Moving Pictures
Jun 01, 2009, 08:43AM

O'Reilly, Tiller, and The Fisher King

The culpability of political pundits.

The brutal, in-church murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller this weekend has prompted plenty of grief, both from the pro-choice movement and from people way outside of it. But, as detailed in a widely disseminated essay from Salon, this murder comes after a nearly 4-year campaign by Bill O'Reilly to demonize Tiller. In 28 mentions of Tiller since 2005, O'Reilly has called the doctor a "baby killer," accused him of operating (and then-Kansas-Governor Kathleen Sebelius of supporting) a "death mill," compared Tiller to the doctors at Nazi death camps, and claimed that all Tiller's supporters will get their just desserts on "Judgment Day."

This is sick stuff, maybe even hate speech, but others will get into that and doubtless already have. I'm more interested in this incident's relation to the 1991 Terry Gilliam film The Fisher King, in which a shock-jock radio blowhard (Jeff Bridges) tells a listener that "evil" yuppies (who are "repulsed by imperfection, horrified by the banal, everything that America stands for") "must be stopped." But when that listener enters a fashionable restaurant and opens fire, killing a woman, Bridges loses his job and is sent on a journey of self-discovery—aided by a deranged homeless man (Robin Williams) who just happens to be the widower of the restaurant attack's victim.

The movie never makes good on the richness of its premise; Gilliam's stylistic heavy-handedness is too broad for this already melodramatic script. But, while O'Reilly's enormous audience and bankability ensure he'll never lose his job over this incident, it's been announced that he'll address Tiller's slaying tonight on his television show. I'd like to believe he's got a Jeff Bridges moment in him somewhere, that maybe this will move him to dial back the vitriol with which he discusses this issue. But I'm not expecting anything like that. Rather, O'Reilly will probably pass the buck and immediately separate his inflammatory statements from the murderer who followed them to their logical terminus. (I should also note that, as of this writing, no clarification has been made about whether Tiller's murderer even watched O'Reilly's program at all prior to the crime.) Perhaps he'll claim the killer was suffering a mental divergence.


Register or Login to leave a comment