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Bill O'reilly, Cable's Most Popular Stalker

Let's talk about Bill O'Reilly and his show's charming practice of stalking people who, for whatever reason, have annoyed the bold, fresh piece of humanity.

Certainly, I find the practice unnerving. Whatever your politics, can you imagine being accosted while waiting for a bus or buying a Slim Jim at the local Gas N' Gulp by a couple of pushy young guys barking in-your-face questions? That said, the m.o. itself isn't exactly beyond the pale. Photographers and tv crews have a proud history of stalking celebrities, politicians, people suspected of a crime, and even regular folks caught up in irregular situations: Your son just shot up a shopping mall? I think I'll camp out on your lawn in the hopes of catching a shot of you weeping near a window. Perhaps most famously, Mike Wallace did it to devastating effect for his "60 Minutes" reports.  

The main difference with O'Reilly seems to be the aim of his ambushes. As the NYT notes in its piece today, increasingly O'Reilly's targets are less public officials he regards as doing a poor job than liberals and other critics of the GOP (10 of his last 12 ambushees) with whom he has a bone to pick or a score to settle. For instance, he didn't really want Think Progress's Amanda Terkel to explain why she had done what she had done (which was, in short, draw attention to  inflammatory remarks O'Reilly had once made about a young rape/murder victim). He wanted to make her look bitchy and defensive. In this way, suggests the Times, The Factor's sneak attacks--the undignified, slightly thuggish conduct of which is, of course, carried out by junior staffers rather than Big Bill himself--are less like Mike Wallace than like lefty bombardier Michael Moore. This, despite O'Reilly's absurd protestations of a few years back that he, unlike Moore, isn't exploiting these interviews for personal gain.

But this is just another by-product of the shift toward personality-driven "cable news." Shows like The Factor are overwhelmingly about the host--his passions, his peeves, his prejudices, and his ability to whip viewers into a frenzy over the same. Reporting has never been part of the equation. So when one of these All-About-Me shows takes a reportorial technique and applies it to non-reportorial objectives, it just feels skeezier than when, say, Wallace did it--especially with O'Reilly on the downhill slope toward unleashing his video dogs on whatever unlucky bastard happened to cut him off in traffic that morning. 

You may now place your bets on how long it will be before Olbermann sends a camera crew to jump O'Reilly outside his dermatologist's office.

--Michelle Cottle