The life of O'Reilly
Geoff Metcalf interviews Fox's take-no-prisoners 'Factor' host

By Geoff Metcalf

As the host of Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," Bill O'Reilly has catapulted himself to media stardom as the most watched cable talk show host on television. His uncanny way of getting to the heart of a matter -- with guests from all perspectives -- has endeared him to countless Fox viewers. WorldNetDaily writer and talk show host Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed O'Reilly about his show and his new book, which is available at WorldNetDaily's online store -- "The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life."

Question: "The Good, the Bad and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life" is the subtitle of your book. What sparked you to write the book?

Answer: I wrote the book because 15 years ago when my father died, he said to me on his deathbed that the one regret he had in life was that he didn't fulfill his potential. And I told him, "Dad, I'll do it. You gave me an education, a solid moral foundation, so I'll go out and slay some dragons." I made a vow that if I ever reached prominence in America, I would write a book that explained to working-class Americans how the system works and how you have to understand the rules of the game if you are going to prosper.

My father was a very intelligent guy -- a Holy Cross College graduate, a naval officer in World War II, a big, gregarious Irish guy. But he bought into the system -- he never took any chances. He didn't use his talents to make a living and he got hosed by the system. It was a shame to watch it and I don't want that to happen to anyone else. So I wrote "The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life" to lay out how the system works in America -- so at least people will know it. The book is number one on the New York Times best-seller list and I have no idea how that happened.

Q: I have an idea of why it has been so incredibly successful. You're filling a vacuum the mainstream has created by avoidance. By speaking what most people are thinking, you are fulfilling a need that previously wasn't being addressed. The same is true for the TV show.

A: I think that is a pretty good analysis. The media for many years on television played to themselves and tried to impress each other. Guys who were making the decisions lived on Park Avenue or they live in Malibu, Calif., or Georgetown, Washington, D.C. And they aren't particularly interested in how the people in Akron, Ohio, and Boise, Idaho, live. They don't really care. So you didn't get the news from a working man or working woman's perspective. I bring that perspective and I think you're right. I think people get up every morning, fulfill their responsibilities in America, go home, try to be good parents, good citizens and good neighbors. They feel they don't have a voice in the elite media and I try to provide that voice for them.

Q: The mainstream media is really missing an opportunity. Since they are in the business of building audience (and not really disseminating information), and since Fox and WorldNetDaily and the Internet have been so successful in filling that void, the question arises: At what point do you think the mainstream is going to get hip that maybe they ought to start providing some of this stuff that people are finding elsewhere?

A: It's a very good question and I can't answer it. They are still locked into their traditional points of view on how to broadcast the news. They haven't been able to get out of it.

Q: Many say the mainstream is not going to change. They feel the mainstream is so fat, dumb and lazy they'll just keep getting along. I still don't buy that. There has to be some point of diminishing return.

A: You're going to see a big shake-up at CNN. All their guys got fired. They're looking for another direction. That's the first domino to fall. The network news at 6 p.m., 6:30 where you live -- that's finished. It's not coming back. That will be on the air for a few more years and then it will disappear entirely. They will probably replace that with a combination newscast-news magazine at 10:00 at night.

Q: How much longer can Dan Rather keep his job?

A: Rather has maybe a year or two left -- that's all he's got. They don't have anybody to replace him. The modus operandi of these guys is -- when I worked over at CBS, I saw it first hand -- if you had the potential to replace Rather, they'd find a way to get you and you wouldn't be in the company very long. So there is no one to replace Rather. Who are they going to put in that chair?

Q: In the wake of all the stuff going on with the never-ending story of election 2000 and the way that the networks really soiled the sheets on election night, do you think there will be a shift in policy at the big three?

A: Well there has to be. They are going to have to change. It's just a matter of what direction they will go. With "The O'Reilly Factor" television program, I did a news-analysis show in prime time. Nobody was doing it. We don't just cover politics. We cover everything. It was a huge vacuum that I stepped into. In order to do that kind of a program, you have to have a pretty obnoxious guy like me to be willing to go up there and put his butt on the line every night. There aren't a lot of those people around. They're afraid because you take a lot of heat. If you're not quick, you can get your butt kicked out of there because we're bringing in the best and the brightest to go up against me. So it's not easy to duplicate what we're doing.

