Yesterday, Bill O’Reilly defended his top henchman, producer Jesse Watters, who is supposedly “the subject of far-left angst, because he goes out and talks to the bad guys.” During his conversation with Amanda Carpenter of the Washington Times — who agreed with everything the Fox News host was saying — O’Reilly defended his “ambush journalism” as a “legitimate brand of journalism”:
O’REILLY: Now the far-left websites fear greatly the vicious guy Jesse Watters. And Jesse Watters is now the subject of far-left angst, because he goes out and talks to the bad guys. Tell us about that. [...]
This, of course, a legitimate brand of journalism, has been practiced ever since television news was invented in the ’60′s when the bad guys won’t comment, when they run and hide.
Actual journalists disagree with O’Reilly. While he’s right that man-on-the-street interviews have been around for a long time, Fox has taken them to a whole new level. ThinkProgress recently contacted Columbia Journalism Review editor in chief Mike Hoyt — also a victim of an O’Reilly ambush earlier this year — who said that what O’Reilly does is nothing more than “fake journalism”:
I don’t have a problem with the idea, anyway, of a street interview. I didn’t complain when 60 Minutes was doing it to various politicians and moguls, so I can’t really complain now when Fox shows up at my bus stop. But I do have a problem with how O’Reilly does it — which has nothing to do with an interview, with gathering information, trading points of view, seeing what you think, etc., and everything to do with grabbing whatever out-of-context quote that he can use to make you look stupid. It borrows the form of journalism but it isn’t journalism; it’s fake, like those digital fireplace fires that provide no heat.
Furthermore, O’Reilly isn’t just trying to track down the “bad guys” who “run and hide.” As I have noted, no one at Fox News ever contacted me or anyone else at ThinkProgress before harassing me. Similarly, the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg also never received a chance to explain himself before being tracked down outside his New York City home. So is O’Reilly interested in journalism and getting at the facts? Or is he interested in intimidation of his perceived opponents?
O’Reilly also claimed that Watters is “as polite as possible” when ambushing people; he just is “[o]ut there having a conversation that anybody would have.” We’re not sure what types of conversations O’Reilly has with his friends…but the people we talk to certainly don’t consider it “polite” to launch ad hominem attacks and smears.
O’REILLY: Now the far-left websites fear greatly the vicious guy Jesse Watters. And Jesse Watters is now the subject of far-left angst, because he goes out and talks to the bad guys. Tell us about that.
CARPENTER: Well, basically, there’s been a site, Crooks and Liars, that compiled a bunch of videos of Jesse Watters ambushing a number of people for your segment. And they called this harassment. They say it is absolutely harassment. And you know, they’re very frightened at the prospect of a Fox News producer coming after them with a camera.
CARPENTER: And asking them to explain what they write on the Internet or in various newspaper columns.
O’REILLY: It’s interesting because they didn’t say anything — we have been doing this for I guess six or seven years, until the far left websites got involved. Then they got really nervous.
This, of course, a legitimate brand of journalism, has been practiced ever since television news was invented in the ’60′s when the bad guys won’t comment, when they run and hide. We will find them. Now, Jesse is a mean guy. You know that, Amanda. Have you ever met Jesse?
CARPENTER: No, I’ve spoken with him on the phone a few times –
O’REILLY: Yeah, he –
CARPENTER: — but I haven’t been struck by fear quite yet.
O’REILLY: You know, this man, I mean he is a vicious guy, as you can see, when he goes out.
You know, it’s funny, one of the people that he talked to, oh, he yelled at me. And then you see the tape. And there’s Jesse being as polite as possible. Out there having a conversation that anybody would have.
But you know, we don’t expect honesty from these people. Their whole game is deceit. That’s what their game is.
Yesterday, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann named Fox producer Griff Jenkins his “worse” person and O’Reilly his “worser” person of the day. Olbermann referred to Fox’s “ambush journalism” as “news terrorism.”
,Crooks and Liars’s John Amato writes:
Jesse can bring his camera crew anywhere he wants and ask tough questions too, but what’s despicable about his tactics is that he shows up on their private property unannounced or (worse yet) on the private weekend getaways, after stalking them. That’s uncool and out of line and that’s what’s objectionable. If Jesse had called Amanda Terkel and asked for an interview and she met him, then there would have been no problem. But you all decided to “get” her. You claim you reserve this treatment for when “the bad guys won’t comment,” but you never even gave Amanda Terkel that opportunity.