President Obama gave an interview to conservative Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly before the Super Bowl last night, and the interview was more revealing of O'Reilly than the President.

O'Reilly began with an emotional thank you to the President for the government's help in protecting a couple of newspeople that "got roughed up in Cairo."  That was as friendly as O'Reilly got, until the final thank you.  From there it was on to Mubarak and Egypt and the President and the commentator were off and running. 

O'Reilly's questions were often statements and those included too many cheap shots like, "Right. He's done the bad things," about Mubarak's partnership with the US.  Of course, that partnership has gone on for 30 years, through both Republican and Democratic presidents, and for O'Reilly to begin criticizing Mubarak now is simply too easy.  Now that all eyes are focused on Egypt, O'Reilly is impatient for its dictator to go.  Man the barricades, and then we'll talk, Bill.

Moreover, first he said, "But the longer he (Mubarak) stays in, the more people are going to die."  A heartbeat later, it was "I'm just worried that he might go off the reservation."  You can't have it both ways, Bill. 

Next up was the health care debate, and here a pattern was set of O'Reilly throwing a question-statement at the President and not allowing him to answer, but rather interrupting him before he'd finished and then getting the last word in before moving on to the next topic.  The result was that O'Reilly looked defensive and tense, as if he were afraid he was not up to sparring with the President.  The President, on the other hand, was relaxed and handled O'Reilly with ease and assurance. 

O'Reilly's body language was oddly off-kilter as well.  He was leaning to one side, as if off-balance, and his mouth was set in a lop-sided half-smile, half-sneer which increased the sense that he was not a happy camper.  In contrast, President Obama was slouched comfortably in his chair, he smiled often, and his demeanor was easy. 

The President even invited O'Reilly to the Super Bowl party at the White House, and O'Reilly's response was a suprisingly ungracious "I don't want to ruin the party for you guys."  I don't know about you, but where I was brought up, when someone invites you to a party, you either accept or decline with thanks. 

What did you think about the interview?  Is O'Reilly usually so easily thrown off by an interviewee?  Why is it so difficult for him to sustain a real argument as opposed to just hurling verbal brickbats?  And where did he learn his manners? 


  1. I didn’t see the interview, but read the transcript. It can be a more analytical exercise. But anyway you slice it, that was an abominable way to get answers out of anyone, much less a politician and talented lawyer.
    I counted 60 statements made by O’Rielly to 18 questions, only 3 of which were open questions. The rest were direct questions, looking for yes or no answers. You may differ on the exact count, but O’Rielly spent around three times as many words making statements as he did asking questions in an unique interview.
    Open questions could have gone anywhere, and drawn parts of President Obama out that we haven’t seen. It was a golden opportunity to talk with the President at an interesting time in history, and uncover a story no one has heard yet.
    Thank you for your analysis, Nick. It confirms my suspicion from the transcript.

  2. Hi, Reid —
    Thanks for the comment and the counting. It seemed O’Reilly’s desire to opine and get cheap shots in on the President overcame any attempt at real journalism. As a result, O’Reilly missed a chance, as you suggest, to do something potentially interesting and find out something new with a real discussion. I’ve blogged before on the demise of listening in our public discourse, and the results are laid out here pretty clearly. If we don’t listen to each other, there is no chance at moving in new directions.

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