Look, the game is going to be played in another way in another five years but it's going to take that long to get there. Americans don't need the network news anymore. With computers, they can get the kind of information they want in their own living room -- so they have to want to watch you. That's the difference. Ten years ago, they needed network news -- now, they don't. My task as a journalist is to provide accurate information but in a very engaging, stimulating and provocative way so that people want to watch it. They haven't figured that out at the networks yet.

Q: Broadcasting is only secondarily the dissemination of information. Primarily, we are in a personality business. Our job is to build and maintain audience and people are going to watch you based on whether they like you or hate you or have some reason to want to watch or listen.

A: Right. But you have to have solid information too. If you're just going to do it on personality, you're going to run out of gas. You really have to have a frame of reference and know what you're talking about because people who tend to watch these programs are very bright. They're the same kind of people who listen to talk radio. They're interested in their country, they have a frame of reference, they know what's going on. If you come off as a dummy, they'll turn you off whether they like you or not. So there is a higher skill level than being a gameshow host. Yes, you have to be likeable but, frankly, I don't think I'm particularly likeable.

Q: You are irascible but you are a distinct personality.

A: I'm just trying to be myself. I'm not trying to convince you to like me. I'm just kind of laying it out there and, if you like me, I really appreciate it but, if you don't like me, I still want you to watch. I'm not pandering to the audience the way some of the newscasters do by telling them what they want to hear because I don't think that's my role. But I do believe that information is paramount and you have to be credible if you are going to be in the news business on the national level. You can get away with it on "Eyewitness News" in San Francisco or San Jose -- you can get away with being an airhead.

Q: And they do, for big money.

A: Sure, because you're just reading leads -- that's all that you're doing. But if you're going to be doing interviews and analysis ... You know, I write "The Factor." I write the whole show. We don't have a writer on the staff because it has to be my voice and I have to do it. There are not too many people who can do that anymore.

Q: Alexis de Tocqueville once said, "America is great because America is good. When America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." You don't think we've quite ceased to be good yet, right?

A: I think there are very, very good things about this country -- the most important being that a person like me, who came from no advantages other than parents who were responsible, can have the opportunity to succeed. The odds that I would make it to the top of my profession were a million to one, but it happened. And it happened in America. I don't think it could have happened in England or Fiji or anyplace else. So that's what America has going for it -- opportunity. But we are a country in decline as far as interest in the country itself -- patriotism, education, perspicacity. All of those things are on the wane and I think that -- I hope that -- the cycle starts to swing back soon.

Q: I was reading your recent WorldNetDaily column, and there was one paragraph that absolutely blew me away. You wrote, "America is run by members of the Federal Reserve board, by a few powerful senators and congressmen who chair important committees and by the sitting president and his close advisers. The Supreme Court justices also have some say, especially if any of the power brokers get out of hand and start wielding too much influence." All that is true but, normally, people in your position don't say that.

A: I say lots of stuff that people in my position don't say because my first obligation is to the folks, not to my bosses, not to my peers, and not to some kind of image I want to project for myself. My obligation is to tell the truth about this country to the people who watch and read me, so that's what I do.

Q: "The O'Reilly Factor" the book is a broad-spectrum analysis in which you touch on an eclectic variety of issues. What do you think of Martha Stewart?

A: There are exploiters everywhere. I put Martha Stewart in the same category I put Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. They both pander and cater to an audience that has an image of them, yet they are not that image. They are something completely different. More power to them if they can fool the folks and make a big living doing it -- but I don't have to like it.

Q: I really agree with what you have to write about sex and the way it is purveyed in the media. It's nobody's business.

