Bill O'Reilly's Surprising Defense of Ellen DeGeneres

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The Fox News host is siding with the lesbian comedian against the social conservatives calling for her termination.

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Ellen DeGeneres, the daytime talk-show host and heir apparent to Oprah Winfrey, is likable as all get out, and a lot of women who watch TV during the day prefer her to anyone else. So JCPenney, the discount department store, chose her as a celebrity endorser when it began to re-brand.

The choice is now making headlines, as a group called One Million Moms demands her termination. "Funny that JC Penney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of their customers are traditional families," the group states on its website, urging the chain to "be neutral in the culture war." Perhaps the threatened boycott will benefit of rival Sears, where traditional families can revel in the tight-knit Kardashian Kollection, or Kohl's, which re-signed family-values icon Britney Spears as a partner in 2010.

More likely, this campaign is going to fail miserably -- trying to get gay people out of fashion? Really? -- but it's nevertheless heartening to see that even Bill O'Reilly, staunch foe of "secularists," perceives its odiousness. Here's a clip of him defending Ellen on The O'Reilly Factor:



To be clear, Bill O'Reilly's blustery faux-reasoning is as typically nonsensical in the clip above as always. Does he really believe that it's always wrong to demand than an organization fire a spokesperson so long as they haven't broken any laws? Of course he doesn't. This is a man who made it his personal mission to attack Pepsi for hiring the rapper Ludacris as a spokesman. What I suspected O'Reilly was thinking, but didn't say: the anti-Ellen campaign is odious because there is nothing objectionable about the mere fact of being an uncloseted lesbian.

But Papa Bear logic is famously hard to parse. In the next segment, Bernie Goldberg, the critic of liberal media bias, was much clearer, and uttered words that I never thought I'd hear on Fox News Channel:
 

There's something that needs to be said no matter how uncomfortable it makes some people listening to us. There is a strain of bigotry -- and that's the word I want to use -- running through conservative America. That doesn't mean all conservatives are bigots, or even that most conservative are bigots. That's not what I'm saying. But there is a strain of bigotry. And it goes against gay people, for instance. Ellen DeGeneres did nothing wrong. She's gay, right. Reasonable people may disagree on gay marriage. That's fine. But to call on somebody to be fired, to lose her job because she's gay, is bigotry, and I don't care how many people listening to us right now don't like that. It's bigotry.

And he wasn't finished!

Let me say one more thing, Bill. In the middle of the last century, in the 1950s and the 1960s, there was another strain of bigotry on the right, and it was against black people. That has to leave the conservative movement. I used to be a liberal. I became a conservative because liberals were a little too crazy for me. A lot too crazy for me, actually. But you know what? I am immensely uncomfortable with the bigotry on the right. And I don't care how many people don't like it. I am sick of it.

It led to this interesting exchange:

Bill O'Reilly: It's not Ellen DeGeneres's sexuality that they object to, Bernie. It's how she presents it to the public. They believe, the Million Moms believe, that she flaunts it, she puts it in their face.

Bernie Goldberg: She flaunts it? I flaunt my heterosexuality.

Bill O'Reilly: No you don't. We don't know about your personal life. You don't walk around and all of that.

Bernie Goldberg: What do you mean she flaunts it?

Bill O'Reilly: She makes it a cause. She makes it a cause celebre. And that's what they object to.

Bernie Goldberg: They're a minority that in many places are under attack. She has every right to make it a cause. And there's no agenda. She's just gay. She wants to live her life as a gay person. I'm telling you, I'm sick of this.

At this point, O'Reilly quite possibly saves Goldberg's job by expertly drawing him back inside the bubble:


Bill O'Reilly: Now the bigotry against pro-life people, I think, is way more than the bigotry against gay people, particularly in the media, because the media supports gay people, generally speaking.

Bernie Goldberg: (unenthusiastically) Right.

Well, no. Wrong. The fact that the media is more gay-friendly than pro-life-friendly hardly makes the country more bigoted against the latter group than the former, as a casual perusal of hate-crime data makes brutally clear. I suspect that both O'Reilly and Goldberg know that, but grading on the Fox News curve, you've got to give them credit for the above segments. Ellen did.

Image credit: Reuters  

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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