TV Review: Schitt’s Creek (CBC, Pop TV)

This light comedy series deserves its reputation as enjoyable. The six-season show, which aired from 2015 through this spring, costars Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, who both also co-produce the program.

The premise of an extremely wealthy family losing their wealth and going to live in a small rural town, is silly. Schitt’s Creek essentially reverses the premise of the popular CBS comedy The Beverly Hillbillies, by replacing that show’s iconic grandmother character with O’Hara’s eccentric wife and mother and two adult kids as unlikely to launch as Elly Mae and Jethro. You can get a sense of Schitt’s Creek from the name of one of its main characters, who also happens to be the town’s mayor, Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott). I think I laughed out loud during almost every episode of the entire series.

With an affected, gay son (Dan Levy) and a dim, shallow daughter (Annie Murphy), the married couple played by Levy and O’Hara anchor the series. O’Hara steals every scene as a vain actress. Eugene Levy plays it straight. These comedians, whose enduring careers trace back together to films and Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe and television program, provide hilarious material, bits and performances. Levy’s real life son and daughter have a hand in both production and regularly starring roles.

Standout episodes encompass later season story arcs involving O’Hara‘s character appearing in a direct-to-video horror sequel and the Levy character trying to launch a new business venture. Emily Hampshire as aimless Stevie, Jenn Robertson as perky Jocelyn, Karen Robinson as hardened Ronnie, Dustin Milligan as wholesome Ted and Noah Reid as entrepreneurial Patrick round out the cast of townies.

Capitalism is Schitt’s Creek’s central plot springboard. It’s what powers the series, which has the sign of the dollar in the title. Each character requires capitalism to mine humor and make progress. For example, the husband and father makes a long, slow and steady comeback from being a former video store businessman thrust into impoverishment to mentoring an associate who studies, learns from and mirrors his money-making skills.

Schitt’s Creek’s climax comes, too, with a capitalistic venture. An apothecary, born of the son’s desire to break free from the pack, sets forth a new vision of his own making, rejuvenating the whole town and becoming a catalyst for his romantic breakthrough. In fact, the romantic subplot involving the son, poignantly and memorably rendered with a recurring cover of Tina Turner‘s “Simply the Best”, yields the upward arc toward the finale.

The actress playing the daughter, Annie Murphy, is very good. She provides Schitt’s Creek’s best dramatic acting. Each of the performances is excellent. As the completely ridiculous mother, O’Hara caps everything with dry wit and a touch of madness. From her pronunciations and incongruous vocabulary to her blinding, glittering wardrobe of feathers and glitz, O’Hara’s neurotic wife and mother character elicits the most laughs.

Each character strives to make money doing work she or he loves. This is the heart and soul of Schitt’s Creek. It’s what distinguishes and differentiates the show from today’s chronic contempt for capitalism and pervasive, predominant comedies infused with absurdism, anti-heroism and cynical vulgarity.

In this sense, Schitt’s Creek — silly as it is — is one of a small number of television comedies during the past 70 years that makes audiences laugh without sniveling at the universe, civilization and the best of humanity.

Schitt’s Creek belongs in the same general category as Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show,, Leave it to Beaver, the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Jeffersons, My Three Sons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Golden Girls, Frasier, and Modern Family in depicting the American family as a joyful and enterprising source for fostering the happy, romantic and idealistic — and distinctly American — life.

TV Review: Mrs. America (FX, Hulu)

I watched every episode of this curiously involving micro-series. Like most cable television-based micro-series, Mrs. America skims the surface of its own topicality. It’s extremely specific in certain details. These details may or may not reflect reality as the opening disclaimer of each episode discloses.

But the nine-part streaming series does provide interesting depictions of both feminism and what the series creators clearly regard as feminism’s opposite—traditionalism. It’s predictably slanted in favor of feminism. However, it’s not without thoughtful dramatic touches.

The whole series centers upon Phyllis Schlafly. Portrayed by Cate Blanchett (Carol, Truth, Cinderella, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), who does not overact for the most part, the downstate Illinois conservative housewife and activist who took on the feminists’ pet issue, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the American Constitution, is the most engrossing character. Who knows how much of this if any of Mrs. America is true. As Schlafly, Blanchett essentially portrays herself playing a Stepford wife.

