CATEGORIES Hot Topic, Columns
Jennifer AnistonLike most paparazzi bait in American culture, Jennifer Aniston has wisely ignored the crazy things being said and written about her in supermarket tabloids and elsewhere. But when Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly attacked her on his TV show Wednesday night, she was taken aback. "I never actually thought that my name and [O'Reilly's] name would ever be in one sentence," Aniston told 'Good Morning America's' George Stephanopolous.

Aniston may have been urged to take up the fight with O'Reilly by publicists for 'The Switch,' the picture that sparked the commentator's ire. There's good publicity and there's better publicity; having one of the nation's loudest conservative foghorns calling her out for being "destructive to society" by playing a single, middle-age woman who chooses to have a baby via a sperm donor can do nothing but tantalize the film's target audience. Jennifer AnistonLike most paparazzi bait in American culture, Jennifer Aniston has wisely ignored the crazy things being said and written about her in supermarket tabloids and elsewhere. But when Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly attacked her on his TV show Wednesday night, she was taken aback. "I never actually thought that my name and [O'Reilly's] name would ever be in one sentence," Aniston told 'Good Morning America's' George Stephanopoulos.

Aniston may have been urged to take up the fight with O'Reilly by publicists for 'The Switch,' the picture that sparked the commentator's ire. There's good publicity and there's better publicity; having one of the nation's loudest conservative foghorns calling her out for being "destructive to society" by playing a single, middle-age woman who chooses to have a baby via a sperm donor can do nothing but tantalize the film's target audience.

O'Reilly took the movie's premise and Aniston's public support of that premise as a direct affront to the role of men in the American Family. "She's throwing a message out there to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that 'Hey, you don't need a guy, you don't need a dad ...' That's destructive to our society."

Bill O'ReillyThere is something endearing about O'Reilly when he ventures into areas of pop culture that are not directly related to politics. Watching him feign umbrage at some perceived offense in a movie is a lot more fun than watching him spray spittle over some fool liberal who wanders into his shouting range. In the Aniston case, he could barely keep a straight face while "arguing" with Fox regulars Gretchen Carlson and Margaret Hoover, both of whom were defending the actress with broad, we-can't-believe-you're-serious grins on their faces the whole time.

Now, for a personal anecdote. In 1996, when Fox News was spreading its conservative tentacles across the nation but had not yet expanded its reach into the New York market, I was invited onto O'Reilly's show to discuss my four-star review in Newsday of Milos Forman's 'The People vs. Larry Flynt.' O'Reilly's producer assured me that the boss really liked the review and wanted to discuss it with me on air.

I agreed as a professional courtesy. I didn't have a book to sell, nobody I knew would be watching and I was only vaguely aware of O'Reilly from his previous gig on the intolerable gossip show 'Inside Edition.' This was not exactly the journalistic opportunity of a lifetime. Whatever I expected that night, I ended up as surprised as a trapped fly staring into the jaws of an advancing spider. O'Reilly didn't want to talk about my review of 'The People vs. Larry Flynt'; he wanted me to defend Woody Harrelson's decision to play the founder of Hustler magazine in a movie that O'Reilly felt romanticized pornography.

Larry FlyntI wasn't treated badly by O'Reilly, whom I actually kind of liked. But I was dumbstruck by his premise -- that actors should not play bad guys, and if they do, they should be prepared to suffer the consequences. As far as he was concerned, this one-time nice guy bartender from 'Cheers' was now forever marked by his fictional association with a pervert.

I offered no defense for Flynt; he is a pretty unseemly character. But in defending Flynt's publishing rights, the movie exalted a fundamental American right protected by the First Amendment. People stretch the First Amendment boundaries all the time, frequently on Fox News, but it does not break. That's both a good thing and a good subject for a movie.

And it goes without saying that actors should be able to play socially undesirable characters; broadcasting anything to the contrary as a serious proposition is ludicrous. If you can name one great actor who has gone his entire career without playing one, let me know -- and Pat Boone doesn't count.

As far as O'Reilly's broadside against Aniston, I can only think it was a slow news day. OK, he could work up a sweat over the idea of a porn king getting his own biopic treatment, but 'The Switch' is a romantic comedy that ultimately promotes family and parental love. Somebody needs to get a life ... and it's not Jen.