One October evening, in the midst of the 2013 government shutdown, I watched Bill O’Reilly work himself into something of a state. He sat at his desk, his hands palms upward, fingers slightly curved, as if cupping something in them. “I want Hagel.” he said, staring into the camera. “I want Hagel. I want him.”
A casual observer might interpret this moment as O’Reilly expressing his fierce but tender desire for Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense. More experienced O’Reilly viewers, however, will recognize it as a signal that the unfortunate Hagel had plummeted downward in O’Reilly’s estimation from pinhead to evildoer. (There are only three kinds of people in Bill O’Reilly’s world: good hardworking Americans, pinheads—people who are not actually malevolent but who are too stupid to understand the way the world really works—and evildoers.)
I know these things about O’Reilly because, for the entire month of October, I watched Fox News for approximately three hours every day, while at the same time strictly abstaining from any other sources of information about current events. The reason I engaged in this self-induced Fox News torture was that it had become clear that the right-wing media in general, and Fox News in particular, were constructing an alternate reality than the one I live in. Fox is, of course, a great driver of public opinion.
On this occasion, in which the government shutdown had resulted in death benefits not being paid to the families of soldiers killed in action, the problem was so egregious to O’Reilly that it could not possibly result from pinheadedness. No, instead there must have been heinous forces at work, and one of the devil’s minions was Chuck Hagel.