Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
In honor of Bill O’Reilly’s ignominious disappearance from our TV screens, we consider the other bloviating figures we have a hard time stomaching.
What TV personality/talking-head commentator do you find intolerable?
You know who’s a dick? Tucker Carlson is a dick. (Don’t take my word for it.) I don’t want to turn this into a pile-on of Fox News personalities, but the fact is, I was disgusted by Carlson’s faux-intellectual simpering long before he boot-licked his way into a nightly show on the channel that still tries to convince you racial animus in this country is Obama’s fault. I was heartened but also reminded of my dislike of the sentient puckered butt cheeks in a recent New Yorker profile, which managed to portray his humanity while also subtly pointing out that he’s an amoral douchebag who sells his loyalty to the highest bidder. The most galling thing of all is that he resorts to the last refuge of the 21st-century scoundrel—keeping one or two opinions that might actually conflict with his corporate mandate—as a way to try and sell his credibility. Being in favor of basic human rights doesn’t make you a noble truth-teller resisting the pressures of everyone around you; Bill O’Reilly was on the cover of The Advocate in the early 2000s as an avatar of conservative gay-rights advocacy, for god’s sake. Carlson is the epitome of silver-spoon suck-up behavior, and his embarrassing sexism only lessens his impact among anyone who’s not nodding off in front of the TV at a rest home, thereby boosting Fox News’ ratings. Tucker, I’ll happily be on your show any time, but just know, every time you steamroll over me with pitiful ad hominem attacks, the way you do anyone who disagrees with you (that is, if you’re not giving a disdainful snigger as evidence you don’t actually have a viable rebuttal to their argument), I’ll just be holding up a sign saying, “There’s a reason this intemperate coward can’t have a debate with me.”
As if Ann Coulter and Nancy Grace weren’t bad enough, here comes Tomi Lahren. The thing that’s so utterly horrifying about Lahren isn’t her rank hypocrisy, picking and choosing which aspects of feminism suit her particular privileged worldview while disavowing the movement as a whole, or even her blatant racism directed at everything from Black Lives Matter to Colin Kaepernick’s protests. Her worldview is reprehensible, no doubt. But the most infuriating thing about Lahren is the smugness with which she holds forth on topics she knows absolutely nothing about, the conservative talking-head equivalent of a college freshman who comes home for winter break with half a semester of sociology 101 under their belt and the belief that they know everything. When Lahren makes statements like “Americans stand up and fight for faith, family, and freedom. Syrians run away,” it’s even more infuriating knowing that the most dangerous place Lahren has ever been is a Home Depot parking lot. If her subdivision were ever under attack, you can bet she would be fleeing before you can say “Make America Great Again”—and she’d expect FEMA to pay for her resettlement. She’s a spoiled dancing monkey in a MAGA hat, and too often people treat her as harmless because she’s a pouty blond white lady. Fuck that. It’s time to stop coddling Tomi Lahren, and let her have a taste of her own tough-love medicine.
In some ways, you have to pity Geraldo Rivera, a working-class kid who put himself through law school to work on behalf of the poor and marginalized, earned a Peabody for reporting on the abuse of the mentally ill, and made his name as a fearless investigative journalist, but who will forever be remembered as the schmuck who drilled into Al Capone’s empty vault. On the other hand, fuck Geraldo Rivera. Fuck his relentless courting of fame at all cost to his integrity, first as the host of an exploitative talk show whose only contribution to the public good was that time some skinhead broke his nose, and then as the eager rodeo clown sent by Fox News to blunder into every disaster to see if he can somehow make it worse, be it giving away troop movements in Iraq, blaming Trayvon Martin’s killing on his hoodie, or simply thrusting cameras in the weeping faces of murder victims’ families, before confidently proclaiming that, you know, they probably should have fought back. The New York Times once reported that Rivera pushed a rescue worker out of the way so he could be filmed “assisting” a disabled woman during Hurricane Katrina; it’s an assertion that Rivera contested, threatening to sue, but the fact that everyone just believed it anyway says everything about how people see him. He is a bloodsucking leech applied to all the world’s sore spots, growing fatted on its every ill.
