Bill O'Reilly claims that he rarely uses the phrase "shut up."

Media criticism.
Sept. 19 2008 4:46 PM

Bill O'Reilly's "Shut Up" Revisionism

According to the talk show host, he rarely uses the phrase.

Bill O'Reilly. Click image to expand.
Bill O'Reilly

In August 2003, I ran up a ridiculous Nexis bill documenting how much Bill O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor loves the phrase "shut up." A couple of weeks after my column on that topic appeared, he denied having read the article to New York magazine—"I don't read Slate! … Why would I read that?"

Yet immediately after the piece appeared, he stopped flinging the phrase on television. So exemplary was his behavior that I published a follow-up on March 15, 2004, commending him for shutting up about telling people to shut up.


Even so, the charge that he overflows with shut-ups obviously bothers O'Reilly, and he's protested the charge a number of times in recent years. Here he is in the transcripts:

Well, the "shut up" line has happened only once in six years. ...
The O'Reilly Factor, Nov. 15, 2002

Do you know how many times I told people to shut up? Six. Three times in anger and three times just, ah, you need to shut up about things.
60 Minutes, Sept. 26, 2004

I said, "Look, do you know how many times I said 'shut up' in six years on The Factor? Six."
The O'Reilly Factor, Sept. 27, 2004

Well, enjoy your Kool-Aid, sir, and [in] more than nine years on the air, you can count the shut-ups on this program on one hand.
The O'Reilly Factor, Dec. 6, 2005

In the past 10 years The Factor has been on the air, I've commanded someone to shut up five times. And they all deserved it. That's once every two years. It's not real hard to count that high.
The O'Reilly Factor, June 29, 2006

Also, our pals in the L.A. Times continue to print that I tell guests to shut up. That has happened in a serious way exactly four times in 10 and a half years.
The O'Reilly Factor, Feb. 12, 2007

Then, last week, O'Reilly toldTime magazine (Sept. 22, 2008, issue):

I've said "shut up" six times in 12 years, and they all deserved it. They were either bloviating, filibustering or lying.

Not so fast. O'Reilly has said "shut up" dozens of times on his show, something my original article shows. On the assumption that O'Reilly wants to get Clintonesque and only wants to count the times he's instructed an individual to shut up on his show, I count at least nine instances. Evidence of backsliding comes in the fact that he used the phrase once in 2007 and once in 2008. Again, to the transcripts:

To actor Alec Baldwin:
He has dodged this program, Alec Baldwin has, for years. Bottom line: If you're going to sling it, Alec, then stand up to some fire. If not, shut up and don't be ridiculous.
The O'Reilly Factor, Jan. 2, 1999

To Dick Morris, Fox News colleague:
I'm going to give you a plug, so shut up for a minute, Dick [Morris]. Here we go. You've got the State of the Union address coming up.
The O'Reilly Factor, Jan. 27, 2000

To Tom Daschle:
Believe me when I tell you The Factor goes out of its way to get Democrats on this broadcast. But Daschle has been and remains too frightened to appear. So with all due respect, senator, shut up.
The O'Reilly Factor, May 17, 2002

To Mike McGough of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial page:
Hey, Mike, shut up.
The O'Reilly Factor, Nov. 13, 2002

To anti-war protester Jeremy Glick:
Shut up. Shut up.
The O'Reilly Factor, Feb. 4, 2003

To Jimmy Carter:
What Jimmy Carter should do is privately give Mr. Bush his opinion and shut up publicly.
The O'Reilly Factor, Feb. 18, 2003

 To Tom Daschle again, via Sen. Evan Bayh:
If you see [Sen. Tom Daschle] for me, senator, tell him to shut up. For me. You can be nice.
The O'Reilly Factor, March 17, 2003

To Rocky Mountain News columnist Dave Kopel:
All right, so, Mr. Kopel, shut up for a minute, OK?
The O'Reilly Factor, June 4, 2007

To "body language expert" Tonya Reiman:
OK. It's my turn; you shut up.
The O'Reilly Factor, June 16, 2008

And that's not even counting the Nov. 14, 2006, edition of The Factor, in which O'Reilly targeted the Holy See, saying, "And I think that the Vatican needs to wise up or shut up."

My unsolicited advice to O'Reilly: Accept that you are shut up and shut up is you.

Remember how you wistfully recalled your father telling you to shut up when you were a boy (Sept. 17, 1999) or the time you asked an atheist Eagle Scout why he didn't "just shut up" about his atheism when asked (Oct. 30, 2002)? Or the times you told "Canadians" (April 16, 2003), "Swedes" (Nov. 20, 2002), "loyal Americans" (Feb. 27, 2003), "spin-meisters" (Nov. 9, 2000), Clinton "partisans" (Feb. 4, 1999), the two political parties (Aug. 15, 2003), gay celebrities (March 21, 2001), and other folks who want to talk about sex to just shut up?

What's your reticence? On Sept. 11, 2007, you started running a regular segment called "Pinheads and Patriots" that "spotlights individuals who are helping the country and those who are harming it." If you're not ashamed of calling people you disagree with pinheads, why be shy about telling them to put a stopper in it?


A tip of the hat and a "shut up" to Jeff Bercovici, who beat me to the punch on O'Reilly's claim in Time. Send shut up e-mail to (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Factor in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at



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