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O’Reilly needs some Fresh Air

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Bill O’Reilly did his best Gene Simmons imitation and then pulled a Monica Lewinsky on today’s Fresh Air (you can listen online).

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.

Franken also told his own Gene Simmons story (which is a way to get on her good side) during an earlier Fresh Air interview (full transcript or audio at the bottom):

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…


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.

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About Steve Rhodes

  • Terry Gross is a pipsqueak. If you are going to play on the other team you have to be able to take your licks. I am glad he tore her apart. If you try to pull a fast one he usually boxes you in like a lawyer would do. NPR is too onesided. Come on! Franken’s book is not satire! He’s a political spokesperson now! He’s definitely smearing. Al sure turned out to be an angry deadhead. His book is only great in the way it’s set up. It reminds me of that book that was influential in the 1992 presidential election “America What Went Wrong”. The problem is that as soon as that book was released the ecomomy took off. Same story here. It is good to have tit for tat. NPR does not have that at all. To be fair public funding should be pulled ,so they can do what they want. So it was truly Fresh Air. O’Reilly vs. Franken is good fodder.

  • Did you even listen to the interview or read what I wrote? She asked questons which were critical of his style, not his politics.

    And she was able to take his rather timid shadow boxing. He told her he didn’t think she’d have the courage to put the interview on the air, but she did. This just showed how unfamiliar he was with her show since she played similar interviews in the past.

    Because of cutbacks and reforms in the 80s, NPR only receives a small fraction of their budget from the federal govt. I should know, both stations I listen often went through fund drives (one raising $2 million in two weeks).

    Even Newt admits his attempts to cut the NPR and PBS budgets were both disasterous politically and wrong.

  • Great write-up, Steve.

    I just listened to the interview.


    What a thin skin this man has.

    Franken’s right–he can dish it out, but he can’t take it.

    Can’t take even a tiny fraction of it, actually, because Gross wasn’t the least bit rude or even terribly confrontational. She just brought up things he doesn’t like to talk about.

  • Eric Olsen

    I heard a portion of it and it was painful. Terry’s earnestness can really get on my nerves and that hair has got to go, but she is generally very genial and hard to dislike – you kind of have to try – and O’Reilly quite obviously had a chip on his shoulder, was super defensive, contradicted himself on numerous occasions, and was a big fat asshole.

  • i heard the whole thing.

    it was painfull.

    o’reilly, as usual, came across as a humorless, condescending prick.

    the most enlightening moment came at the end where terry read the people mag. clip that o’reilly blew up about.

    no wonder he didn’t want her to read it.

    he spent the entire interview repeating the theme that he wasn’t the one who called people names, slandered others, acted in a less than civil manner. he after all is a man of fact and problem-solving.


    in his most rediculous item of the day segment about the unfavorable people magazine reivew he called the reviewer a pinhead.


  • After the book show thing, I wanted to defend O’Reilly because I thought he got abused unfairly in an inappropriate setting. I thought Al Franken looked really bad taking over that conference and attacking O’Reilly and then not letting him speak. That was my perception after watching the whole thing.

    As this whole thing has unfolded, O’Reilly has made such an ass of himself, above and beyond anything that Al Franken could ever do, that I can’t even think of defending O’Reilly. I can’t believe none of these people have located the high ground yet.

  • also very telling was o’reilly’s non-answer to the question of (and i’m paraphrasing here) “does the polarity of today’s talk radio and tv talk shows cause us to not search out common ground”.

    he basically refused to answer the question…kinda politician style.

    oh, and he had nothing to do with the fox/franken’s publisher court thing.


  • Oh, cool. I heard it; I howled. Our friend Bill needs a hug and some serious meds.

  • For some reason, I’m not much of a fan of Terry Gross, though I still tune in relatively often based on her guests. Still, I think O’Reilly is coming apart at the seams. He’s clearly unhappy in any environment he doesn’t completely control, and no wonder!

  • Eric Olsen

    P, it’s the earnestness and the hair.

  • The earnestness, maybe. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a picture of her. I’ve listed to a few interviews for which she was obviously ill-prepared, which strikes me as incredible given her stature, especially since she does seem to prepare pretty well for most.

    The more I reflect on it, the more I think it might indeed be the earnestness. She’s trying too darned hard.

  • Eric Olsen

    her hair is earnestly short

  • Steve P

    For a little insight into what might be eating Bill O’Reilly, let’s turn to the American Psychiatric Association:

    NARCISSISM (n. sing.)

    A pattern of traits and behaviours which signify infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambition.

    WHAT IS NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder)?

