Study: Bill O'Reilly, The Biggest Propagandist

Please bear with me as a re-post a press release on a study by my Indiana University friends and colleagues, Mike Conway, Betsi Grabe, and Kevin Grieves on the liberal (pun intended) use of traditional propaganda techniques by TV host Bill O'Reilly.

Awesome stuff! UPDATE (5/2/7): Indiana University posted the study online, including all the tables, and a press release as reported on Romenesko's media industry news page at the Poynter site. The story has also been picked up by USA Today (on its OnDeadline weblog), the O'Reilly Sucks message board, Topix, Oliver Willis' "Like Kryptonite to Stupid" blog, with an earlier interview with study co-author Betsi Grabe at The Virginian Pilot. Brief mentions of the study can also be found on MSNBC's The News Hole (affiliated with the Countdown w/Keith Olberman TV show), The Huffington Post, and a longer report on the Think Progress and Newshounds weblogs. The study was also discussed for 8 minutes on TV at MSNBC's Scarborough Country (broadcast May 2), and was a frontpage report on Bloomington, Indiana's daily newspaper The Herald-Times with the headline: "O'Reilly's 'no spin zone' is pretty twisted". Interestingly, the study itself is the subject of Bill O'Reilly's Talking Points Memo (broadcast: May 3, 2007), while the main object of the study was: Bill O'Reilly's Talking Points Memo...

The study not only shows his ridiculous "no spin zone" to be completely bogus - offering unambiguous data to support such conclusions - but also how O'Reilly is truly in the business of exclusively sucking up to the Powers That Be (see the graph reprinted here on him siding blindly with the Bush administration and the military), which is regardless of your political views the last thing, and indeed the worst thing, one could do as a self-proclaimed "journalist".

Press Release


Study Shows in O’Reilly’s world, the villains are illegal aliens, terrorists, foreigners, media, Democrats, academics, and criminals

(May 2, 2007, Bloomington, Indiana)

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly calls a person or a group a derogatory name on average once every 6.8 seconds during the “Talking Points Memo” portion of his cable news show. This is a much higher use of name-calling than the popular but controversial radio priest of the 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin. These results come from a study of O’Reilly’s editorials by three Indiana University researchers using early 20th Century propaganda analysis techniques.

Villains, Victims, and the Virtuous in Bill O’Reilly’s ‘No-Spin Zone:’ Revisiting world war propaganda techniques,” appears in the spring edition of Journalism Studies journal and features research conducted by Indiana University Bloomington's Mike Conway (Assistant Professor, School of Journalism), Maria Elizabeth Grabe (Associate Professor, Department of Telecommunications), and Kevin Grieves, (Doctoral Student, School of Journalism).

The researchers analyzed roughly six months of O’Reilly’s daily editorial “Talking Points Memo,” using propaganda analysis methods made popular after World War I.

“We chose Bill O’Reilly because he has one of the most powerful political voices in the media today,” said study co-author Mike Conway. “But we wanted to get beyond the left versus right finger-pointing which seems to dominate most of the discussion of O’Reilly and other media pundits.”

The researchers revived the “seven propaganda devices,” a research method developed by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in the 1930s. The propaganda devices (name calling, glittering generality, transfer, plain folks, bandwagon, testimonial, and card stacking) had been used to study various political and media figures in the 1930s, including a book-length look at Father Charles Coughlin (The Fine Art of Propaganda-1939). Coughlin was one of the most popular broadcasters of that era, as his sermons evolved into a darker message of anti-Semitism and fascism, with Coughlin defending both Hitler and Mussolini during his radio talks.

“By reviving the seven propaganda devices, we were able to directly compare O’Reilly to Father Coughlin,” said Conway. “Our research shows O’Reilly is a much heavier user of the devices than Coughlin, with close to 13 incidents a minute compared to eight for Coughlin. Plus, O’Reilly was a much less nuanced user of the devices, limited mostly to name-calling and glittering generality”.

The study also delves into O’Reilly’s construction of good and evil, another popular propaganda method, especially during war time. O’Reilly’s “Talking Points Memos” were analyzed to determine what people and groups he highlights and whether he sees them as villains, victims, or virtuous.

O’Reilly’s top victims are Americans (both individual and as a group), The U. S. Military, and the Bush Administration. The military and the Bush administration are usually cast in the victim’s role because they have been unfairly judged according to O'Reilly - usually by the media.

“If one digs further into O’Reilly’s rhetoric it becomes clear that he sets up a pretty simplistic battle between good and evil,” according to study co-author Betsi Grabe. "Our analysis points to very specific groups and people presented as good and as evil.” O’Reilly consistently presents illegal aliens, terrorists, foreigners, media, Democrats, academics, and criminals in the bad or evil role while presenting right-leaning media outlets, Christians, the American public, Republicans, the U.S. military, and the Bush administration as the opposing good force.

“This finding makes O’Reilly’s claim of his program as a ‘no spin zone’ quite peculiar, but perhaps not surprising,” continued Grabe. “In times when there is growing doubt about the moral legitimacy of the Bush administration in dealing with things on the home front and abroad, one can expect this type of heavy handedness in countering ambiguity about good and evil.”

[end press release]