Other characters are key real-life figures in the so-called women’s movement including Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Midge Costanza, Jill Ruckelshaus and various fringe figures. It’s best to watch this series for an overall sense of both political activism in the 1970s and the proliferation of feminism as a dominant cultural trend.

Feminism is a side effect of egalitarianism. As such, it’s merely a variant, an offshoot of no serious value to human progress, which is abundantly clear in today’s culture. As an offshoot, however, feminism triumphed. It did so by dovetailing with its cousin, Puritanism, a philosophical parallel dating back to women’s suffrage and the evil movement to ban alcohol, Prohibition, which was violently foisted upon our young nation at the turn of the previous century — primarily by sinister, religious and Puritanical women.

Of course, Mrs. America fails to dramatize this connection. The clues, tidbits and details are all there for you to piece together for yourself. In color schemes, costume, set and production design and in certain characterizations in this show created by Dahvi Waller, Mrs. America captures the tectonic shift in the role of women in Western civilization which took place in the 1970s. It’s extraordinary. The series depicts the change.

There are many little problems, consistency errors and incomplete stories and subplots. But Mrs. America is brisk, smart and, occasionally, intelligent. A fictional character, Alice, played by Sarah Paulson (Carol, 12 Years a SlaveMud), is too pat and cardboard to be realistic. But she could’ve been real, or at least made more realistic, and this adds drama.

In frills, carefully curled strands of coiffed hair in the bundled and pinned up mop and an overly produced 1950s aesthetic of old appliances and shades of powder blue, Schlafly comes off as a capable if ruthless conservative feminist. She’s never really driven by a commitment to what she professes are her beliefs or convictions. She lusts for power.

There is truth in this depiction. The hypocrisy that Schlafly exhibited was real. She was a woman who tirelessly worked year after year after year to stop the Equal Rights Amendment by claiming that a woman’s place is at home procreating and tending to her husband and family. Obviously, she did the opposite. Mrs. America makes too much of this, frankly, and not enough of feminist hypocrisy, which is equaled and stems from the same distortion of reality; both “sides” radically, fundamentally oppose individualism.

There are too many loose ends and unfinished subplots in half-baked character and story arcs. A gay son subplot, for instance, never gets resolved. Neither does lesbianism among feminists. Neither does the issue of racism among leftists. A subplot about Chisholm, who ran for president, is embarrassingly abbreviated and underdeveloped.

For example, Gloria Steinem is portrayed as having a long-term affair with a black man. At some point in the series, apparently, she dumps him or vice versa. The barely visible man vanishes. Par for the leftist course toward the one who’s black, he serves a purpose as a means to the end of propagating leftist dogma. He’s never seen or heard from again.

This may have been a series point; that men are discarded as pieces of flesh by women claiming to seek liberation for women when, in fact, what they seek is for women to be as irrational toward men as they prejudge that men are toward women. But in any case his character isn’t realistic or purposeful. Most male characters in the series exist strictly to promote the feminist view that that one’s sex predetermines one’s destiny, fate and life. Not a single male character is truly dimensional. Again, this may be on purpose. Female characters are more dimensional. But they, too, lack development.

Mrs. America’s theme that man is deficient or evil and always betrays woman is depicted without much conviction. The main reason to watch Mrs. America is as a kind of cultural study of grass-roots political activism that sprang forth in the 1970s in the wake of the New Left’s domination of academia, which set up today’s entrenched status quo. Now, this brand of activism horrifyingly rules the streets in a nation that’s crumbling and falling apart.

Watch Mrs. America to find out how and why today’s monstrous Me, Too and other toxic social activist movements and their emerging anarchy came to be.

Steinem’s portrayed by Rose Byrne as a waif. She was never as attractive in real life. Steinem’s a sniveling, sneering, nasty figure. Here, Byrne plays her as softer and sweeter. The series creators seem to think that Gloria Steinem was a real babe. That she’s not doesn’t fit Mrs. America’s thesis that women who’re feminists are hot and women who’re not feminists are not. Steinem was simply less unattractive than other feminist leaders.

