Sherlock Holmes famously noticed the importance of a dog not barking. In the aftermath of the FOX Republican Debate there has been no discussion of the absence of FOX News (FNC) star Bill O’Reilly. Before the debate O’Reilly commented that his aggressive style of interviewing would be inappropriate to a news situation, where the object is to let the candidates present their views. At the time the comment seemed strange. President Obama regularly gives an interview to one of the networks before the Super Bowl. The interviewer for FNC has been Bill O’Reilly. After the Debate the comment seemed even stranger. Perhaps it was a hint to regular viewers of what had been planned for the Presidential Debate. The three “Murdoch attack poodles” (Lew Rockwell’s phrase) took up thirty minutes of the two hours confronting the candidates, especially Donald Trump, with out of context factoids meant to mislead viewers and confuse the candidates. Chris Wallace’s bogus question that misrepresented the nature of America’s “chapter” bankruptcy laws and Megyn Kelly’s pretense that Trump’s tweets in celebrity “quarrels” were serious statements are just two examples. The Friday after the debate there was no Bill O’Reilly on “The Factor.” The show was hosted by attack poodle Chris Wallace. He began the show by pretending that the enormous number of viewers of the debate had been attracted by his presence. (If he was joking, he did not say so, and no one laughed.) His first guest was the third attack poodle, who discussed the event in a manner that was far from “fair and balanced.” Other guests included neo-Con blogger Jonah Goldberg, who use to edit National Review Online (NRO). He concentrated on the Debate’s first question and resolutely ignored the others. Sean Hannity, on the hand, gave time to Mark Steyn and Ann Coulter, both witty conservatives. On the Monday following the debate “The Factor” was hosted by a host of the FNC show, “The Five.” He gave much time to to Rand Paul, who denounced Trump as no true conservative like, for example, himself. The flunky from “The Five” had a large supply of softball queries to encourage him.
So where was Bill O’Reilly? He was not at the Debate, the biggest event, when measured in the number of viewers, in the history of FOX News. He was not on his own show in the days that followed. There is one obvious hypothesis. Unlike Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly, Bill O’Reilly is committed to journalistic ethics and believes the FOX motto, “fair and balanced.” He declined to go along with the orders (from Roger Ailes or from Rupert Murdoch himself?) to pummel Donald Trump with personal insults in order to provoke him into inappropriate behavior. As Tom Piatak has pointed out, there were no questions on the free trade policies that have devastated the city of Cleveland, where the debate took place, or on the decision by the Republican leadership in Congress to give President Obama “fast track authority” to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Of the five Republican heroes in the Senate who voted against that act of treason two were on the stage at Cleveland (Cruz and Paul). Trump brought up trade by mentioning China and Mexico, but there was no follow up.
In “Man for All Seasons” Sir Thomas More reminds the court that the maxim of the Common Law is qui tacet, consentire, “silence betokens consent.” In the play Henry VIII knows that there are times when silence shouts aloud for those willing to hear. Whatever he may do in the days ahead, at the time of the Debate and in the days that followed Bill O’Reilly held his peace and kept his honor.