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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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  • Daniel Gewertz said:

    Good piece, too, Chris. My report from the scene:

    Here’s the most amazing thing about the evening: Live questions from the audience were not allowed! Audience members were invited to write down a question on index-cards before the program began! One assumes this was a fool-proof method to ensure there were no rude, confrontational or hardball questions asked of O’Reilly. Bill-O, therefore, was the only person allowed to be bellicose. And Mr. Wheatley could, of course, cherry-pick a handful of audience questions that were as soft and polite as his own were. I don’t know what kind of rabble-rousing radical questions they were expecting from this polite, well-healed, moderate crowd, but BU clearly wasn’t taking any chances.

    Here’s how the dean described the evening to me in our interview:

    “The key to making this work is having someone of Bill Wheatley’s stature as the interviewer. In some ways we’ve turned the tables: the control of the microphone lies not with Bill O’Reilly, but his questioner, and Bill Wheatley will be able to stand toe-to-toe with O’Reilly, having served as Tom Brokow’s producer for many years.”

    I kept my mouth shut upon hearing this description, but I couldn’t help thinking: Really? Toe-to-toe? First off, producing Tom Brokow, perhaps the biggest blowhard in TV network news history, must make one an adroit enabler of bombastic ego-maniacs. And secondly, can you imagine a retired executive vice-president able to go “toe-to-toe” with a truly talented bully like O’Reilly? Wheatley was a polite milquetoast throughout.

    Here's a gem from the O'Rweilly golden gullet: Greta van Susteren is a liberal! Yep, the same Greta that pals around with Todd Palin!

    Biggest applause line of the night -- Referring to O’Reilly’s 2006 call for a boycott on the entire state of Vermont, and his incessant hounding of a “lenient” Vermont judge who supposedly gave a child rapist a maximum of 60 days in prison, Bill-O bellowed: “I’m not ashamed of my behavior, because I happen to think that raping children is wrong. I repeat: raping children is WRONG!”

    Lots of clapping. What a brave stance: Bill-O is against the raping children. Only thing is, the sentence in question was misreported in the first place.

    October 26, 2009 10:32 PM
  • BU'09 said:

    The prologue to this article is a little disingenuous. How could the writer write for the Muckraker without knowing it was an in-house publication? BU has one of the few remaining truly independent student newspapers in the country, the Daily Free Press, which would pick up a piece like the one described in a heartbeat. It's not like the (barely read, nearly invisible) Muckraker was ever considered the real outlet for BU news and opinion. In my four years, the Muckraker was there as a nice glossy marketing tool in the COM lobby; it never pretended to be something it wasn't.

    On second thought, the entire opening of this story, which takes up a good third of it and has practically nothing to do with O'Reilly's speaking engagement, seems a little self-serving. Cry censorship, get pageviews.

    October 27, 2009 6:13 PM
  • Chris Faraone said:

    Really BU '09? Do you truly think I would have put that in there if it wasn't completely relevant? And that I'm motivated by page views? Muckraker was a joke - noted. Thought I mentioned that. But the discrepancy I identified back then was certainly not.  

    October 27, 2009 11:27 PM

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