Steinem accomplished next to nothing and Mrs. America at least gets this partly right. Unlike Freidan, Robin Morgan and Ayn Rand, Steinem never wrote serious or best-selling books. Steinem never had serious political impact. Even her sole business venture, a publication that’s one of the great publishing failures in the history of the American press, fades into oblivion after great fanfare.

Congresswoman Abzug, portrayed by Margo Martindale, is brash, loud and interesting and Martindale does her best to capture the louder than life woman. But she’s not nearly as abrasive as Abzug was in real life. Apparently, Abzug had two children that aren’t even mentioned until the last episode. Mrs. America never gets at what motivated this angry advocate for government control of human life, who reminds me of Ayn Rand’s literary character Comrade Sonia.

Mrs. America’s best acting performance is by Tracey Ullman as feminist intellectual Betty Friedan, author of the groundbreaking study The Feminine Mystique in 1963.

As Friedan, Ms. Ullman is outstanding — she’s always in character and on point. Friedan is a fascinating figure in the so-called women’s movement. She made the best arguments. She was the most convincing. She spoke like a rational human being. She was a thinker, writer, wife, divorcee and mother. The feminist movement treated her like trash and Mrs. America shows this. But it does not even begin to dramatize who is Betty Friedan.

Clearly, feminism poisons American culture. Much of the toxicity was at least addressed and forecast by Phyllis Schlafly, a fact which is honestly depicted. This wicked notion that one’s identity is based on one’s sex is sufficiently portrayed in Mrs. America.

Yet feminism and the havoc it wreaks doesn’t get its due; Mrs. America doesn’t depict the truth. It does get key facts right, including Schlafly‘s influence on the Republican Party, pushing it toward religionism. So, this is an interesting depiction of how things went down and spiraled America into descent. The ERA was stopped after being ratified by most American states. But it’s never been crushed. Feminism spread like a disease.

Mrs. America dramatizes this horror. It depicts the air-headed movement to reduce sex to power lust based on the fallacy that one’s sex is the essence of one’s identity. It shows both feminism and its variant, Puritanism, as petty, vain and shallow.

Tellingly, the proposed Constitutional amendment, a relatively short proposal, is never explained. The ERA is not shown, let alone defined. It exists on background, apropos of feminism, without facts, definition, detail or exposition. In the end, Mrs. America fails to explore the feminists in earnest, let alone why their feminism spreads. It doesn’t grasp that a presumed conflict between Puritans and feminists is false; that they are both a fraud.

If you watch, and you should because these vacuous, power-lusting women made a demonstrable and sinister mess of daily American life, you could learn what moves foul women to lust for power over men. And lord over other women.

TV Review: Chernobyl (HBO)

Craig Mazin’s Chernobyl, directed by Johan Renck, who’s known for music videos, and starring the ubiquitous and talented Stellan Skarsgård (Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mamma Mia!, Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again, Cinderella, Thor) dramatizes the collapse of Soviet Russia.

Buy the Miniseries

As gray, bleak and lifeless as a honest series about socialism and its more consistent altruist-collectivist application, Communism, in practice must be, the five-part miniseries for AT&T-owned Home Box Office (HBO) stands out for depicting bureaucracy as a deathtrap. Chernobyl taps the Soviet and Russian sense of life, which is essentially anti-life.

But it does so strictly and only in minuscule measure. Upon a young technology co-worker’s recommendation, I bought and watched this series. I find Chernobyl’s excellent acting, visual and production values completely immersive and engrossing. You probably will, too. It’s striking for both its implicit and explicit honesty about socialism. This is so true that it is tempting to evaluate HBO’s series as a breakthrough.

Chernobyl is not quite that good. Socialism is spreading in the United States as a dishonest socialist presidential candidate exploits America’s workers’ fears into believing that a wealthy, old New Englander can loot the wealthy and spread the loot to give everyone clean air, good medicine and a college education. So, it’s refreshing to watch and reassuring to know that a major miniseries counters the fraudulent pseudo-curmedgeon with a dramatization of the truth that socialism, like radiation poisoning, destroys the individual and, left untended, kills everyone.

