Bill O'Reilly is no stranger to the ambush. Though the Fox News host rarely interviews people outside of his New York studio, he has sent producer Jesse Watters into the field to surprise figures on the left and barrage them with questions on camera. Watters made headlines last year when he chased down a vacationing Amanda Terkel after she criticized O'Reilly's appearance at fundraiser for rape survivors. "I was ambushed by O’Reilly’s top hit man, producer Jesse Watters, who accosted me on the street," Terkel reported.
Watters' latest victim was a much bigger fish: Al Gore. In Monday's "Reality Check" segment, O'Reilly showed footage of Watters confronting a shell-shocked Gore before a lecture at Duke. After Gore agrees to consider sitting down for an interview, Watters begins to pepper him with climate change questions, with Gore repeatedly responding "I'm not doing an interview right now."
After showing the clip, a smirking O'Reilly chuckled: "Does he have a responsibility to answer those questions? Since he's no longer in public office, we think he does."
Less than amused is Salon's Gabriel Winant, who fired back at O'Reilly and Watters for the "unfair gimmick" which produced "some incredibly misleading and exploitative footage." Not only were Watters' specific global warming questions "spurious," Winant fumes, but his guerrilla tactics represent "a master class in smarminess." Then Winant turns his ire on O'Reilly himself.
[O'Reilly] has the nerve to wonder why Gore won’t come on the program. Actually, he of course isn’t really wondering that. Watters' ambush journalism is structured to make it seem like there’s a conspiracy of liberals who won't engage with the important questions. By being outrageously provocative and misleading, it discourages its targets from engaging with it, and thus is able to make unanswered insinuations about them. It is, in other words, epistemic closure at its finest: questions that don't need answers, and an argument that has no interest in a response.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.