Saturday, August 27, 2005

Joe McQuaid Meets the Bully Bill - How He Can Win The Rematch

Union Leader Publisher Joseph McQuaid recently went to the mat with Fox TV commentator Bill O’Reilly over O’Reilly’s criticism of the paper’s stand on the Jessica Lunsford bill.

As written, the Florida law the bill is based upon requires mandatory sentences for sex offenders. It’s named for the 9-year-old Florida girl who was killed this March by a sex offender living near her home.

McQuaid went on the show after O’Reilly criticized the paper’s editorial calling for the state to review the 85-page bill before signing onto it. Before McQuaid’s Aug. 24, appearance on the show, the paper had responded effectively by attacking O’Reilly’s bullying tactics and distortion of the facts in an editorial.

Was Joe McQuaid right when he wrote that the state should study the bill first, not adopt it without hardly looking at it? Yes.

But on television, his properly nuanced strategy for reviewing legislation and polite New Hampshire demeanor didn't work very well, and he looked defensive and unprepared for O’Reilly’s inevitable angry assault.

Perhaps no one can be fully prepared for it, since Bill the Bully is known for yelling over guests' comments and interrupting incessantly, then graciously giving the guest “the last word.” But I suppose if McQuaid had had some talking points handy, and said, "You know, we don't necessarily oppose the bill, we just think an 85-page bill needs to be reviewed first," it would have diffused some of O’Reilly’s angry tirade. Maybe.

Bringing up the fact that the Union Leader posted a list of sex offenders on its Website years ago would also have added to the paper’s credibility.

Instead, saying they’d review the bill, "New Hampshire way" (which I suppose loosely applies to the legislation in question) opened McQuaid up to Bill's great (but inaccurate) one-liners about NH being a state that refuses to be tough on criminals.

And whatever you think of them, to paint the Union Leader as a liberal, soft-on-crime paper is ludicrous.

McQuaid straying into the off-camera banter between himself and O’Reilly’s staff was not clearly understood by viewers, either. It was interpreted as someone complaining about “behind the scenes” things, and took away time from the main issue. As it turned out, O’Reilly breezed past the criticism and went back on the attack, as a skilled debater and veteran TV pundit knows to do.

In short, the attacks were unfair, but if Joe McQuaid goes back on the show, he should play hardball and have talking points ready. This ain't a newspaper column, it's the Great TV Arena, and Bill the Bully is the head gladiator there.

But with right on his side, he can lay waste to him.


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