It is hard to describe what happened, but O’Reilly was his usual charming self (in other words, an asshole). Terry Gross asked him about his attacks on Janet Maslin about her review of Al Franken’s book which included this passage:
Note to Bill O’Reilly, the de facto publicist for ”Lies” thanks to Fox News’s hapless efforts to block its publication: Never say ”Never said it” or ”You can’t find a transcript where I said it” when a man with 14 researchers is on your trail. In a book that baits its targets with varying degrees of success, Mr. Franken makes a bull’s-eye out of Mr. O’Reilly. First the prize: he shows how Mr. O’Reilly’s erroneous claim that he won a Peabody Award evolved into even bigger fibs once it was challenged.
Then the porn: a mortifyingly stilted erotic passage from Mr. O’Reilly’s novel ”Those Who Trespass” is sent up repeatedly here. Then the political affiliation: a 1994 voter registration form is dug up, courtesy of National Public Radio, and reprinted to contradict Mr. O’Reilly’s 1996 claim that he was not enrolled in a political party. (The form counts him as a Republican.) And finally the provenance: accounts of a childhood in Levittown, N.Y., are contradicted in The Washington Post by ”an inside source (O’Reilly’s mother).”
He also calls Maslin’s review of Michael Moore’s new book positive (Gross accurately calls it mixed) and claims he doesn’t want the Times to review his books (but comes off as angry they’ve ignored his best selling prose).
He complains that Gross wan’t as hard on Franken when she interviewed him though he didn’t hear the interview. She admits she probably wasn’t, but fails to let O’Reilly know one reason was Franken was polite and funny while he is just belligerent.
O’Reilly lectured Gross numerous times before launching into a tirade and walking out of the interview. Some people can dish it out, but can’t take it.
And Gross didn’t really ask critical questions about his politics, they were more about his style and hypocrisy. O’Reilly claimed he didn’t have anything to do with the Fox lawsuit (though he thinks he has grounds to sue Franken), was right to to cut Jeremy Glick off, only told people to shut up six or seven times (the rest of the time he was just joking).
But Tuesday night, even before the interview aired, O’Reilly went on the attack:
Time now for “The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day.”
I had to stop an interview with NPR today because the conversation got completely out of hand. It was supposed to be about my new book Who’s Looking Out For You? I say supposed to be.
On “The Radio Factor” tomorrow, I’m going to play you some of that interview — it’s also posted on billoreilly.com right now — so you can hear what happened.
The program is called “Fresh Air,” and I knew the people were not going to be fair but I decided to let it play out. That program gave one of the smear merchants running around the country a total pass when it interviewed him. But, in my conversation, they were much more aggressive, and I actually enjoyed telling the woman off, and I think you’ll enjoy hearing it.
If you want to know the ridiculous truth about NPR and “Fresh Air,” go to billoreilly — Bill O’Reilly — that’s my name — dot-com, billoreilly.com, or listen to The Radio Factor tomorrow. Very interesting.
GROSS: Al Franken, I have it through one of my sources that you have a funny Gene Simmons story. And for our listeners who missed this, Gene Simmons, of the heavy metal band KISS…
Mr. FRANKEN: He was on your show.
GROSS: …was a guest on our show, and it was quite a to-do. He hurled around many insults toward me in particular and public radio in general. So entertain us with your Gene Simmons story.
Mr. FRANKEN: OK, here’s my Gene Simmons story. It was 1982, and at the time I was playing racquetball a lot and I was at this racquetball club in Midtown Manhattan, and I played a weekly game with a guy. And my partner was late, so I’m hitting the ball around by myself in the court, and it has a glass wall, the back wall. And I hear this knock on the door and it’s Gene Simmons. I didn’t know, actually, it was Gene Simmons till later. But he knocks on the door and he said, ‘I play with you?’
And I said, ‘Well, I’m waiting for someone. Sure. Why don’t you come in.’
He says, ‘I’ll kick your ass.’
So I said, ‘Oh, OK. Well, fine.’ I said, ‘Well, look, you want to warm up?’
He goes, ‘No, I’ll kick your ass.’
And then I said, ‘Well, go ahead. You serve.’
And he hit–now he’s very big, Gene. He’s like 6’2″, 6’3″. Big, big guy.
GROSS: And that’s without the platform shoes.
Mr. FRANKEN: Yes. And he serves, and he hits the ball harder than I’ve ever seen anyone hit the ball before, and I’ve played with, like, you know, really, really good players. And so the first point, you know, just goes past me and I, you know, whiff on it. And so he gets a point. He says, ‘I kick your ass.’
And so I said, ‘Well, OK.’ Then he does it again and I miss the second one, and he’s ahead 2-nothing. Then I figure out what he–you know, I catch up to how hard he’s hitting and I beat him, like, 15-3 or 15-4.
And by then my partner has come. And Simmons says to me, ‘We play again.’
And I said, ‘Well, no. My partner’s here and I’ve got to play with him.
And he said, ‘I kick your ass.’
And I said, ‘Well, no. Look, my friend’s here. I’m going to play with him.’
And he goes, ‘Bock, bock, bock, bock, bock, bock, bock. Bock, bock, bock, bock, bock, bock.’ And he’s taunting me.
And I say, ‘OK, we’ll play this game for 500 bucks.’ And he just turns around and leaves.
And my partner says, ‘That was Gene Simmons.’
And that’s my Gene Simmons story. He was the most awful person I’ve ever met. Yeah, I…
GROSS: See, I asked you to tell it…
Mr. FRANKEN: So I…
GROSS: I asked you to tell it because wherever I go people just want to ask me about, you know, Gene Simmons’ appearance on FRESH AIR, so I figured it’s time for me…
Mr. FRANKEN: Well, I just…
GROSS: …to ask somebody else about Gene Simmons.
Mr. FRANKEN: I just want, Terry, you to stop beating yourself up and feeling that that whole interview was your fault.
GROSS: ‘Cause I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.
Mr. FRANKEN: I wouldn’t go that far, but, no, I know that you felt terrible, that maybe there was something you could have done to make Gene more gentlemanly. And I would stop beating–don’t lose any more sleep over that.
GROSS: Which reminds me–thanks for the advice, Al.
Mr. FRANKEN: Sure.
Gross was interviewed by the Sac Bee last month.