TV journalism history was made this week when Hillary Clinton sat down for an interview with Bill O'Reilly on the Fox News Channel. Not once, but twice, on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The first part of the hour-long interview set a ratings record for "The O'Reilly Factor," with 3.6 million viewers, said to be about one million above average.
This was not the first time Hillary Clinton had the chance to have a tête-à-tête with the most loathed and loved news analyst in the cable network news universe.
In his first seven years on the show, senior producer Dave Brown told me while I was researching my book, "The Man Who Would not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O'Reilly," he knew of forty to fifty times that Sen. Clinton's office had turned down his, producers Nate Fredman and Rob Monaco's invitations. She was said to have a previous commitment, traveling, out of the office, have a headache, and other conflicts. But next time! They never got back to the show about scheduling the date until this week.
It's not easy for talent bookers to get some guests on "The O'Reilly Factor." I can understand why. As Roger Ailes explained it to me, "Do you want to be lectured by some eight foot guy, telling you you're an idiot, and you don't give a shit about the country, and he gives you the last word, then he interrupts and goes to a commercial? I don't know. I wouldn't."
Hillary is not one of his big fans, a compliment returned.
The fear is that the host, who prides himself on asking tough questions, might be unfair and unbalanced.
Not only Hillary, but the Democratic Party seems to suffer from an endemic fear of appearing on Fox, especially during the 2008-debating season. Obama and John Edwards refused to attend a Black Caucus debate in Detroit last August because it was on Fox. Nevada Democratic Party officials won a place in the annals of political cowardice when it cancelled a Fox debate last spring because Roger Ailes made a joke, not his best, which they thought was aimed at Obama instead of the intended target, Bush.
Sometimes I get the feeling that some liberals believe that if the founding fathers knew that some day there would be Fox News, they never would have put that thing in about the first amendment.
Not only was the charge out the door in Fox debates demonstrating the absence of a firm commitment to the Constitution, but in the case of treating O'Reilly as some kind of communicable disease was politically stupid.
Candidates staying away from 'The O'Reilly Factor" were a sign they didn't do their homework about the man, his principles, and his big mouth.
O'Reilly has a simple way of dividing the world: those who will appear on his show to answer his questions, take his abuse, and otherwise be what he calls "accountable," and those who wont. They are dismissed as, among the kinder things he thinks of them, cowards.
Staying away from "The Factor," as he calls his show, is not the best way to deal with the menace of O'Reilly. Those individuals and institutions whose stories he is examining may feel they are giving validity to his attacks by answering them. The ostrich approach doesn't work with him.
He keeps digging and coming back to the subject, as Jesse Jackson discovered in O'Reilly's 68 stories on his finances in "The Factor's" first four years on the air. Not answering the call in O'Reilly's universe is tantamount to being guilty.
The best defense against O'Reilly, his boss Roger Ailes explained: "First of all, don't do whatever he is accusing you of. Second, correct the error of your ways. Third, come on the show and face him. If you've done something that O'Reilly thinks is wrong, come on and say, 'You're full of baloney and here's why.'"
The reality those who shun O'Reilly like a communicable disease ignore is he tends to treat those who bite the bullet and come on with respect that sometimes verges on fawning. He admires their courage. It sometimes shuts him up. Trying to ignore him is a red flag in the bull's eye.
It will be interesting now to watch O'Reilly's reportage on the Clinton race for the presidency. While Hillary is basking in the glow of her courageous action of putting her head in the lion's big mouth, will the man who will not shut up keep digging away at the Clinton baggage? As one Clinton conspiracyologist put it, "I think the reason she's running so hard is she's stashed away other files back there at the White House that haven't been found yet, and she wants to go back to get them before they find them."
For further advice on how the fearful can deal with the Foxtonian ogre, while winning blue collar votes, I recommend Democratic Party strategists read "The Man Who Would Not Shut Up."30