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The Story Behind My O'Reilly Protest

Barry Nolan

So, I'm that TV guy who got fired by Comcast over Bill O'Reilly. I protested the fact that O'Reilly was chosen to receive the Governors Award at this year's Emmy Awards ceremony. That's the highest honor that they hand out. The important word here is: honor.

Now granted -- you won't find a lot of Albert Schweitzers or Mother Teresas working in television, but at least the people who had been honored in the past had pretty much followed the part of the Hippocratic oath that says, "First, do no harm."

O'Reilly was an appalling choice, not because of his political views, but because he simply gets the facts wrong, abuses his guests and the powerless in general, is delusional, and, well, you might want to Google: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Plus there was that whole sexual harassment thing -- the lawsuit he settled for an estimated $10 million. Not the kind of guy you normally think of when it comes time to pass out honors.

I found that most of my colleagues felt the same way. So, on May 10th at the Emmy Awards dinner, I quietly passed out a document that contained -- not my opinion -- but O'Reilly's own words and quotes from his sexual harassment lawsuit. And that is what got me fired. I got fired from my job on a news and information network for reporting demonstrably true things in a room full of news people.

Normally, in the great scheme of things -- this should be a total non-story. "Overpaid White Guy Gets Fired from Cushy Job for Shooting Mouth Off." Yawn. But these are not normal times. After the word got out that I was fired -- I started hearing from people from all over the country who were outraged. A guy in Texas who had once worked with O'Reilly and had seen a meltdown like the one on Youtube -- a weather anchor in Arizona -- a woman in China no less.

And it all got me to thinking about the myth of free speech. In today's America, speech is only "free" when you are talking down to someone less powerful that you. Speak "up" -- and look out.

In your work life, they can fire you, as I found out, for quietly saying something that is widely known to be true. Put a lid on it.

And in our role as citizens, we have been told by O'Reilly to shut up, or Fox Security may pay you a visit. We are called traitors if we simply speak the truth about the absence of WMD's -- the way the war is going -- the disgraces of Abu Ghraib, of Gitmo, of waterboarding. Shut up.

So, when exactly do they think we have the right to speak up? To speak the quiet simple truth, to people who have more power than us?

Well, I think now would be a good time. The fog of fear is lifting. The balance of power is shifting. People are beginning to talk to each other again instead of shouting. I think it's time to reclaim the right to free speech -- even if it comes at a price.

Meanwhile, if anyone needs any lawn work done or his or her car detailed -- give me a call.

Barry Nolan is a veteran TV journalist who was recently fired by Comcast Cable's CN8 channel in Boston for protesting an award honoring Bill O'Reilly.

© 2005-2008 Center for American Progress Action Fund

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