If you know about the spring 1986 nuclear disaster in Communist Russia — the only major nuclear meltdown in history  then you’ll enjoy Chernobyl more. If you don’t, as my young colleague did not, you may be inclined to think that the truth-based Chernobyl’s a work of pure fiction. This is especially so if you’ve come of age post-Earth Day. If so, you’re part of generations that’ve been subjected to nearly 50 years of relentless environmentalist propaganda falsely blaming the wealthy, business, capitalism, America and industry for mass death, disease, pollution and natural disaster.

With key roles in strong performances, Chernobyl shows otherwise. The scientists whose knowledge under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is powerless, to invert the meaning of Francis Bacon’s famous quote, try in vain to contain, alleviate and convey the damage after a nuclear plant explosion caused by incompetence, bureaucracy and faith in the welfare state. Emily Watson (War Horse, Angela’s Ashes, Anna Karenina) and Jared Harris (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Notorious Bettie Page, General Ulysses Grant in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln) excel in these roles. There’s also a fireman and his wife, various Communist Party thugs, from idiotic plant chiefs to security goons, and Skarsgård as a top Communist Party thug.

As is evident everyday in Hong Kong, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba and China, any one who’s a member of the Communist Party is what amounts to a thug, so I’m going with that term because it is true. And part of the problem with Chernobyl, as shocking as this may sound to fans and admirers of Chernobyl, is that Chernobyl doesn’t fully account for this fact.

In ways large and small, the series shows what it means to be a Communist or socialist, often with precise and profound attention to detail. The nuclear power plant known as Chernobyl was, in fact, the Vladimir I. (for Ilyitch) Lenin nuclear power plant. As if to remind the audience that the horror movie-like story of Chernobyl begins with the monster who promoted self-sacrifice and socialism, Lenin’s portrait, depicting the evil philosopher whose ideas made possible the bloodiest dictatorship on earth, looms over every episode of Chernobyl.

But those who mindlessly carry out his mission of monstrosity don’t get called out. Certainly, they get implicated, and this includes, again, refreshingly, the chief Communist of the Eighties, the dreadfully overpraised New Left hero, Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who appears in Chernobyl in key scenes marking the dictatorship’s errant, slow, delayed, deliberate and utterly horrifying response to the nuclear meltdown. Gorbachev, darling of the left, the press and everyone in the West, including to some degree unfortunately Thatcher, during and after the collapse of Soviet Communism, was a Communist. To his credit, he noticed that Communism was collapsing under his dictatorship. But Gorbachev was a Communist dictator. Like a janitor who’s the only one left in the building to mop up the mess of a Department of Water and Power system failure, Gorbachev merely managed the end of a dictatorship. Chernobyl shows this, demonstrating that Gorbachev was merely more calculating and publicity-savvy. That this Communist dictator knew he’d be better regarded by avoiding total loss of life, stature and decency is rightly regarded as secondary.

Chernobyl does not put Gorbachev or any of the Soviet Communists in their place, however. For its taut drama, suspense and spot-on portrayal of the insidious philosophical and existential poisoning of an entire country, Chernobyl not only doesn’t get around to rendering moral judgment of the union of concerned scientists and Soviet socialists — it barely scratches the surface of Soviet mass murder, coming closest in a scene with a woman milking a cow — Chernobyl makes the dictatorship’s moral premise, altruism — the idea that the individual exists to serve Others — a source of heroism.

In dramatizing Soviet divers, miners and Lenin plant workers, and those who love them, to the extent it is possible to love someone while living under a dictatorship, Chernobyl holds sacrifice as the moral ideal, leaving the Chernobyl disaster’s — and Soviet Russia’s— cause perfectly in place. Not a single scene implicates altruism or self-sacrifice as the toxin that poisons the plant and the country. Chernobyl unfolds with adherence to the cold, miserable and vacant representational recreation of Soviet Ukraine and, especially, Moscow. Its soldiers, KGB agents, committee members, lines, housing projects, cars, streets and red star-emblazoned machines reek of an entire population of humans steeped in ignorance, despair and total misery. Mazin’s series demonstrates for the thinking viewer what, how and why socialism makes everyone rotten, corrupt and depraved. This is especially true in an unnerving subplot with Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, Life’s a Breeze, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as an innocent soldier who, with two comrades, is assigned to terminate post-disaster contaminated animals and pets in evacuated zones.

