Last week, two TV celebrities left the air, albeit under different circumstances: Longtime Fox snarling head Bill O’Reilly got canned from his popular The O’Reilly Factor show, presumably because sexual harassment suits made him more of a liability than his ratings could justify; and, after six seasons, right-wing bête noire Lena Dunham ended her show, Girls, with her character having a baby and moving upstate.
The other thing these two events have in common is that the rightblogger response to them creates an eerie mirror image, as we shall see.
Some conservatives were angry that O’Reilly was fired or, as Jesse Lee Peterson at WorldNetDaily put it, suffered a “lynching” by “man-hating feminists.” Peterson has a forgiving definition of lynching, though: For one thing, unlike most lynchees, O’Reilly still has a national tour scheduled. Also, as to the charges, “I don’t know about past allegations,” Peterson admitted, “but even Stevie Wonder can see that the latest allegations against Bill are false.” If they ever come to trial, maybe Peterson can serve as a character witness.
“He may not have had the most graceful pick up [sic] lines and he may have been a hothead at times,” wrote Truthfeed, “but as of now, we have yet to see any evidence he committed any wrongdoing.” I have to admit, the encomia of O’Reilly’s fans are funnier than anything I can come up with.
But as the news sank in, a few of the bigger right-wing writers, perhaps sensing that the fading of such a seminal figure from the scene was not merely the tragedy of one man but a dark omen for the whole Old White Rage model of wing-nut discourse, began to spread the word that O’Reilly’s brand of conservatism was not really conservative at all.
“BILL O’REILLY’S SECRET: HE WAS A CENTRIST, NOT A CONSERVATIVE,” announced Joel B. Pollak at Breitbart. Pollak quoted a right-wing professor to the effect that “the average American, once his political views are no longer distorted by media bias,” is an ideological match with Ben Stein. Stein is best known for his film and TV work but was also a former Nixon speechwriter; he writes for the impeccably right-wing American Spectator, is buddies with Mark Fuhrman and has the attitude toward black activism that such a friendship would suggest, and not only thinks global warming is bullshit but also thinks evolution is, too.
Nonetheless, Pollak didn’t see Stein’s attitude as conservative but as “average American” — in fact, as the professor wrote, “significantly more liberal than politicians like Michele Bachmann or Jim DeMint,” which is rather like saying your run-of-the-mill thrill killer isn’t up to the standards of Bluebeard or Ed Gein. And Pollak found O’Reilly in tune with Stein; thus, “he was the elusive center.”
Pollak said this also “explains why [O’Reilly] was often criticized by conservatives, and often scolded them in return.” Pollak did not cite any examples of these alleged divergences of opinion — which is odd, since his own publishers recently reported a fine one: George F. Will declaring O’Reilly “replaceable.”
At National Review, Ian Tuttle allowed as how O’Reilly might be some grody old person’s idea of a conservative, but not that of “my conservative friends, twentysomethings, many of them from reliably red states,” who are the future of the movement.
While O’Reilly was “repulsed by the radicalism of Berkeley and the Black Panthers,” explained Tuttle, he was also born in 1949, and so was “reared by a generation with warm feelings toward FDR’s New Deal economics”; hence, he was always “looking back affectionately to the economic ascendancy and cultural consolidation of the 1950s.” This, in Tuttle’s view, puts O’Reilly “on the right side of the political spectrum — but nearer its center than we often recall today” — that is, O’Reilly hated black activists and hippies, which is conservative (as is seen in Tuttle’s own work on Black Lives Matter and defense of the Confederate flag); but he also liked a strong middle class with a safety net, which apparently is not conservative.
Conversely, said Tuttle, the next wave of conservatives “rejected as illiberal the policies of the New Deal and the Great Society,” as do Tuttle’s own “third generation,” whose “media are podcasts and Twitter, and while they’re certainly combative, they are more interested in a savvy, cosmopolitan conservatism that goes toe-to-toe with progressivism on its own turf . . .” As examples of these exciting new conservatives, Tuttle named Ben Shapiro, Mollie Hemingway, and Mary Katharine Ham, who, how can I put this, are not going to be setting the airwaves on fire anytime soon. But who knows — maybe their podcasts are lit.
Most conservatives (besides David French and Rod Dreher) have yet to follow Pollack’s and Tuttle’s lead, preferring to either wallow in persecution mania or hastily throw O’Reilly over the side as a flawed vessel. But if O’Reilly doesn’t bounce back from this, expect the standard comeback to be that he was never really conservative — you know, like they did with John McCain and Mitt Romney.
On a less grim note, Lena Dunham wrapped her final season of Girls two Sundays ago. As I have chronicled repeatedly, since even before the series debuted, conservatives have repeatedly denounced Dunham for supporting Democratic candidates, for doing nude scenes despite not having a female Fox News anchor physique, and for her show, which featured everything they hate: New York City, women with jobs, homosexuals, casual and interracial sex, etc.
But that was before the end of Girls’ final season, in which Dunham’s character, Hannah, finds out she’s pregnant. Expecting a Sacred Feast of Abortion Finale, some rightbloggers reflexively raged according to custom: “LENA DUNHAM’S ‘GIRLS’: UNBORN BABY A ‘PARASITE GROWING INSIDE OF YOU,’ ” Breitbart hollered and had Dr. Susan Berry report that “the abortion industry has fought against any attempts by states to restrict abortion or to mandate health and safety standards in abortion clinics.”
But in the end, Hannah kept her baby, and conservatives spun to praise the actress as an avatar of accidental motherhood.
“Lena Dunham is a favorite punching bag for many of us on the right,” said Teri Christoph of Smart Girl Politics, because, among other reasons, “she wears a p*$$y hat.” Also, “Dunham had a rather privileged upbringing in New York City, after all, so her experience as an average person is virtually nil,” unlike the blue-collar icon Donald Trump.
But in the last episode, Dunham “chose to show how an unplanned pregnancy could be a good thing for a young woman,” so Christoph was able to praise her as “self-aware enough to know that many facets of the feminism she espouses in real life are ultimately bad for women.”
Other conservatives agreed that while it wasn’t prudent to remove Dunham’s scarlet letter of liberalism, she had still proven, perhaps unwittingly, that abortion is murder. “Don’t Tell Her, But Lena Dunham Just Made A Pro-Life Season Of ‘Girls,’ ” said Ericka Andersen of the Federalist, as if her show turned right-wing while Dunham was out on a smoke break.
“I don’t know for sure if she supports abortion up to 9 months of pregnancy — but let the record show, she probably does,” said Andersen, but a character having a baby is pro-life and that’s the important thing. “They could have thrown in a late-term abortion . . . but they wouldn’t dare go there,” claimed Andersen. “Why not? It’s her body, right? Because it’s not, and everyone — yes, EVERYONE — knows it.”
At National Review, Kyle Smith proclaimed “Lena Dunham’s Ultimately Conservative Message.” “Lena Dunham Totally Disrupts the Feminist Narrative in ‘Girls’ Finale,” cheered Susan L.M. Goldberg of PJ Media. “Harrumph harrumph harrumph [splurt],” said Ross Douthat at the New York Times.
And so the lesson of last week was that Bill O’Reilly isn’t really conservative, and Lena Dunham isn’t really pro-choice. It’s amazing what they can come up with when the only alternative is common sense.