Pale Wire (Popscene)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Anatomically Incorrect
Does Bill O'Reilly know his way around a brain pan?


Midway through Nicholas Lemann's profile of Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly in this week's edition of The New Yorker, which you can read in its entirety by following this link, we're treated to what is fast becoming one of my favorite reportorial devices: quoting from your subject's vanity novel.

While nowhere near as revelatory as the bizarre bestiality scenes New Yorker writer Lauren Collins uncovered last year in Scooter Libby's Japanese historical fantasy "The Apprentice" (link), the graphic murder scene Lemann pulls from O'Reilly's 1998 thriller "Those Who Trespass1" is still telling. And particularly so once you appreciate that the victim is a stand in for CBS newsman Bob Schieffer and the killer's hand belongs to you know who.

The assailant’s right hand, now holding the oval base of the spoon, rocketed upward, jamming the stainless stem through the roof of Ron Costello’s mouth. The soft tissue gave way quickly and the steel penetrated the correspondent’s brain stem. Ron Costello was clinically dead in four seconds.

At different times likening O'Reilly's "amazingly nimble talent" to a beat cop, boxer and jungle cat, Lemann tries to capture the essence of the man who is the essence of cable news. In the context of the article, the book quote is there to hammer home how vindictive O'Reilly can be when he feels slighted.

What Lemann declines to do is point out that the quote can tell us something else, something that doesn't require any armchair analysis. That is this: Bill O'Reilly is a bad writer.

Let's look at it again, shall we. The chain of events O'Reilly describes has a spoon shooting upward through the roof of his victim's mouth and into the brain stem. The problem is that the brain stem, a column consisting of the midbrain, the pons and the medulla oblongata which serves as the relay station between the spinal cord and the forebrain, stands behind the mouth, not above it.


But, then again, this is O'Reilly. Maybe we just need to factor in the spin.

1Two editions of the book retail on, each with a slightly different title. The hardcover is "Those Who Trespass: A Novel of Murder and Television;" the paperback is "Those Who Trespass: A Novel of Television and Murder." You can also buy the audiobook, which was recorded by the author himself.