Bill O’Reilly must feel pretty secure about his standing with his colleagues at Fox News, or else he’s past caring.
Answering a question from fellow Foxer Geraldo Rivera—does the right-leaning network cut President Obama enough slack? Does it treat him fairly?—the cable outlet’s prime-time star didn’t seem especially worried whose toes he stepped on.
“It depends on the hour,” the host of The O’Reilly Factor told a sold-out crowd at the 92nd Street Y on Wednesday night. “If you watch Fox & Friends, [Steve] Doocy is an Obama-basher. He bashes Obama like clockwork. But the other two—Elisabeth [Hasselbeck] and Brian [Kilmeade]—they’d rather whip up a soufflé.”
“Rather whip up a soufflé”—a wonderful compliment or a withering dis? We report, you decide.
O’Reilly went hour by hour through the channel’s daytime lineup, claiming that morning hosts such as Bill Hemmer and Jenna Lee “have no ideology.” As for the noon offering, “Outnumbered or Outsmarted, those people, I don’t know,” he said with a dismissive shrug, prompting audience laughter. “Then, at 3, Shepard Smith is a liberal.” He added that Cavuto, hosted by Fox News senior vice president and managing editor Neal Cavuto, “is a business show…He’s not an Obama fan.”
O’Reilly continued, “The five people on The Five, they don’t like the president so much…At 6, it’s the signature show with Bret Baier, he’s not anti-Obama.”
“He’s a very solid newsman,” Rivera chimed in.
“Then you have Greta [van Susteren], who’s a liberal. At 8 you have me. I’m tough on everybody. At 9 you have Megyn [Kelly]. Again, not an ideologue…Then you have the Republican show, Hannity, at 10”—a flippant observation that drew a couple of knowing chuckles from audience members who might suspect that there’s no love lost between O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.
It’s difficult to say whether O’Reilly’s on-air coworkers, let alone Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, will embrace his characterizations of their work and his labels on their beliefs; I’m guessing not so much. But the No Spin Zone can be a judgmental place.
Assessing Fox’s would-be competitors, O’Reilly said of left-leaning MSNBC, “They’ve radicalized themselves…I get a headache. Al Sharpton is giving me a headache.” He was somewhat more generous to CNN, telling Rivera: “They’re good at what they do, covering the news. But they don’t have any flamboyant, obnoxious people like you and me. Wolf Blitzer looks like a U-boat commander. You expect the periscope to come down.”
In any case, the crowd loved it. Many them were in their 60s and 70s, O’Reilly’s core demographic these days, and clearly Factor fans, possibly secret Tea Partiers who seemed to bear little resemblance to the socially progressive Manhattanites who usually fill these seats. Perhaps that’s why O’Reilly happily shared his distaste for “people on the dole,” i.e. welfare and food stamps, but specifically excluded from his criticisms anybody enjoying the far more expensive entitlements Medicare and Social Security.
The swashbuckling Rivera, host of the weekend late-night program Geraldo at Large, was filling in for legendary New York newspaperman Pete Hamill, who bowed out of the commitment a couple of weeks ago. Rivera was dressed—thank heavens, given his fondness for naked selfies—in a summery tan suit. The 6-foot-4 O’Reilly, who towered over his interlocutor before they settled into their seats, opted for authoritative navy blue.
Rivera’s first question: “Why are you so unremittingly hostile to Obama?”
“I give him a fair shake,” O’Reilly protested. “My job is to watch all the powerful people in the country. He’s in a rough patch right now. He’s made some major mistakes. It’s not personal, I kind of like him, along with Bill Clinton—two amazing American success stories…I think [Obama] is an honest man. I think he’s a good family man. I have a job to do. I don’t have an ideology ingrained in that at all. I’m like an ombudsman for ‘the folks.’”
A few moments into the 80-minute session, those were the last kind words O’Reilly had for the president, whom he portrayed—predictably—as clueless, feckless, insular, indifferent to facts that contradict his lefty belief system, and otherwise incompetent.
He was barely kinder to Hillary Clinton, though at least he sees a ray of hope should she ever become commander in chief. “With Hillary, you get Bill,” he said. “Bill knows what’s going on; he understands how the world works. Hillary doesn’t understand how the world works. But when you elect Hillary, he’s there. Whether his attention is diverted”—O’Reilly added with a theatrical leer, “I don’t know.”
Lots of laughs from “the folks.”
As for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, “He’s done,” O’Reilly declared with an air of morbid finality. “And it’s Christie’s own fault.” Referring to the unpleasantness surrounding last September’s politically orchestrated traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, including multiple ongoing investigations, O’Reilly argued: “Christie should have said: ‘I made a mistake. I didn’t know much about this, but I should have been paying attention to it. It’s on my watch and I’m sorry.’…I would have been humble about it—much more humble than he was.”
That last claim, obviously, required a certain suspension of disbelief. Every so often during the evening, O’Reilly boasted about his power, about his intimidating ability to threaten politicians and policymakers into doing his bidding, and mused about what “President O’Reilly” would have done about this or that troublesome development.
The armed and violent Sunni Muslim insurrectionists making their way toward Shiite-ruled Baghdad?
“Bomb them!” O’Reilly declared, to raucous applause—never mind that, by most accounts, members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, when not executing government soldiers, have tended to melt into the general population.
In a counterintuitive moment, O’Reilly, who earns an annual income well into eight figures, said he’d be willing to pay a flat tax of 33 percent to the U.S. Treasury and 10 percent to New York state without deductions in the service of fairer, simpler regulations that would also require corporations to pay similarly robust rates.
“Why don’t you run [for office]?” Rivera asked.
“Because I don’t want to get involved in a system where I have to promise people stuff for money. It’s as simple as that,” O’Reilly answered. Anyhow, as things stand, “I have more power than everybody except the president. I can get things done.”
He added, “I’m not Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken, where everything has to fit into my worldview…I’m a fact-based guy. A lot of people don’t understand that.”
Indeed, they don’t.