Last night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly proved himself to be the Hannibal Lecter of right-wing demagoguery. Just as Dr. Lecter used his insights as a cannibal killer to help police get inside the minds of murderers, so O’Reilly drew on his experience as a serial liar to help America get inside the mind of Donald Trump.
The host began by informing Trump that Fox News — like every other journalistic outlet that’s looked into the matter — couldn’t find any substantiating evidence for the candidate’s claim that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims partied in the streets of New Jersey while watching the Twin Towers crumble to the ground.
O’Reilly said there were “some” people celebrating but insisted, “There’s nobody on tape [talking] about thousands of people celebrating. It doesn’t exist … So you were wrong by saying thousands.”
“Well, I don’t know that I’m wrong, Bill. This just came out from Breitbart,” the GOP front-runner said, before holding up a printout of an article from the right-wing news site. “It literally just came out, ‘Trump Vindicated, 100 Percent Vindicated.’”
Of course, if everything Breitbart published were true, then there would be a lobby in Washington called “Friends of Hamas” that donates money to moderate Republicans.
Anyhow, Trump proceeded to engage O’Reilly in an epistemological dialogue about the limits of human certainty, eventually getting the Fox News host to concede that he didn’t “know” that there weren’t thousands of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City on 9/11, but was merely “pretty confident” that there weren’t.
And then Dr. Lecter made his diagnosis.
“Here’s what happens,” O’Reilly said. “Sometimes, when you’re up there, you get overly excited and you’re speaking extemporaneously. And then you say things, as anybody would, because the crowd is cheering and everything is going wild, that you don’t know to be true but you believe to be true.”
Trenchant insight and the absence of self-awareness have never been so neatly bound.