    The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has been recognized as a seperate mental health disorder in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM) in 1980. Its diagnostic criteria and their interpretation have undergone a major revision in the DSM III-R (1987) and were substantially revamped in the DSM IV in 1994. The European ICD-10 basically contains identical language.

    An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts. Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:

    1. Feels grandiosity and self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
    2. Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance.
    3. Firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions).
    4. Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wishes to be feared.
    5. Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favourable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations.
    6. Is “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends.
    7. Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others.
    8. Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her.
    9. Arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.

    The language in the criteria above is based on or summarized from:

    American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition (DSM IV). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

    Sam Vaknin. (1999). Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited, first edition. Prague and Skopje: Narcissus Publication. (“Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited” http://www.geocities.com/vaksam/faq1.html )

  • exactly.

    he began with things like: my philosophy is to work towards solving a problem.

    which after a while devolved into:


    (thank you, george carlin)

  • Because of the venue Carlin works in, he is seriously undervalued as a modern-day philosopher. He is funny and he drops F-Bombs regularly, but he makes a lot of sense all the time. Ever see the HBO special where he attacks religion and declares himself a worshipper of the sun? If it weren’t for the FCC he would have the best talk show ever.

  • Shut up!

  • Eric Olsen

    Two things: Sam Vaknin is a Blogcritic, though we haven’t heard from him in some time; and, I love George Carlin – his breakthrough ’70s records are among the funniest and most insightful ever recorded, but he is terribly, terribly bitter and negative these days. His last couple of HBO shows just wore me out.

  • mike

    Drudge has a flash saying that Franken just knocked O’Reilly off the top of the Bestseller Lists after only one week on top for Old Bill.

  • Joe

    I just must ask, why do people care one whit about either of these talentless cretins? And, Mike, than you very little for the image of “one week on top for Old Bill.”

  • Chris

    Gee Steve, I listened to the entire interview and charaterizing Terry’s questions by saying “Gross didn’t really ask critical questions about his politics, they were more about his style and hypocrisy” pretty much lays out how you’ve missed the major point of this on-air encounter.

    I’ve listen to Fresh Air for years, likewise, I’ve listened to or watched O’reilly for a long time. Terry and her producer chose the questions and set the tone of the interview. Terry asked O’Reilly to defend himself repeately for all sorts of alleged misconduct that his numerous critics have leveled at him. She and her producers know who they had and how he can become loud and bombastic. It’s hard to beleive they didn’t know EXACTLY what they were doing with him. Terry ignored discussing his book for the most part, pushed his buttons and waited for him to go off. A shame too, it could have been a very interesting interview if she’d choosen more substance instead of creating the predictable defensive reaction in her guest.

    In fact, the treatment they gave O’Reilly proved his assertion of bias. That Franken, a liberal mouthpiece / satirist, gets a friendly-funny interview and O’Reilly is asked to defend himself against a laundry list of accusations proves his point easily.

    Maybe you hate the guy, but ignore him at your own risk. He makes good arguements with intellectional integrity. Terry Gross, as much as I’ve enjoyed many of her shows, committed multiple offenses against journalistic integrity during the recent war in Iraq. Go back and listen to her interviews with Iraqies during the first two weeks of the war with an ear tuned for media bias. “Can you please skip the comments about how bad life was under Bath Party rule and get to how much you were terrorized by the American war criminals invading your our country?”(Not her words, just my statire, apologies to Al Franken)

  • Eric Olsen

    Chris, thanks for your detailed input. I am pretty politically neutral about this whole thing – not particularly inclined toward either end of the spectrum represented by the various player’s views, but I heard the interview from the very beginning (didn’t hear all of the rest), but to me O’Reilly was obnoxiously defensive, confrontational, and just pretty much ridiculous from the beginning. I didn’t get the sense Terry pushed him so much as he was dead set on feeling pushed. Just shows how people view the exact same event can see things completely differently.

  • i think the point that a lot of people missed (and i said this before) is that oreilly spent a lot of time in the interview talking about how other (read: franken) do a lot of name calling.

    then, when terry is prepared to read over the air, words from oreilly’s mouth calling somebody a pinhead…he blows up the interview.

    and recently he has refused permission to have the interview transcript released.

    all hail captain narcissist!

  • I didn’t miss the point. The point all of Gross’ critics from O’Reilly to the NPR Ombudsman missed is she didn’t go after him because he is conservative, but because he is a bully and an asshole. She went after him because of his style and hypocrisy, not his politics.

    And she did try and ask him about the book (if he allowed a transcript to be released, it would be easy to show).

    But if you’ve listened to Gross for years, you know she doesn’t just do the typical promote your product interview. And she isn’t objective.

