Nick Lemann has 4,685
words on Bill O’Reilly in this week’s New Yorker. At no point is the article
presented as a profile, but that’s how it reads. Until you reach the end and
you realise that although Lemann has quoted O’Reilly a lot, it’s always cited:
it’s a quotation from a book or a transcript. The absence of any visible first-hand
reporting is striking.
Lemann does note near the beginning of the piece that O’Reilly
has called on his audience to shun several news organizations, including
The New Yorker—whose specific sin was questioning the assertion, repeated
frequently on “The O’Reilly Factor” during December, that
the country is in the grip of a “war on Christmas.”
Would it have been too much to add, at that point, that O’Reilly therefore
refused to talk to Lemann for this article? As it stands, we don’t know what
happened: it’s possible that Lemann asked for an interview and was turned down.
It’s also possible that he asked for an interview but O’Reilly talked to him
only off the record. It’s also possible that he asked for an interview, spoke
to O’Reilly briefly, and got nothing worth quoting directly. It’s even possible
that Lemann, approaching the article less as a profile and more in the spirit
of media criticism, didn’t ask for an interview at all. But a full explanation
of what happened would have been worthwhile, I think, if only in the interests
of full disclosure.
Normally, I wouldn’t bother making such a minor quibble, but Lemann is dean
of the J-School at Columbia. One holds him to a higher standard.