Real Super Bowl Showdown: Obama vs. O’Reilly
by Michael Oplinger | Penn State University
In his typical self-promoting manner, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly boasted that his interview with President Barack Obama before the Super Bowl would be the most watched in history.
O’Reilly’s prediction, of course, was wrong.
Sunday’s interview drew an impressive 17 million viewers, but it was far short of the 70 million people who watched Barbara Walters interview Monica Lewinsky in 1999.
Like his prediction, O’Reilly’s interview was off the mark.
O’Reilly seemed incapable of grasping that Obama was just another Democrat, rather than the radical leftist that he vilifies every night on his show.
The conservative pundit employed his usual “interview tactics,” which include interrupting the answers and inserting his own opinion instead of facts. When watching O’Reilly conduct an interview, it’s no wonder Stephen Colbert uses him as a model. O’Reilly shirks facts and relies mainly on his gut feeling, much like Colbert’s “truthiness.”
It’s no secret that this is how O’Reilly interviews, but many expected him to tone his act down when he was interviewing the president.
It seemed that way from the start as O’Reilly praised the Obama administration for helping Fox News journalists escape the violence in Egypt.
But immediately, after that, the pundit posed the incredibly complicated question of what to do in Egypt. Obama maintained the position he took originally that he wanted Egypt to develop a representative government (which is ironically the same reason Obama’s predecessor gave for starting two wars in the Middle East, which O’Reilly’s network certainly supported).
But O’Reilly responded by implying that he somehow knew more about the situation than the president by saying that Egypt “knows some bad stuff about the U.S. and I’m sure you know about that.”
Obama, always steadfast, refused to get sucked in, simply repeating his original answer.
This seemed to be the point where O’Reilly realized he was dealing with a staunch adversary. This wasn’t one of the weak Democratic opponents he normally has on his show, where the strongest liberal ever featured is former Sean Hannity whipping boy Alan Colmes.
O’Reilly seemed to ramp up his questions then, making an off-the-cuff remark about the Muslim Brotherhood. He predictably moved on to health care reform and struggled to refrain from calling it “Obamacare,” which has become the common lingo on his network.
While O’Reilly seemed set on the Supreme Court’s pending ruling against the law, the pundit also seemed genuinely surprised to learn that there were appellate courts that needed to hear the case first.
Obama remained unflustered, stating that he wants to provide affordable health care for the American people and is willing to continue to improve the existing law.
If he weren’t interviewing the president, it’s at this point where O’Reilly would have exploded. He would have started screaming and calling Obama a “pinhead.”
But this was the president, so O’Reilly reverted to his more subtle tactics of using the tried and true Fox News expression of “Some people say” and handpicking the poll results to support his opinion. He also reverted to his common excuse that he’s just a voice for the “folks.”
Obama blew it all off. He simply sat there, giving articulate, intelligent answers, even to such loaded questions like “Does it bother you that some people hate you?”
This back and forth continued throughout the 15 minute interview as the president attempted to answer while O’Reilly rudely interrupted, culminating in more personal attacks that Obama had changed while in office and didn’t know football.
Throughout the interview, O’Reilly remained crouched and leaning forward, as if he was ready to pounce on any misstep the president made.
Needless to say, he stayed in that position for the duration of the interview.
O’Reilly was hoping to use that same brand of “Gotcha” journalism that he and “Fox News contributor” Sarah Palin constantly rail against.
While Obama presented calm, logical answers, O’Reilly continued to badger him in hopes of getting him to admit that he was the radical that Fox News has made him out to be.
The president just laughed.
It was all he could do.Michael Oplinger is a senior at Penn State majoring in media studies and political science. Michael also is a weekly columnist for the Daily Collegian, Penn State's student newspaper.