The question came up again last week, at the same point in my "Journalism Foundations" syllabus where it always does every semester -- during my lecture on Stephen Colbert and the role of humor and entertainment in today's news marketplace.
First there is this question: In his original show on Comedy Central, who was Colbert satirizing while playing a blow-hard conservative pundit with the power ties, dark suits and the "I calls 'em like I sees 'em" no-spin attitude? Whose style and worldview was he turning inside-out?
It usually takes a few seconds, but then someone -- usually a student who was raised in a Fox News home -- will say, "Bill O'Reilly."
That leads to the next question: What is the name of the cultural and political philosophy that drives the editorial policies of O'Reilly and many, but not all, of the giants associated with the world of Rupert Murdoch?
Students always start off by saying, "conservative." Then I say: That's too vague. There are many kinds of conservatism in American politics. What kind of conservative is O'Reilly?
Students usually add something like "right-wing," "ultra" or "fanatic." Eventually, someone will say "libertarian." A student or two may have paid attention to the show and know that this means that O'Reilly leans left, or remains silent, on moral issues, but is hard right on matters of economics and everything else. His worldview is defined by radical individualism.
We then talk about other kinds of conservatism and, in particular, the fact that Fox News -- which has a massive following among all kinds of conservatives -- offers little or no news and commentary on religious events and trends. There are some moral and cultural conservatives in the operation, but they were not the dominant voices in the Roger Ailes era.
As you may have guessed, this leads us to the massive New York Times story that exploded into social media the other day, the one with this dramatic double-decker headline:
About $13 million has been paid out over the years to address complaints from women about Mr. O’Reilly’s behavior. He denies the claims have merit.
It's logical to ask: What does religion have to do with this story?
I would answer by saying, "I don't know."
However, my observation is that the Times team stacks up all kinds of facts -- many, but not all, with on-the-record sources -- that certainly seem to show that O'Reilly acts like he is a moral free agent when it comes to his attitudes toward women, sex and power.