Last week, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell devoted an unseemly share of his airtime to blasting Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly for his “relentless barrage of interruptions” of Barack Obama during Mr. O’Reilly’s pre-Super Bowl interview with the president. Monday’s line was that Mr. O’Reilly “failed more miserably than anyone who has ever gone before him” with executive access. On Tuesday, Mr. O’Donnell invited HBO pundit Bill Maher on air to affirm that Mr. O’Reilly’s conduct was “unpatriotic.” A segment later in the week deployed a clip from The Smurfs that a producer from Jimmy Kimmel Live! overdubbed with the interview, casting Mr. O’Reilly in the cartoon as the dreaded Gargamel.
But it was Wednesday that produced what the blog for The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell touted as the “week’s must-see” moment: Mr. O’Donnell chastising an Iowa congressman over comments by an Iowa voter Fox talked to in the aftermath of the Obama confrontation. The voter had alluded to Mr. Obama’s “Muslim” faith–a bit of misinformation for which Mr. O’Donnell hoped Rep. Steve King, a Republican, might take some “responsibility,” since he had not used the recent campaign season to correct the record on the issue. When the congressman declined, Mr. O’Donnell enhanced his interrogation technique:
Mr. O’Donnell: Are you a Christian?
Mr. King: Yes, sir.
Mr. O’Donnell: Should I take you at your word or should I maybe suspect that you’re a Muslim? Do you have a Christian ID you can show me and prove that you’re a Christian?
Mr. King: I think I was going to ask you to not judge me as I’m not judging President Obama–
Mr. O’Donnell: Do you have a Christian ID?
Mr. King: No one has a Christian ID–
Mr. O’Donnell: Catholics get birth–get baptism certificates! There are some religions that issue certificates of certain kinds. Do you have any?
Mr. King: I don’t think so. I was baptized–
Mr. O’Donnell: [yelling] How do we know you’re not a Muslim? How do you know someone is not a Muslim and is a Christian?
On it went, Mr. O’Donnell repeatedly interrupting the congressman he had invited on his program to discuss the outrage of Mr. O’Reilly’s repeated interruption of the non-Muslim commander in chief. There were other ironies, but most viewers attuned to register them were preoccupied with the overthrow of the Egyptian dictator transpiring on numerous other channels.
Since Mr. O’Donnell replaced Keith Olbermann in the coveted 8 p.m. time slot last month, he has specialized in the sort of news (Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, the Darth Vader kid from the Super Bowl commercials) preferred by people who can’t be bothered to follow the news. The formula has on some nights proven such a disaster that viewers have flocked to Parker Spitzer on CNN, suggesting they might also be coaxed to Al Gore’s fledgling Current TV come May, when Mr. Olbermann is expected to debut a new 8 p.m. show on the network.
Until then, watchers of MSNBC are stuck with Mr. O’Donnell, a vigorously vacuous character whose insipidity of subject matter is matched only by his sanctimony. Night after night, his bizarre riffs breed sound bites that migrate to commercial teasers reinforcing the nascent Lawrence O’Donnell brand. Currently in rotation is a bit about Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting from last month in which, nostrils aflare, he scolds a Republican congressman for not supporting (mostly theoretical) legislation that would ban the sale of guns with clips capable of holding more than 10 bullets. What of the lives such a law might have saved in Tucson? Representative Trent Franks, of Arizona, a good sport, likens “focusing on the clip” to “sayin’ we’re gonna combat drunk driving by limiting the size of fuel tanks.”
“I blame the individual,” thunders Mr. O’Donnell, “for the first 10 bullets. I blame the law for the next 21 bullets!”