O’Reilly’s Marijuana/Texting/Videogame Theory Destroyed by Guest

Columbia University's Carl Hart

Columbia University’s Carl Hart reenacted the Marshall McLuhan scene from Annie Hall on the O’Reilly Factor–playing the McLuhan role himself.

One of the most satisfying O’Reilly Factor episodes ever aired Monday night (1/6/14) when, through some terrible miscalculation, someone who knew what he was talking about managed to get on the show.

It happened as O’Reilly was explaining his latest crackpot theory about why young people are so horrible. According to the Fox News host, texting, marijuana use and videogames  are leading the young down an escapist path to destruction. O’Reilly repeated his theory through several iterations:   

  •  “A perfect storm of increasing marijuana use, video games and texting [is] creating major social problems in America.”
  •  “I see a coming storm here, a tsunami building with the drugs, the soft drugs, the pot and the high-tech abuse. I think it’s abuse. I think that kids texting 100 times a day, that’s abuse.”
  • “Here’s a kicker, a study by the University of Winnipeg in Canada says students who text more than 100 times a day are 30 percent less likely to be ethical or principled in life. Are we getting all this? Young people in America are combining drugs, alcohol, and high-tech to build false lives to run away from reality.”

The Fox News host also quoted a tweet from Daily Beast editor Tina Brown (1/3/14): “Legal weed contributes to us being a fatter, dumber, sleepier nation even less able to compete with the Chinese.” He presented this as evidence that even liberals were starting to come around to his anti-marijuana views. Then he expanded on Brown’s theme: 

In China, young people are encouraged to compete, be disciplined, to live in the real world. Not here. And, again, there are very few voices speaking out against drug and tech abuse. This is an epidemic that will lead to a weaker nation. And anybody who tells you differently is lying to you.

In another segment on the same show, O’Reilly told Fox News liberal Juan Williams there was not a large number of people arrested for using marijuana: “Juan, there’s no mass arrests of users.”

In the US, there’s a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds,  totaling 750,000 in 2011, 87 percent of which were for simple possession. 

But O’Reilly’s mess of a theory hit a snag during a segment featuring–in addition to cranky Fox News psychiatrist Keith Ablow–Columbia University neuroscientist Carl Hart, who told the host that his key premise, that marijuana use was trending upward among the young, just wasn’t true:

O’REILLY: And the prevalence of this is overwhelming now, so you’re going to have a lot of casualties on the battlefield.

HART: That’s not true. Let’s talk about the statistic, let’s talk about the data. In 1978, the recent number of marijuana smokers in the 12th grade, it was 37 percent of the 12th graders said that they smoked marijuana recently. Today that number is down to 22 percent.

O’REILLY: Not the number I just gave.

HART: Well, your number is wrong. Your number is wrong.

O’REILLY: Take it up with the National Institutes of Health. All right? They’re the one that–

HART: No, look, I am a council member on the National Institute of Health. Your number is wrong. I’m telling you, it’s 22 percent of seniors who smoke marijuana in the past month. That’s a fact.

O’REILLY: Well, I doubt it’s a fact, because we don’t get this wrong, these researchers.

HART: That’s wrong.

O’REILLY: All right, we’ll call them again and tomorrow I will say yes or no. Go ahead, Dr. Ablow.

If O’Reilly had any hope Fox News‘ Ablow would save his argument, that quickly went up in smoke when the bizarre psychiatrist’s remarks made O’Reilly’s look cogent:

Yes, look, the doctor has it wrong. The bottom line is this is not 1978; 1978 people weren’t carrying cell phones. They weren’t using Facebook. They weren’t depositing themselves on YouTube and being surprised by being arrested after beating somebody up on YouTube. They’re like: “Wait, this is the real world, I can get arrested for this? I thought it was all fun and games.” We are weakening our young people because we are suggesting to them that it’s OK to be high all the time.

That was perhaps too kooky even for O’Reilly, who backed away from Ablow: “I don’t know if we’re suggesting that. I don’t know if we’re suggesting that.” 


Monthly marijuana use vs. cigarettesIn case there were any doubt, Carl Hart’s numbers were right. And O’Reilly did not keep his promise to check and tell us “yes or no” the next night (1/7/14), though he did rail against marijuana some more. 

Still, seeing reality intervene on the O’Reilly Factor, even for just a brief moment, was satisfying. Of course, it likely resulted in an urgent meeting of O’Reilly’s producers to make sure that it never happens again.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.