The David Letterman of old, the guy who got laughs by cruelly deflating his swell-headed guests’ pretensions, made a brief and blessed return last night. His crankiness was aimed at the perfect target: Bill O’Reilly. It was cringemaking fun.
Probably for today only, you can see a clip on Letterman’s CBS website.
Letterman has always been at his best with guests who are media nuisances, like “Dr. Phil,” Regis Philbin or Richard Simmons (although he went pathetically soft on Oprah Winfrey). O’Reilly is the worst TV nuisance of all. He’s either a cynical populist, or a delusional megalomaniac. Or, maybe he’s been doing this so long, he’s both.
Have you noticed that gasoline prices have fallen lately? Bill O’Reilly takes credit for it; he “exposed” the oil companies. Did someone wish you a “Merry Christmas” last month? You should thank Bill O’Reilly. He’s been on a crusade against “Happy Holidays,” the secret code phrase of “secular progressives in the national media” acting “in concert” to destroy both Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.
One of the New Year’s resolutions on his “Talking Points” feature was “to continue looking out for the kids.” Thank goodness. It’s always so hard to find a babysitter. When O’Reilly promises “to continue watching all the powerful in America,” I like to imagine him sitting alone in a room with foil on the windows, the walls covered with newspaper clippings about his powerful enemies.
After a grim exchange about Christmas, pre-Iraq war intelligence and whether Cindy Sheehan deserves any sympathy, Dave delivered his verdict on O’Reilly: “I’m not smart enough to debate you point-to-point on this, but I have the feeling about sixty percent of what you say is crap.”
O’Reilly reminds me of Lonesome Rhodes, the character Andy Griffith played in “A Face in the Crowd.” In that 1957 film, Lonesome is a guitar-playing hobo who becomes a TV celebrity famous for homespun homilies. After awhile, he becomes aware of the effect his schtick has on his audience, and starts deploying his honey-coated rabble-rousing to gain political power. “This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep! Hillbillies, hausfraus – everybody that’s got to jump when someone else blows a whistle! They’re mine!”