Phil Donahue

Reviews

Body of War (2008)

Blog Posts

Interviews

Oprah wouldn't take nothin' for her journey now

To borrow a line from "Citizen Kane," I knew Oprah before the beginning, and now I know her after the end. The remaining episodes of her show bring to a close the most phenomenal run of any talk show host in history and ring down the curtain on the second act of a life that seems poised to have many more. What lies ahead? Her new cable network, we know. But I suspect she also has a future in high public office.

Roger Ebert

A bar on North Avenue

O'Rourke's was our stage, and we displayed our personas there nightly. It was a shabby street-corner tavern on a dicey stretch of North Avenue, a block after Chicago's Old Town stopped being a tourist haven. In its early days it was heated by a wood-burning pot-bellied stove, and ice formed on the insides of the windows. One night a kid from the street barged in, whacked a customer in the front booth with a baseball bat, and ran out again. When a roomer who lived upstairs died, his body was discovered when maggots started to drop through the ceiling. A man nobody knew was shot dead one night out in back. From the day it opened on December 30, 1966 until the day I stopped drinking in 1979, I drank there more or less every night when I was in town. So did a lot of people.

Jay Kovar and Jeanette Sullivan behind the bar

Roger Ebert

The O'Reilly Procedure

Bill O'Reilly has been brought low by the same process that afflicted Jerry Springer. Once respected journalists, they sold their souls for higher ratings, and follow their siren song. Springer is honest about it: "I'm going to Hell for what I do, and I know it," he's likes to say. O'Reilly insists he is dealing only with the truth. When his guests disagree with him, he shouts at them, calls them liars, talks over them, and behaves like a schoolyard bully.

I am not interested in discussing O'Reilly's politics here. That would open a hornet's nest. I am more concerned about the danger he and others like him represent to a civil and peaceful society. He sets a harmful example of acceptable public behavior. He has been an influence on the most worrying trend in the field of news: The polarization of opinion, the elevation of emotional temperature, the predictability of two of the leading cable news channels. A majority of cable news viewers now get their news slanted one way or the other by angry men. O'Reilly is not the worst offender. That would be Glenn Beck. Keith Olbermann is gaining ground. Rachel Maddow provides an admirable example for the boys of firm, passionate outrage, and is more effective for nogt shouting.

Much has been said recently about the possible influence of O'Reilly on the murder of Dr. George Tiller by Scott Roeder. Such a connection is impossible to prove. Yet studies of bullies and their victims suggest a general way such an influence might take place. Bullies like to force others to do their will, while they can stand back and protest their innocence: "I was nowhere near the gymnasium, Sister!" A recent study of school shootings found that two-thirds of all the shooters were victims of bullying, and perceived themselves as members of persecuted minorities.

Roger Ebert

How I gave Oprah her start

Ever since Oprah Winfrey revealed on her 20th anniversary program Monday that I was the person who first suggested she go into syndication, I have been flooded with requests for interviews.