Bill O'Reilly has made a great living as Fox News Channel's national scold for the past 15 years, with video games among many targets in his campaign of cultural warfare. So at the beginning of this segment on his program last night, when he smugly diagnoses Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Conn. shooter, as a violent video game addict—"How did I know that? One look at the guy,"—most folks would think they know where he's headed.
Except he doesn't go there, really. An academic comes on to talk about whatever the latest studies are saying about children, violent video games and aggressive behavior, and scenes from Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Assassin's Creed III play on the screen, and O'Reilly plays the skeptic, of all things.
"I know lots of kids who play these games, they're good kids," O'Reilly says. "They're normal, they don't act out, they don't do anything destructive, but they love the games. And the reason they love the games is because it empowers the children. Children are in control. Children are killing the bad guys. The thrill of the kill is right there in front of their face. But then they go out and they're kind, loving children. So I don't think everybody who plays these games are adversely affected by them. Would that be true?"
It gets the on-air expert to admit "violent and aggressive behavior is determined by many factors. Exposure to violent media is only one."
It's not entirely an about-face but, by the standard to which O'Reilly is often held anyway, it's a balanced discussion. Not everyone who plays these games does so to indulge or surpress a desire to commit murder. Behind every child with access to violent content is often a parent who lets it happen. Good parenting is a responsibility but not something that can be legislated.
We've written earlier that a fixation on video games as a cultural influencer of violent crime is unproven and often politically motivated. It may still be here, as O'Reilly's segment pulls a consistent thread of personal responsibility, which would seem to argue that dangerous weapons in the hands of well adjusted people who had good upbringings are no more dangerous than fake guns fired by any apple-cheeked kid with a twin-analog controller. The two situations really are not at all comparable.
Still, if the far right is going to hang the Newtown shootings on social decay tied solely to video games, O'Reilly—who has given that segment a megaphone for the better part of two decades—doesn't sound like he's going to give that much of an endorsement. That's a big step as the country tries to sort out its real problems over the noise of special interest groups.