Downey Jr. and his ideological tilt on some topics, like limited government and coerced interrogation, would still raise eyebrows from an in-his-prime Walter Cronkite. But quietly, and with little fanfare, O'Reilly has been doing his best to not only offer both sides of key partisan debates, but also treat President Barack Obama with respect. He recently told a reporter that second-guessing the new president's stimulus package amounted to "cheap shotting" him. And he spent copious amounts of time on his syndicated radio show saying the media shouldn't print unconfirmed gossip about New York Senate hopeful Caroline Kennedy, and that reporters should treat her with respect.

Just don't expect many media critics to give the talk show titan credit for his efforts. They've already pigeonholed him as a right-wing hack, a blowhard who doesn't let his guests get in a word edgewise and is hopelessly biased -- like the network he calls home. Arguments can be made for some of the above, but media critics rarely hold MSNBC up to the same standards. And once the critics carve a narrative in stone, they rarely reverse themselves to reflect the new reality.

Journalists have no problem attaching the term "conservative" to O'Reilly's name in news articles, but reporters usually characterize MSNBC's hosts by calling them "left-leaning." Or, as the New York Times recently put it, the hosts have a "sharp, often sarcastic and pointedly liberal take on politics." Hardly matches the fire and brimstone approach Keith Olbermann brings to his MSNBC segments, does it?

Even Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post's media critic and a commentator not quick to throw the media bias flag, dubbed MSNBC "The Obama Network." But how long did it take for Kurtz to cry foul? Shouldn't he have done so months ago, maybe even years ago? Imagine the heat O'Reilly would take if he had embraced the campaign buzz words used by President John McCain? Yet that's precisely what MSNBC did recently during its inaugural gushfest for the new commander in chief.