Chernobyl can’t come close to fully dramatizing the horror of Soviet Russia. The mass death, including the long, drawn-out, slow, waiting-in-line-to die-slowly-by-radiation-poisoning, which is the perfect metaphor for Soviet Russia, of this socialist state is impossible to fully capture. Tens of millions were slaughtered. The makers of Chernobyl seem to grasp this on some level, with end titles that admit that no one knows how many died from the 1986 nuclear disaster.

Whatever its flaws, this series, which is best seen as an intellectual, fact-based horror miniseries, not as a deeply contemplative TV program, merits serious attention. In an era in which voters in the greatest nation on earth may be on the verge of electing a socialist president who chose not just to visit but to honeymoon and sanction Communist Russia after the Vladimir Lenin nuclear meltdown, Chernobyl rumbles and hums with fact-based foreboding of the horrifying past as chilling prologue.

 

TV Review: Dynasty (The CW)

The first season of the CW’s Dynasty is salacious. It is also surprisingly sharp, even surpassing the original 1981-1989 ABC series in the caliber of its writing. Several key original characters, created by Richard and Esther Shapiro, are re-conceived. Several original costume motifs, plot lines and themes appear in this version, too. But the show’s first season (season two debuts on October 12) is its own combination of brisk, biting and usually interesting melodrama.

Buy the Season

The first major switch is from the original’s Colorado-based Denver Carrington business empire to the South’s Atlanta-based Carrington Atlantic. This allows for an engaging twist and the second major change from the old to the new Dynasty: Blake Carrington’s rival family the Colbys (and other characters such as the chauffeur) are black. Other flipping includes Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear in the original), a trailer trash tramp in the Eighties, as Sammy Jo the gay South American hustler.

Both characters bear familial connection to the second Mrs. Blake Carrington, Krystle (Linda Evans) who’s now Cristal (Nathalie Kelley). There’s a clever tie-in to almost every original character. This includes Matthew and Claudia Blaisdell, the middle class oil rig couple, butler Joseph and his mentally unstable daughter Kirby, hunky driver Michael Culhane and both Fallon and Alexis Carrington, formerly brunettes and now blondes who are each more diabolical.

But they’re bad in a more realistic way. All the Carrington mayhem, scheming and manipulation unfolds through the lens of plausible betrayal, family and business. The larger than life mythology remains. Steven Carrington’s still gay in the new Dynasty, though he’s less the strong, silent type that Al Corley portrayed and more like a modern version of Oscar Wilde with left-leaning politics. Also look for Ted Dinard.

The plot follows its own course, with some thematic and specific rebooting for fans of the original and plenty of sexual, interracial, intercultural points. With more socially and politically pointed, sometimes astute, commentary and snappy, often realistic lines and consistent characterization, this new Dynasty is worth checking out for “escapist” type entertainment, nothing more.

Production values include stunningly, beautifully shot scenes. I especially like that the show begins many episodes with rich, elegant details of the inner workings of the Carrington home, which adds a degree of authenticity to the more ridiculous plots.

The cast is generally outstanding, even Nicollette Sheridan as Alexis (not appearing until later episodes), playing the character with more humor than the iconic Joan Collins portrayal. Veteran actor Grant Show (Swingtown, Melrose Place) is excellent as Blake Carrington. Show makes the industrialist more human and believable in one season than John Forsythe did during the entire original series’ run.

Kelley’s Cristal is more convincing as the second wife than as the executive type but she’s fine. Rafael de la Fuente as Sammy Jo adds camp. Elizabeth Gillies as Fallon, a dominant character in the first season, carries quite a plot load and mostly pulls it off. James Mackay as Steven is also spot on. Sam Adegoke as Jeff Colby brings his own flair and stands opposite of John James’ original benevolence, Alan Dale as Joseph makes the butler a full-fledged character with distinction and Robert Christopher Riley as Michael steals every scene.

