Q on the tube: The O’Reilly factor

Bill O’Reilly knows how to work his “brand. ” His show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” remains a ratings-grabber on FOX as the highest-rated cable news show on the air for the 100th month in a row. O’Reilly is alsoa favorite guest on other talk shows, including “Oprah.”

Cut from the same homophobic, liberal-hating cloth as Rush Limbaugh, but more photogenic and seemingly less extremist, O’Reilly has managed to deflect any negative press from himself, unlike Limbaugh, who remains a lightning rod for the left.

“Liberals” and “secularists” have been the targets of choice for O’Reilly in recent years, and he has taken on a plethora of actors from TV and film. He’s had encounters with David Letterman, who regularly called O’Reilly an idiot and, when interviewing him on his own late-night show, said, “Isn’t it fair to say that about 60 percent of what you say is just crap?”

O’Reilly countered by asking Letterman if he wanted the U.S. to win in Iraq.

Like many right-wing talk-show folks, O’Reilly likes to attack Hollywood. His latest target is Sean Penn, Oscar-winning star of “Milk” who opened his Best Actor acceptance speech with, “You commie, homo-loving sons of guns.”

It’s unclear why the right is so Hollywood-obsessed. The only well-known Hollywood actors who ever made it in politics were Republicans, notably Ronald Reagan and Fred Thompson. But the right asserts that Hollywood — comprised, as the Hannitys and Limbaughs assert, of homosexuals, Jews and liberals — runs Washington. Of course D.C. was run by Republicans until a nanosecond ago, but facts never seem to be an issue for right-leaning pundits.

In a recent interview with “The Hollywood Reporter,” O’Reilly called for a boycott of Penn’s films.

The talk-show host asserted that his “job is to watch the powerful,” and that “a performer has a forum that other people do not, and all we ask is that they be fair.”

In the interview, O’Reilly discussed his previous run-ins with George Clooney, but acknowledged it was only Penn’s work that he would categorically refuse to watch, and that he was boycotting Penn’s films, several of which have been Oscar winners.

According to O’Reilly, the problem with Penn in particular and other actors as well is their bully pulpits.

“If they believe something and use their TV show, movie or concert to spout off about it, that’s fine,” asserted O’Reilly. “But if we have some questions about their beliefs, I think they should answer them — and not be drive-by people.”

One can only imagine why O’Reilly has decided to go after Penn now, post-Oscar, but Penn’s vocal opposition to Proposition 8 — the same-sex marriage ban in California — is likely a reason. O’Reilly has said on his show that same-sex marriage could lead to “nuptials with goats” and has repeatedly asserted that same-sex marriage is one of the big dangers posed by “secularists” and the “politically correct.”

On March 24, O’Reilly announced his support for Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, who said last week he would veto a same-sex marriage bill that has strong support in the state (Vermont was the first state to allow same-sex civil unions). Douglas’ “reasoning” is that the bill will create a “distraction” from the economic crisis, even though Vermont has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Most queers have known for a long time that Bill O’Reilly is not their friend. But his recent comments have made clear that he is an enemy not just of the LGBT community, but also of anyone who supports civil rights for same-sex couples.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.