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Bill O'Reilly's Boston University College of Communication Homecoming

 

As a grad student at Boston University’s College of Communication (COM) five years ago, I wrote an op-ed for a campus newsletter called The Muckraker about inconsistencies in alumni relations practices. In particular, I criticized their celebrating Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s BU degree while at the same time pretending that Howard Stern never went there. In light of said discrepancy, I charged that they either advertise both controversial COM veterans or keep Stern and O’Reilly in the closet.

Before my thoughts were mailed to thousands of BU alums and friends, then-Department of Journalism Chairman Bob Zelnick ordered that every copy be destroyed. As it turned out, The Muckraker was not the proper venue for polemics or, uh, muckraking, and was instead a promotional tool that COM filled by deceiving students into thinking they were actually reporting. (Months later I ran into another problem when administrators forbade me from publishing a straight news item on a Ted Koppel Q&A; even though Koppel’s people approved coverage, Zelnick wanted it completely off-the-record).  

As someone whose freedoms were restricted by COM twice in three semesters, I was reluctant to criticize the decision to have O’Reilly speak at the school’s distinguished alumni dinner this past Friday – even if in the past I’d suggested they remove his portrait from the first floor wall of fame. He had every right to shower arrogance and bullshit on a roomful of fellow BU grads, and that’s exactly what he did for most of his hour-long interview.

With former Executive Vice-President of NBC News Bill Wheatley lobbing softballs at him, O’Reilly played the friendly ogre. He may have charged that Obama is fighting Fox News harder than he’s fighting Taliban insurgents, but – and I think most people who were there would agree with me on this – he wasn’t as intolerable as some may have expected. In a roomful of media-minded folks, he at least gained some credibility by conceding that Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are not journalists, and that it’s “stupid” for Fox News to promote populist protests.

It’s lame to criticize O’Reilly, who, after all, agreed to address what was sure to be a cold liberal audience; but it’s important to note that he truly is delusional, and not only is his estimation that he wins 95 percent of his debates. In O’Reilly’s mind, Greta Van Susteran and Shepard Smith are devout liberals who keep his network fair and balanced. Prior to Friday I thought that tagline was an inside joke – now I think they actually believe it.

Aside from O’Reilly’s factually inept reporting and hatred of hip-hop, though, it turns out that I have more in common with the dude than not. We’re both from Long Island; both agree that the Boston Globe is boring; both came to Boston University at age 26; both developed relationships with the Phoenix; both sold our course assignments to local newspapers while in school. That said, I likely have a lot in common with Howard Stern as well; maybe I’ll find out next year if COM continues the tradition of inviting morally depraved alums to share their stories.   

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