Factoring Bill O’Reilly

Combative, finger-waving cable television host Bill O’Reilly parted ways with Fox News Channel a few weeks after the New York Times published claims of sexual harassment and large sums for settlements. Is the downfall of America’s top cable TV host a negative or positive for free speech, the culture and the country? I think the answer depends on the facts, which we don’t know. That the relevant facts are not known is why I think O’Reilly’s downfall is ominous.

I’m not a fan of the show. I rarely watched The O’Reilly Factor, which ran for 21 years and was top-rated, commercially successful and highly influential. What I’ve written about O’Reilly since he went on Fox News following his work on the lurid Inside Edition is almost entirely negative. In my media commentary, I’ve opposed sensationalism and consistently named O’Reilly as one of the worst practitioners.

Bill O’Reilly on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News

But it’s worth thinking about why he stayed at the top of TV ratings for so long. His show was topical, entertaining and consistent on its own terms. Watch The O’Reilly Factor for the full hour and you’d get a general idea of news and culture from a certain, often neglected, perspective. O’Reilly’s viewpoint is a mixture of pragmatism, traditionalism and Puritanism. Bursting with anger, humor or pathos and never taking a position on principle, O’Reilly goes by the “gut” with no coherent philosophy. He sees himself as an advocate for “the folks” next door, not for the Constitution, liberty or capitalism; he was never for individual rights. O’Reilly sees himself as a common man who’s “looking out for you“, presumably a fellow commoner, but he’s never been an advocate for an idea.

In fact, O’Reilly is contemptuous of seriously thinking about ideas.

Yet he accepted Roone Arledge’s idea to mix news and entertainment. Similarly, O’Reilly accepted professional political influencer Roger Ailes’ idea to build an entire cable TV brand on Arledge’s hybrid “infotainment” and narrowly cast it to the oldest Americans, whose pragmatism, traditionalism and Puritanism is threatened by what’s regarded as libertarianism, liberalism and secularism. O’Reilly put together a nightly, primetime program intended not to inform and enlighten, but, chiefly, to soothe, rationalize and reaffirm viewer beliefs. Curmudgeon O’Reilly sat on his lead for years with a clever, carefully produced sprinkling of light features and news coupled with emotional outbursts of opinion by overgroomed people who are always overruled by the host. The result is a kind of kabuki theater.

The O’Reilly Factor‘s worst histrionics were reserved for displays of its underlying ethos: cynicism. The closest the 21-year-old program comes to having a philosophical point is an airy, annual campaign against “secular progressives” waging “war on Christmas”, a tiny symptom of a much wider war on reason. So, O’Reilly became both a lightning rod for those too lazy to think—really think—about what’s wrong with the world and for those who are angry, and rightly so, over the assault on Americanism. Audiences could safely tune in without the necessity of having to think. This is most evident in his exchanges with guest Leonard Peikoff, whose appearances painfully demonstrate that O’Reilly—who treated his guests as antagonists—is hostile to philosophy. He rose to the top strictly on the fact that Americans do not take news—or ideas that make the news—seriously.

O’Reilly’s basic value proposition was time spent with a misanthrope sneering, shrugging or chuckling at any one or anything that shows passion for reason. Whether considering lives crippled by acts of war or economic despair, O’Reilly always pushed Americans to lighten up, stop thinking and just go along with his superficially jovial, insidiously toxic blend of anti-intellectualism. He typically started the show with a warning—”Caution!!!”—of its toxicity and ended with a condescending smirk. This was his appeal: viewers found his nightly Howard Beale-style rants and raves, ups and downs, irresistibly comforting. He was like a boozy uncle who rants for an hour, pats you on the head for letting him ramble and then spins around the bar stool before he tries to make his way to the door.