Geraldo is even more pathetic thanks to his perpetually muddled political convictions: A registered Republican who’s quick to crow about how much fun it is to see big ol’ American bombs explode, he’s also been outspoken about the need for stricter gun control, has written books on the racism behind U.S. immigration laws, and is frequently propped up as a quasi-liberal black hole for Fox pundits to shout into and hear their own voices echoed back, simply because he’s expressed some mild, quickly retracted reservations about Trump—all of which has served to make him equally despised on both sides of the political spectrum. And to make matters worse, in classic Rivera fashion, his incredible, inexplicable self-regard means he always, always spoils for a fight with absolutely anyone who criticizes him, leaving him in embarrassingly lopsided quarrels with people like Kendrick Lamar and John Oliver—and that’s just this week. Hell, there’s at least a 50-50 chance he’ll read this and write some aggrieved tweet at me, because that is Geraldo Rivera’s tragic folly: a man who must always fill the air with his own voice, otherwise the silence will force him to confront the gnawing emptiness inside. If he were a character in a darkly comic novel, he would be fascinating and maybe even slightly empathetic. But he’s not. He’s real and he’s on TV all day, spewing his pompous, self-serving bullshit, so fuck him.
How do you even choose who your most reviled pundit is? You may as well ask the Egyptians about to choose their least-favorite plague. The River Nile turning into blood really stunk by noontime, but it sure wasn’t fun finding all those frogs in my kneading trough. Except the Egyptians only had to contend with 10 plagues. We have a seeming infinity of bloviating assholes to contend with. So I’ll just shut my eyes… point… and Sean Hannity! Like all right-wing blowhards, he can sling shit all day, but even the slightest criticism returned to his face causes the bubble-thin skin of his ego to ripple in disbelief that anyone could be so needlessly cruel. He embodies the worst authoritarian lickspittle trait of having exactly zero fixed principles; his allegiance to the Republican Party is a reductive us-versus-them bereft of policy and only played for points. He’ll blindly encourage something his team does, even after ruthlessly criticizing the same actions put forward by the opposing party. He’s a coward and a sycophant.
Megyn Kelly is not someone I pay much attention to, but I took note of her leave from Fox because of the strange, “feminist” praise that other members of the 24-hour news cycle heaped upon her. It was as if Kelly standing up for herself—from her position of immense power as one of the faces of the network—erased her long past of pushing racism and reactionary politics in the guise of news. She’s still a terrible person who spread noxious lies, she’s still a huge racist, and she still mocks many of the tenets that feminists fight for—even the very basic stuff like contraception and paid family leave. She’s not a feminist. She’s not a journalist. She’s a pundit who brought anti-gay and anti-immigrant guests to her show, and a tiny amount of turn-around on a few issues doesn’t change her history as a conservative conspiracy peddler.
It’s hard to tell whether Jeffrey Lord is really an idiot, or if he just plays one on TV. I tend to think it’s the latter, which is actually more infuriating: As CNN’s oily voice of conservatism, he tends to duck questions and facts completely, which I guess makes sense coming from the guy who wrote What America Needs: The Case For Trump. He got into a hot debate with Don Lemon recently after comparing his orange leader to Martin Luther King, a comparison so absurd it was pretty clear he didn’t even take it seriously. This might all make for good ratings—I have no idea—but seeing that face on your channel makes me switch very quickly, CNN, to the point that I’m shutting you out completely nowadays. For further information, don’t turn on CNN, but check out this lengthy list of Lord’s indiscretions on our sister site, The Root.
Look, I don’t want to be mean here, but I just don’t have time for you, Matt Lauer. I’ll grant that you’re almost certainly an infinitely better person than the other folks on this list—your nice words about your mom this week were especially nice—but I can comfortably ignore most of those folks in my day-to-day life. You, however, are ubiquitous, the placeholder human sitting atop NBC’s Today for the last 20 years, blandly giving the camera somewhere to focus while more interesting people talked. Watching a retrospective of your career, I’m struck by a bizarre paradox: that a man could report on so many of the defining moments of the 21st century, interview its most important people, and yet still seems as bored (and boring) as if he’d been placidly watching grass grow. Matt Lauer seems like a genuinely good guy, despite his occasional doofus-dad moments. He’s also the banal heart of national network morning news, a living symbol of its tendency to leach passion from stories in favor of a generic, blood-pressure-friendly chumminess.
I love watching Real Time With Bill Maher, especially when Bill Maher has on conservative guests to be his political sparring partners. And while my personal views overlap with his about 80 percent of the time, Maher is an exasperating moderator, a borderline dismissive prick who shuts down even the most genteel panelists without provocation. He is one to paint whole swaths of people (in this case, conservatives) as a backwater corn-poke monolith, which, even if you agree with the sentiment, you know is not as black-and-white a generalization. He is to the right what Ann Coulter is to the left—a pundit who, if you’re playing on the same team, is someone you excuse as “Yeah, he’s an asshole, but at least he’s our asshole.” And that’s why I’ll continue watching Real Time, as completely unwatchable as Maher can be.