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.