At the heart of The Man Who Would Not Shut Up lies a peculiar act of literary ventriloquism. The book professes to be an unauthorized, hard-hitting (yet fair and balanced) look at the life and career of Bill O'Reilly, as seen by self-described liberal television critic Marvin Kitman. But damned if O'Reilly doesn't seem to be telling his story through Kitman. Considering how heavily Kitman leans on the 29 interviews he conducted with O'Reilly, it almost seems as if the Fox News controversy-magnet deserves an authorial credit, while Kitman's status could easily be bumped down to "as told to."
In his preface, Kitman writes, "O'Reilly is not his own worst critic. I can be," and claims that his book will "infuriate" O'Reilly fans. But it's hard to ascertain exactly what in the book might enrage O'Reilly backers. Is it the countless Reader's Digest-ready accounts of O'Reilly as a loveable young scamp causing good-natured mischief everywhere he goes? Is it the part where Kitman unironically praises O'Reilly for carrying on the muckraking tradition of Edward R. Murrow? Is it Kitman's glib dismissal of the employee who filed sexual-harassment charges against O'Reilly as a sketchy, dishonest, and desperate opportunist who overreacted to what Kitman sensitively describes as "kidding around"? Or does Kitman really expect O'Reilly's defenders to be apoplectic with rage over the depiction of O'Reilly as a smart, gutsy overachiever who rose from humble origins to the top of the media food chain through talent, hard work, and resilience?
Kitman's aspirations to balance lead to a dispiriting unwillingness to criticize O'Reilly in anything but the meekest, most equivocal terms. Forget pulling punches: Kitman never even gets into the ring. It's telling that Roger Ailes, O'Reilly's boss, says far more critical things about O'Reilly than the author himself. This bland, dryly unfunny, revelation-free hagiography manages to make its subject seem boring, an adjective not even O'Reilly's harshest critics would ever use to describe him.