A Journalist's Archive

A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity
Bill O'Reilly
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

          Sister Mary Lurana provided the title for Bill O'Reilly's memoir over 50 years ago. Third-grader O'Reilly was competing with his best friend Clement for the title of class clown when Sister Lurana tore down the aisle, loomed over his desk, and roared, "William, you are a bold fresh piece of humanity." Obviously, her statement wasn't a compliment. But that didn't stop O'Reilly from wearing the term as a badge of honor, and then using the phrase, to the point of obnoxiousness, in this book.

          The host of the "O'Reilly Factor" said he had to write "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity" because he neglected to explain in "four consecutive number one nonfiction best sellers" how he became a "champion bloviator." According to the dictionary, a bloviator is "one who discourses at length in a pompous or boastful manner." While he probably meant this to be a tongue-in-cheek remark, I'm sorry to say it's too factual to get a laugh. Even as a reader who agrees with many of O'Reilly's political ideas, I found it hard to stomach his "never wrong" attitude. While other authors write reflective memoirs, revealing where they went wrong and how they turned their life around, O'Reilly had a lock on the path of righteousness straight out of the womb. So if being a bloviator was a sport, this book leaves little doubt that O'Reilly would have won more gold medals than Michael Phelps.

          For all those Catholic school baby boomers out there, his memories of St. Brigit's in Levittown, N.Y, will sound very familiar. Many of us felt like prisoners locked into extremely overpopulated cell blocks. O'Reilly's cell contained 60 students. We all learned the lessons of Catholicism via the Baltimore No. 2 Catechism. We all dreaded the endless arithmetic "drills and mentals." We all feared the wrath of the nuns more than the wrath of God. But I got a good chuckle when O'Reilly reported that in fifth grade he was placed in the "dumb aisle," strategically located next to a huge bank of windows. The nuns' secret weapon for handling troublemakers and under-achievers must have been to give the malcontents something to occupy their time. Having spent many days in a similar row myself, I never knew it was just another part of the universal parochial school experience. O'Reilly, and the rest of us dummies, loved those windows!

          O'Reilly peppers his memoir with references to the music, movies, and political events that shaped boomers' lives, as he skillfully bounces between decades. During the 1950's, good guys wore white hats, monsters were monsters, and the line between good and evil was as clear as black and white. While many boomers rebelled against these ideas, O'Reilly didn't. In fact, he still embraces the values of the 1950's, which leaves little room for shades of gray when determining the correct path in politics or life.

          But O'Reilly gives little credit to the people who taught him those values. His parents were products of the Depression Era. He disparagingly writes that his father was a man consumed by fear. Fear that he would lose his job, fear that bad economic times were right around the corner. Therefore, his father never attempted to get another job, even while he detested getting up and going to work each morning. "Dad surrendered his dignity to Caltex oil." O'Reilly never once acknowledges that his father's job provided him with a good home and a private school education. He refers to his mother as "ultra cautious and rather complacent," then goes on to slam her cooking skills. If O'Reilly's memory is correct, fish sticks and meatloaf made up 90% of his diet.

          While his family, like everyone else's, was glued to the television set after Kennedy was assassinated, politics was not a big part of his childhood. Sports occupied most of his free time. "My friends and I never discussed politics. We had the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Rangers, and Knicks," he said. That changed when O'Reilly spent a year abroad at Queen May College. The year was 1969, yet O'Reilly was shocked at the anti-American sentiment he encountered in England. He chalked it up to jealousy, and still contends that is the main reason why other nations dislike America. There may be some truth to that, but I think the tons of napalm being dropped on Vietnam at the time had a little something to do with those feelings.

          Returning to college in Poughkeepsie in 1970, O'Reilly found himself entering an entirely different world. Suddenly, politics was the only topic of conversation. While he brags about never partaking in the drug or alcohol scene, he laments that "even scrawny guys spouting radical rubbish and holding an ounce got laid," while he didn't.

          Politically, O'Reilly is a self-proclaimed Libertarian. "I'm a live and let live type of guy. I serve no political master." But he's more than happy to let us know how he feels about Oprah, Donald Trump, and the liberal media. Next, he claims to tolerate all religious beliefs, only to berate anyone who is a non-believer. By the end of the book, he even makes a ridiculously childish comment to prove atheists have it all wrong. His proof that there is a God is his own success.

          He writes, "Next time you meet an atheist, tell him or her that you know a bold, fresh guy, a barbarian who was raised in a working-class home and retains the lessons he learned there. Then mention to that atheist that this guy is now watched and listened to, by millions of people all over the world and, to boot, sells millions of books. Then, while the nonbeliever is digesting all that, ask him or her if they still don't believe there's a God!"

          Sorry O'Reilly, but I doubt anyone forms a belief system based on the success of a television news hack.

          While "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity" is well written, that's about the only good thing I can say about it. Instead of offering any new insight, it is merely 256 pages of pontification. Perhaps a better title for this book would be "An Obnoxiously Arrogant Piece of Humanity." But you will have to read the book to see if you agree with my assessment.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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