In this way, Bill O’Reilly represents the current and combustible mixture of everything wrong and right with America—its basic goodness and decency, unthinking stoicism and pragmatism and America’s fast-spreading cynicism. An O’Reilly Factor segment on the law oversimplifying complex cases and brushing up against crucial issues but never getting too deep would invariably be followed by vulgarity and cynicism; every seven seconds of outrage preceded three minutes of Gutfeld and McGuirk, forced laughter from Dennis Miller, a talented comedian reduced to calling the host “Billy”, or another asinine video segment dubbed “Watters World” produced to make viewers feel superior by mocking everything gone wrong with the world—the flipside of the way NPR strives to make listeners feel superior by tearing down everything right with the world. O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor was more like the circus ringmaster.

Megyn Kelly at Fox News

He often put on a good show, covering, if barely, essential news, often with a fresh perspective neglected or diminished by the “mainstream media”. He aired programs and segments that brought attention to important issues, such as mistreated war veterans, various injustices and thoughtful discourse. Though he rarely broke news—it was CNN’s Drew Griffin, for instance, who reported the VA’s abuse of veterans—his common man theme occasionally challenged the status quo. He took urban black crime and despair more seriously than many of his detractors. The careers of Juan Williams, Mary Katherine Ham, John Stossel, Marc Lamont Hill, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Tavis Smiley, Megyn Kelly and Kirsten Powers, who represent a range of views by skilled or capable columnists, scholars and intellectuals, were advanced by Bill O’Reilly.

Ironically, it was Powers, an anti-abortion Democrat and longtime Fox News pundit until recently when she went to CNN, whose attack on O’Reilly yesterday underscores the downside of his being let go from Fox News. While she made a point on Anderson Cooper’s program to say that, in all her time working with O’Reilly, she never experienced sexual harassment from O’Reilly, she charged him with what she termed “sexual discrimination”. Her evidence? O’Reilly’s closing comment after a segment with Margaret Hoover thanking them for their “blondeness”. This came, Powers said, after he got Margaret’s name wrong and blamed it on there being so many blondes at Fox News. For this apparent transgression, Powers claimed, she went to a producer and, eventually, Roger Ailes, and demanded that O’Reilly apologize, which he allegedly refused to do, and so she boycotted The O’Reilly Factor for two years.

Powers added that she returned to The O’Reilly Factor (apparently, she initiated the return) without rancor, discord or O’Reilly’s having apologized and said they maintained a good relationship. If this is the most damning evidence of O’Reilly’s wrongdoing Kirsten Powers could muster, it’s not exactly convincing.

But it’s the fact of Kirsten Powers’ insinuation that’s disturbing about O’Reilly’s takedown by Fox News‘ parent company, 21st Century Fox. Not a single charge of sexual harassment against O’Reilly has been confirmed by the press. Not a single charge has been proven in court. Much less is known about the claims against O’Reilly than was alleged or known and, in some cases, proven and convicted or adjudicated in court, about similar or worse allegations against rich, powerful men favored by the orthodoxy that seeks to silence dissent, including Kobe Bryant, Marlon Brando, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby. That a major media voice is silenced without a single, proven assertion of wrongdoing—without Bill O’Reilly even being interviewed by internal investigators, according to Michael Wolff in the Hollywood Reporter—is alarming.

“O’Reilly’s ouster is yet another reminder that the profit motive can itself be an agent of change,” writes cultural commentator Megan Garber, arguing that firing O’Reilly serves the company’s long-term interest, in her O’Reilly piece in The Atlantic. Maybe so, and certainly advertising revenue was declining after the report was published and it’s 21st Century Fox’s right to run their business. They may have reason to think Bill O’Reilly, who built the brand for 21 years, may have done wrong. But if not, and they fired a journalist based on insinuation without regard to facts, it is an injustice that ought to concern everyone. Because if a top TV host can be smeared and brought down in America without evidence, without going to court, with not a single confirmed assertion of wrongdoing, so can you and me. Mass mobilization of public opinion to pressure a company to fire top talent, whether Bill O’Reilly or Brian Williams, has potential to silence the free press.

If you value freedom of speech, you should consider the possibility that Bill O’Reilly is an innocent man who has been unjustly maligned.