A: Right. That's the problem with the gay movement and all kinds of movie stars telling People Magazine about their sex lives. Why are these people doing that? This is a personal thing. It should be nobody's business. The government shouldn't be involved in it. Your relatives shouldn't be involved in it. Your friends shouldn't be involved with it. It's personal. Keep your mouth shut about sex. And if you do that, you will cut down on an enormous amount of grief in your life. It's simple advice.

Q: What is fixable and what's not?

A: I'm a problem solver. That's what I do for a living. Give me the problem and I'll give you the solution.

Q: Make Al Gore go away.

A: I don't think Al Gore is the problem. I think the tied election is the problem. You can look at that a number of ways. It was a tie. The system wasn't set up to deal with a tie -- yet, that's what we have.

Q: There is a mechanism, there is a process there, and there are precedents in the past. We've had close elections before, but this petulance -- this picking at the scab -- is distasteful and crass.

A: That's certainly the prevailing view of Americans at this juncture but you have to be fair about it. Here's a guy who won by 350,000 popular votes and who feels he got jobbed in Florida. So he's not going quietly into the night. He does have a legitimate psychological burden to deal with. This is his whole life's dream -- he feels he is the winner. I know he feels that way and he's going to take it to the limit. I feel he is hurting the country drastically.

Q: And his party and himself.

A: I don't know about that. I think Americans have short memories. But the economy -- he's just killing it -- and that alone is a reason he should get out for the working men and women of America. We don't want to be suffering because of him. I do have some sympathy for Al Gore -- I don't think he is the bad person people portray him.

Q: He is.

A: He's not nearly in the league that Bill Clinton is. He's nowhere near that.

Q: One of my pet peeves about this entire administration has been the abuse of power under the color of authority and, now, Gore seems to want to compel these courts to exceed their authority.

A: He wants to win. He wants to win any way he can. Is this hand recount in three cherry-picked Florida counties fair? Of course not. A 5-year-old child would know that. What about everybody else who voted? You can't cherry-pick it. Everybody knows that's not fair. He wants to win.

Q: I asked my listeners recently to pick the date Gore would concede. The dates ranged from Dec. 8 to when Hell freezes over to never.

A: He'll concede Friday (Dec. 8) if the Supreme Court rules against him, no question. If the Florida Supreme Court rules against him, he's out. I know that -- he's done. And he'll do it. He's not going to implode in front of everybody. But the Florida Supreme Court is an activist court, so they could do anything. I hope they rule the right way. The law says there is no reason for any hand counts -- that's it. I would hate to see the legislature have to overturn it, which the legislature in Florida will. I would hate to see this go on to next week because of the economy. Believe me, people are going to start suffering next year.

Q: I've been getting calls from all over the country from folks who are really p.o.'d about what is happening to their portfolios.

A: You're going to cry when you see it in the end of December, especially elderly people with their 401Ks who need the money now. And it's not all Gore. Greenspan has been strangling the economy with the interest rates, but he's going to back away fast. He's afraid now. I let him have it the other night and the next day he was out saying, hey, maybe we'll have to cut. He will. They will cut. But Gore doesn't have to do this. So, Friday, if the Supreme Court says no hand recounts, then Gore is out.

Q: When they stick a fork in him and he is done, has he destroyed any possibility of a comeback?

A: Nah. The Democrats don't have anybody. If you look at the roster of people they can trot out, there are very, very few. Hillary, of course, wants it -- but Hillary is just not palatable to America.

Q: America at large would eviscerate her.

A: Right. I mean New York and California will go for Hillary, and Massachusetts and probably Washington state, but other than that, she is done.

Q: I just saw a piece reporting that the program director at KABC in L.A. offered Gore a job.

A: Yeah. They want Gore to be a talkshow host. I'll hire Gore tomorrow. I offered Clinton a job. I told his money man: When Clinton gets out of office, I want him working on the Fox News channel. Because these guys -- like them or not -- have a tremendous amount of knowledge and I can shake it out of them. Other people are going to let them say whatever they want, but I'm not going to. I'm going to shake the truth out of them. I'd love to get a shot at those guys.