A Conversation With Bill O'Reilly

Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor."
Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor."

Bill O'Reilly's "The O'Reilly Factor" is a very big factor in the world of cable TV. Early Show anchor Harry Smith has prepared this Sunday Profile:

"Oh, none of this was your fault! Oh, no. People lost millions of dollars. It wasn't your fault. Come on, you coward! Say the truth!"

Bloviation … O'Reilly be thy name, as witnessed October 2, by guest Rep. Barney Frank.

"What do you mean 'coward'?" Frank asked.

"You're a coward," O'Reilly said. "You blame everybody else. You're a coward."

Bill O'Reilly is judge, jury and executioner on his Fox cable show. When reason fails ... rage wins:

"Number one, you hate your country. Number two, you're a loon!"

"Bill, here's the problem with going on your show: You start ranting. And the only way to respond is almost to look as boorish as you!" Frank said.

O'Reilly is right about everything … just ask him.

"The point I always try to make to people is, the people who hate me the most are the people who never watch my show," O'Reilly said to Smith. "They read the press. They listen to the far-left kooks or the far-right kooks, 'cause the far-right hates me. But they never sample. And once they do sample, they go, 'You know, this guy's no ideologue. He's holding them accountable.'"

"The O'Reilly Factor" and its "No-Spin Zone" has been at the top of the primetime cable news heap for the past eight years, with around four million loyal viewers a night.

Loyal because, he says, he's like them: A kid who was lucky to be born in America, a notion he explores in his latest book, "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity" (Broadway Books).

"It's not particularly dramatic," Smith.

"No, no, it isn't; it's basically an American story," O'Reilly said. "But nowhere else on this planet could a wise guy from Levittown, with no uncle in the business, no social skills at all - I'm sure you'd agree - kiss nobody's butt ever, rise up and command the position that I command. That couldn't happen in Switzerland. It couldn't happen in Japan! It happens in America! And I'll tell you how ..."

Born in 1949, William James O'Reilly Jr. grew up in the New York City bedroom community of Levittown, an experience he says made him what he is today.

"As I read through this, you had a pretty comfortable life in Levittown," Smith said. "Dad had a job."

"I don't know if my life in Levittown was, now it is. We lived in a little box house with no air conditioning," he said. "I mean, it wasn't real comfortable in the middle of August when it was 112°. All right? And I was sweating. And I was eatin', you know, fish sticks and stuff. They weren't delicious, Harry. (laughs) So I don't, I'm not, you know …"

"I can't feel sorry for you!" Smith.

"I don't wanna ask you to," O'Reilly said. "But you gotta put it in perspective. Comfort really was like 16th on the priority list at the O'Reilly house."

"Sure. 'Food on that table' was number one."

"Yeah. Comfort? You know, my father would [say], you know, 'If it's hot, go outside!'" (laughs) You know?

"After World War II, the people in Brooklyn and the Bronx and some of the other boroughs moved en masse to Long Island because they built all these little houses for the GIs. My father was in that crew.

"So, you basically moved Brooklyn to Nassau County, Long Island. Well, it was a tough neighborhood. You know, you walk out, you had a fight. You had a fight. There were no play dates! (laugh) I wasn't wearing a little helmet on the bike. All right, there wasn't any, 'Mom! Mom!' It wasn't Beaver Cleaver. It was like, you know, you had to hold your own."

He survived, and after a brief career as a high school teacher, young Bill O'Reilly began a series of TV reporting jobs, including a stint at CBS in Miami.

In 1996, O'Reilly settled at the newly created Fox News, where he remains commentator-in-chief.

Every week, "O'Reilly Factor" staffers pitch segment ideas for his approval, like the library board in Helena, Mont., voting unanimously to keep the book "The Joy of Gay Sex" on the library shelves. ("It's not in the kids' section or anything, right?")

"What do you think happens if McCain gets elected president?" Smith asked.

"Not much — I think McCain is a traditional politician," O'Reilly said. "I think that he will keep the economy in a low tax grade. He'll be friendly to business because he wants business to expand, to employ more people. I think he'll be a tough guy overseas - not a crazy guy, but a tough guy. And I think he'll govern in a traditional manner. I'd go to the bank on that.

"If Obama's elected, I don't know what's gonna happen. His whole career has been left wing. Is he an ideologue? Is he gonna bring a far-left sensibility into the White House? My instinct says no, because he's cautious. When I interviewed him, I saw a very cautious guy. I didn't see some crazy bomb thrower. I can read people pretty well.

"So, I think he took the avenue to power that he had to take. I think he'll govern to the center like Clinton did. I think Clinton is his role model for governance. I think JFK is his role model for the campaign. And Obama has waged a brilliant campaign."

The most popular cable news host in the country has some very public enemies.

Take Keith Olbermann, who referred to O'Reilly as "Bill-O the Clown" on MSNBC's "Countdown," among other choice terms:

"The Fox News host presents himself as an independent. You know they could have also gone with 'Official Loofah Inspector,' or a 'Neilson Ratings Conspiracy Theorist,' or a 'Bold Fresh Piece of Expletive.'"
"What do you think of Keith Olbermann?" Smith asked.

"You know, I ignore all of those gutter snipes because they're just in it to hurt people," he said, "whether it's some guy on MSNBC or talk radio or wherever. Why would I engage that?"

"I think it bugs you a little bit," Smith said.

"Naah, the meanness of the discourse, in general, bothers me," O'reilly said. "Okay, now some people say, 'Well, you were mean to Barney Frank and you were mean to this one or that one.' Sometimes I go overboard, okay? But that's not my theme."

David Letterman bantered with O'Reilly on the subject: "Now, I joke about walking around and people say 'There he is ...get him!' But in your case it's true, isn't it?"

Letterman may have been only half-joking: O'Reilly says his views have made him a target.

"My life is dangerous now," he said. "You know, I have bodyguards and security. I can't go many places. I can't be in certain crowd situations. When I do a book signing, I gotta have a phalanx of state troopers there because there are crazy people. And then there're the Web sites and all of that, which are just totally out of control.

"They encourage these nuts. You know, I was thinking about John Lennon, you know, and John Lennon was tryin' to be a nice guy, signing the guy's thing and [Chapman] pops him. So, that is the worst part of the whole 'Factor' experience. The best part is I get to look out for the folks. And the folks know it. They know it. I've been doing this for more than 12 years.

"If you're a phony, they know."

In O'Reilly's case, you could take the boy out of Levittown, but you'd better not - no, you dare not even try to take the Levittown out of the boy.

"Do you know why you're so successful?" Smith asked.

"Yeah, I know, 'cause I'm one of the folks, that's why, and because I look out for them and they know that," O'Reilly said. "We had six million people watch us last night. And they know that now in the media there's somebody on their side, sincerely on their side, not some phony. So, why wouldn't you watch the guy like that?"