    It is her show and it reflects her taste and interests (again, far more than her politics – she isn’t Amy Goodman or David Barsamian as much as O’Reilly and others would like to think so).

    So she’ll gush over Robert Downey, Jr. and be very polite when asking him about his addiction. And she might not be as polite if Rush comes on (not a chance – he wants a safe environment he can control even more than O’Reilly).

    And horrors, on the same show, Matt Groening made fun of Fox News!

    As I wrote, she has interviewed Franken many times and has a relationship with him. She did ask some critical questions of him and he responded with jokes, not you’re a conservative out to get me – let’s cut off the few pennies of federal funding NPR gets.

    And while Fresh Air had more people with critical views of the war than most media, they also had supporters and she both sides were asked critical questions.

    And I’m really getting fucking pissed that people accuse me of hating people. I don’t hate Bush. I don’t hate O’Reilly or Rush or Michael Savage. I disagree with many of their views and tactics, but that doesn’t mean I hate them.

  • matt emge

    Bill O’reilly is a right wing prick that needs to shut the fuck up. Gross’s interview was fair but challengeing because he needs to be acountable for what he says. O’reilly is the warmonger on this interview didn’t he drop the term cultureal war. He was not on the defensive he was on attack mode. When gross was about to read him the people magazine review, he ran out of half truths and parrett statements so he threw a tantrum and cried like the little bitch that he is.

  • Sounds like O’Reilly got his goose cooked by a couple chefs to me. When your own Mom says you’re lying. . . .

  • funny. even the NPR ombudsman said gross was unfair and combative during the entire interview…and that she gave franken a complete pass. he also said that she violated journalistic ethics in the way she ended the piece, by reading from the review after o’reilly had left (which he should have done earlier), a big no-no in journalism…since the person has no way to defend or answer to the piece.

    those who are slamming o’reilly just need to admit that they are extreme liberal and just plain hate o’reilly…and that’s the sole reason they’re slamming him on this.

    calling him an asshole and a bully is not only nonsense (tough somehow suddenly means bully?)…it’s childish. then, we have the people trying to claim- he’s a right winger, which is also nonsense. a right-winger doesn’t call for the resignation of tenet…a right-winger isn’t critical of the president, demands to know what was with the WMD issue (and why none have been found). right wingers don’t usually support the legalization of marijuana (o’reilly does). right wingers don’t usually oppose the death penalty. so, sad for most of you guys- the labels don’t fit, and you only use them because he’s fair and not a LEFT winger.

  • DeweyCheatem

    OK – Thank you for your comments ‘Bill’ – I happened to listen to the ENTIRE radio interview, as well as the Book Expo hissy-fit and I also tossed in the Jeremy Glick interview for good measure. The difference betwn Bill Oreilly and Al Franken, is Al is generally a nice guy and Bill is a first rate lying prick who can’t handle it when he gets NAILED lying. Bill Oreilly plays fast and loose with his ‘facts’, and nobody can call him on it – EVER – except Al Franken. Bill needs to hook up with Rush Limbaugh and get some nice drugs

  • Sandra Smallson

    O’reilly is a brainless moron. Nothing more need be said. He, Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge when dead will be exhumed just so some can stone them to death all over again.

    O’reilly has set views. He preaches his set views on a news network called Fox. If you do not fall under his concept of what is right. You deserve no respect. Anyone who quotes O’reilly as some form of authority on anything has severe mental problems. The bad news is that he is somewhat of a public figure that has taken the opportunity to infiltrate American Psyche instead of an isolated ugly bastard washing cars for a living.

    The good news is that on a global scale, in the broad span of things..HE IS A NOBODY. He might not even be a household name in his own household. The reason he has a chip on his shoulder and is so miserable and bitter is that no matter how hard he tries, no matter how much he deludes himself, no matter what he says about the “values” of the world today..The simple fact and truth is that whether Angelina Jolie is having off screen sex sessions with Brad pitt:) is of more world interest than what Mr Bill O’reilly has to say. This is because not many know who he is and the few of us outside America who know him as the idiot on Fox don’t hold give him any significance. There can’t be anything worse than knowing that your whole life is a waste. That I fear is a realisation that Mr O’reilly came to, slwoly but surely. Now, the American public and Fox news viewers have to pay and be tortured for his misfortune.

  • Joe

    Hey! Did you here the Justice dept. prosecuter on freash air? Terry seemed astonished! I think the morality question recently(today) in the media is going to come to a head this pentagon budget cycle. Terry had the spokesperson for a religious fundamentalist white house spokesman, who was the most misogynistic charector ever played on whyy. Maybe that is why Terry had Chong on the show tonight. A base to neutralize last week show’s H+ ion.

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