Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wycliff Finally Takes a Stand

As the Chicago Tribune's Public Editor, Don Wycliff struck me as a mealy-mouthed milquetoast. His examinations of the newspaper's coverage on behalf of readers inevitably played both sides and rarely drew a meaningful conclusion. Maybe he didn't want to piss off his bosses. Maybe he had too many friends at the Trib to properly critique the paper. Of course, the Farm Aid debacle was the best example, but it was consistent with his non-stance regarding other stories as well. His public editor columns made me want to shake him by the shoulders and shout, "Will you please pick a side?!"

Wycliff teaches media criticism at Notre Dame now, and the Tribune recently published his commentary, "The impenetrable fog of Bill O'Reilly." I was shocked to see Wycliff take an aggressive position, the first I've ever seen under his byline. One might think I am making a point of this simply because he skewers one of the media figures I hate the most, and I did relish that aspect. But as long as Wycliff actually stands for something in his commentary, I will probably enjoy reading it.

O'Reilly predictably took great offense to having someone call him on the games he plays. When Clarence Page went on The O'Reilly Factor to defend Wycliff's position (Wycliff apparently canceled at the last minute), Mr. "We don't do personal attacks on this show" was apoplectic, repeatedly referring to Wycliff as a coward. Way to take the high road, Bill. For what it's worth, Page did a good job of defending Wycliff while skewering O'Reilly. Naturally, O'Reilly spent more time dissing Wycliff than he did honestly refuting Wycliff's contentions.

If you can bear to watch Fox's most obnoxious commentator , click here to see his "debate" with Page (there is no such thing as real debate on The O'Reilly Factor, but this comes close). Most amusing is the way O'Reilly goes back two years to cite an example of himself criticizing the government's approach in Iraq (Wycliff had called him a "cheerleader" for the administration). Be sure to read the Media Matters commentary (O'Reilly loves to call them a "far left wing smear site"), which demonstrates that O'Reilly's arguments and denials are pure "bull," to use his own word against him.

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