Unemployed political commentator Bill O’Reilly is the author of a truly astonishing number of books, which range from cutesy titles like Keep It Pithy and Pinheads And Patriots to a startling number of volumes about the killing of famous people: Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Patton, Killing Reagan, Killing Jesus. Yet before he turned to these verbose volumes of nonfiction, O’Reilly tried his hand at fiction, with a now-revealing murder mystery called Those Who Trespass: A Novel Of Television And Murder. Fortunately, writer Jia Tolentino offers a thorough examination of this drugstore classic in The New Yorker, so none of us have to read it.
In crafting his fictional cast, O’Reilly offers various unsavory characters as possible versions of himself (like there’s any other kind). First up is a sexual predator/journalist:
The second sentence of Those Who Trespass describes Ron Costello, a correspondent for Global News Network, on assignment in Martha’s Vineyard and struggling with a “basic human need, the need for some kind of physical release.” Costello spots a pretty camerawoman at a party, happily notes that she’s had too much vodka, and approaches her with “intense sexual hunger.”
Costello is then murdered by Shannon Michaels, a veteran newsman who gets fired and then spends years plotting his revenge and killing his former colleagues. Michaels is tracked by “O’Reilly’s second avatar… a New York City homicide detective named Tommy O’Malley, who is also horny, aggressive, ambitious, and Irish.” Michaels and O’Malley both then get involved with:
Ashley Van Buren, a thirty-one-year-old reporter tracking the murders for the New York Globe. Like both Michaels and O’Malley, Van Buren is horny, aggressive, and ambitious. Unlike them, she’s not an avatar for O’Reilly but an object onto which he projects a whole host of suspect qualities. “Ashley Van Buren knew her good looks were partially responsible for her rapid rise,” O’Reilly writes. “She had the face, though not the body, of a fashion model.”
It’s as typically idiotic as you’d expect from a moldy mind like O’Reilly’s, but Tolentino finds some disturbing possible parallels between O’Reilly’s fictional and nonfictional lives. Ashley Van Buren is the only female in the book—“An ‘unattractive woman’ named Hillary appears briefly, before Michaels knocks her out and throws her body out the window into an alley”—and she is depicted as someone who does the things that O’Reilly is accused of likely imagines his co-workers to be:
conveniently and perpetually sexually frustrated, and she is happy to be seen as an object of desire while she’s at work. She’s dying for a real man to make real advances upon her… If the accusations against O’Reilly are true, then writing a female-journalist character who’s dying to be felt up and propositioned doesn’t seem to have served as any sort of a release valve for O’Reilly’s pent-up sexual aggression; he apparently took that fantasy with him to the workplace, to the extreme detriment of the women around him, for many years.
The characters of O’Malley and Michaels also reveal O’Reilly’s likely feelings about his job, and why he was so desperate to be on TV in the first place:
In one scene from the novel, a psychologist surmises that Michaels’s career was the source of “his feelings of omnipotence and grandiosity.” He continues, “Because Michaels was a success on television, it reinforced his opinion that he was a very special human being. He got the attention he craved, the admiration of thousands. Being on TV was like a drug to him and when it was taken away from him, he had to find a substitute drug.”
In light of current events, Those Who Trespass offers a surprisingly transparent interpretation of O’Reilly’s psyche, all the more reason why no one would ever want to read it. But Tolentino’s savvy examination of it makes for an interesting read on The New Yorker website.