Column: The O'Reilly interruption factor
WASHINGTON — Bill O’Reilly’s Super Bowl interview of President Obama was extraordinarily revealing — not because of what the president said but because of what the interviewer did.
The Fox News host and purveyor of anti-Obama sentiment was given 10 minutes to question the man he decries to millions nightly. O’Reilly devoted nearly 40 percent of his time to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, 30 percent to the Obamacare rollout and 20 percent to IRS targeting.
Along the way, he interrupted the president 42 times, by my count — although, given the amount O’Reilly spoke, it may be more accurate to say Obama was interrupting him. Sometimes he argued with Obama as though the president were a guest on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Of the 2,500 words uttered during the interview, O’Reilly spoke nearly 1,000 of them.
This was O’Reilly’s third such session with Obama — and as such it served as a milepost on the conservative movement’s road to Obama hysteria. O’Reilly’s first sitdown with Obama, in 2008, was a lengthy and affectionate encounter. The second meeting, another Super Bowl interview in 2011, had its share of interruptions, but there was lighthearted banter and the questions were more neutral (“What is it about the job that has surprised you the most?”).
But this time, O’Reilly gave only a passing pleasantry at the end (“I think your heart is in the right place”) and otherwise was hostile from the start. He leaned forward in his seat, waving his pen and pointing his finger at the president. He shook his head doubtfully at some of Obama’s answers. Here he was “asking” Obama about whether the Benghazi killings were a terrorist attack:
Obama: “By definition, Bill, when somebody is attacking our compound — “
Obama: “ — that’s an act of terror, which is how I characterized it the day after it happened. So the — so the question ends up being who, in fact, was attacking us?”
O’Reilly: “But it’s more than that — “
Obama: “And that — “
O’Reilly: “ — though — “
Obama: “ — well, we — “
O’Reilly: “ — because of Susan Rice.”
Obama: “No, it — “
O’Reilly: “It’s more than that, because if Susan Rice goes out and tells the world that it was a spontaneous demonstration ... “
Obama: “Bill — “
O’Reilly: “ — off a videotape but your ... “
Obama: “Bill ... “
O’Reilly: “ — your commanders and the secretary of defense know it’s a terror attack ... “
Obama: “Now, Bill ... “
O’Reilly: “Just ... “
Obama: “ — Bill ... “
O’Reilly: “ — as an American ... “
Obama: “ — Bill — Bill ... “
O’Reilly: “ — I’m just confused.”
Obama: “And I’m — and I’m trying to explain it to, if you want to listen.”
O’Reilly did not want to listen. He wanted to inform Obama that “I’m paying Kathleen Sebelius’ salary and she screwed up, and you’re not holding her accountable.” He all but demanded that Obama confess that his “you can keep your health-care plan” promise was the biggest mistake of his presidency.
“Oh, Bill, you’ve got a long list of my mistakes of my presidency,” Obama demurred.
The Fox News host further informed Obama that “your detractors believe that you did not tell the world [Libya] was a terror attack because your campaign didn’t want that out.”
“And they believe it,” Obama replied, “because folks like you are telling them that.”
“No, I’m not telling them that,” O’Reilly said.
Right. The guests on O’Reilly’s show are telling them that.
Obama wore no tie and sat with legs crossed, frequently smiling, and refusing to be provoked, even when O’Reilly said that “some people” (but not him, of course) allege that the IRS was being used for corrupt purposes.
Obama again held a mirror to O’Reilly. “These kinds of things keep on surfacing, in part because you and your TV station will promote them.”
O’Reilly read a letter from a California woman asking Obama, “Why do you feel it’s necessary to fundamentally transform the nation?” This turned out to be a trick question.
“I don’t think we have to fundamentally transform the nation — “ Obama began.
O’Reilly interrupted. “But those are your words.”
They were. “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” Obama said, just before his election in 2008. He went on to say this transformation would end the “politics that would divide a nation.”
O’Reilly himself is proof that the transformation failed.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.