Talking to Fox's O'Reilly, Clinton Keeps Her Cool

Clinton and O'Reilly

NPR's David Folkenflik says Sen. Hillary Clinton kept her cool during an appearance on Fox's O'Reilly Factor. hide caption

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NPR's David Folkenflik says Sen. Hillary Clinton fared well during a much-hyped appearance opposite her long-time nemesis Bill O'Reilly on the Fox News Channel's flagship interview program, The O'Reilly Factor.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Well, next up, Hill and Bill went head to head, mano a womano last night. Oh, no, not that Bill. Bill O'Reilly, overseer of the No Spin Zone!

(Soundbite of TV show "The O'Reilly Factor")

Mr. BILL O'REILLY (Host, "The O'Reilly Factor"): Caution, you are about to enter the No Spin Zone. "The Factor" begins right now. Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thank you for watching us tonight. Hillary Clinton enters the No Spin Zone. That would be the subject of this evening's talking-points memo, if we were going to have a talking-points memo, but we're not because we have so much good stuff with the senator.

PESCA: Ah! Here to dissect what could be the greatest interview since Frost, Nixon, or possibly Plato's dialogues...

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Certainly in Mr. O'Reilly's mind.

PESCA: Yes - is NPR's David Folkenflik. Wow. Did he just bypass the talking-points memo? I don't know, what are we to think? And I mean that literally. Because this is the purpose of the talking-points memo. But I want you, David, to set the scene. How has the Fox News channel been affected by the long Democratic primary?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's interesting. Obviously, Fox News, the top-rated cable-news channel, a home for disaffected conservatives and other people who feel the mainstream media, media like the New York Times, or NPR, or CBS, or what have you, aren't serving their needs, aren't speaking to them. Fox News has been not exactly sidelined, but has been a little less exuberant as it's watched great excitement build among voters and viewers in the Democratic primary.

It's been contested, it's lasted what seems like forever, and this is translated into a lot of voter turnout, and a lot of viewer interest. Fox has gained less than its peers and its rivals. Now, you could say, look, it's starting at a higher level. But nonetheless, you know, if you look at CNN and MSNBC, they've really benefited from this voter interest. Fox has felt a little sidelined.

Part of that, of course, is that, you know, Fox has been such a patriotic champion in seeming, at least, in its punditry for the war and occupation in Iraq, for the Bush administration, and let's say, at least the great sum of its punditry that Democrats and anti-war activists have been very hostile to it. You know, MoveOn.org really pressured candidates, starting with John Edwards and leading to the others, to pull out of a Fox News-sponsored debate last summer.

PESCA: The debate was cancelled.

FOLKENFLIK: It was cancelled in Nevada.

PESCA: So, into this all walks Hillary Clinton. She's sitting there with Bill O'Reilly. First question, can you believe this Bill O'Reilly guy? Can you believe this guy?

FOLKENFLIK: Can you believe this softball? It's exactly - I mean, she looked very happy right there.

PESCA: Tell the listeners why I phrased the question in exactly that way.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, that's exactly how Bill O phrased it. He, himself, you know, was sort of saying, can you believe Jeremiah Wright?

PESCA: About Jeremiah Wright.

FOLKENFLIK: The pastor, former spiritual advisor of Senator Barack Obama, who has now, of course, distanced himself because of the fiery preacher's views on AIDS, on all kinds of conspiracy theories that really are not acceptable in mainstream political circles.

PESCA: So, how did Hillary field that question?

FOLKENFLIK: She sort of was perfectly happy for O'Reilly to build up the hyperbole and let him do the damage. She said, well, you know, certainly I wouldn't have stayed in that church. I wouldn't hold to those beliefs. But she has basically said I think Senator Obama did the right thing in distancing himself. She's happy for everybody else to throw mud at each other and seemingly kind of distance herself from the fray on that.

PESCA: By saying, can you believe this guy? You know, kind of casual, hey, I'm just chumming up to you in the bar, is that pretty indicative of the tone of the whole conversation?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it was sort of combative in stylistic rather than in fact. I mean, he sort of had his brash things, he'd interrupt her periodically but he ultimately - you know, she is a very, very tough operator, very savvy, and was completely at ease. She was able to get her points across. He'd kind of interrupt her a little bit.

PESCA: Well, let's hear a little bit. This is some tone or table setting, and here's how the interview started. Some patter.

(Soundbite of TV show "The O'Reilly Factor")

Mr. O'REILLY: And also we're in a land of the fighting Irish.

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Well, I'm a fighter, so, you know...

Mr. O'REILLY: And I'm Irish, so...

Senator CLINTON: We've got something in common there.

Mr. O'REILLY: We got the thing going on.

PESCA: Wow, they were in South Bend, and I love that. That was like from the front page, or some Ben Hecht script, the little back and forth.

FOLKENFLIK: Nick and Nora, a little bit?

PESCA: Exactly.

FOLKENFLIK: Sonny and Cher?

PESCA: They seem to - I don't know if they were getting along, but how would you characterize Hillary Clinton's mood during the interview? She didn't seem put off by O'Reilly's needles.

FOLKENFLIK: Not at all. I mean, both of them seemed amused and astonished to be there in some ways. You know, she was sort of - she laughed and it wasn't forced. She seemed genuinely amused to be there, and pretty pleased to be able to handle it without too much rancor at all.

PESCA: Did his style, or perhaps just the brilliance of his questions, solicit any answers or anything we haven't heard before?

FOLKENFLIK: No, I mean, she talked a little bit about healthcare and she stayed on her points. She talked a little bit about tax policy and was prepped by that. I think we have a clip from that.

PESCA: I think we have, yeah, I think this might be a healthcare clip. Let's hear this.

(Soundbite of TV show "The O'Reilly Factor")

Mr. O'REILLY: Our home state, you and I...

Senator CLINTON: Right.

Mr. O'REILLY: We both live in New York.

Senator CLINTON: Right.

Mr. O'REILLY: Five billion dollar deficit, OK? Biggest expenditure in both California and New York. Medicaid, Medi-Cal fraud, between 10 and 20 percent. So, you're going to tell me President Clinton, Hillary Clinton, is going to, A, run this efficiently, and B, not bankrupt the country when California and New York are already bankrupt? How are you going to do that? Moses is going to come down?

Senator CLINTON: Well, he could help, don't you think?

Mr. O'REILLY: Yeah, that's who you're going to need.

Senator CLINTON: On those tablets, here's what's going to be written. If we don't get to universal healthcare, we will continue to bleed money. If we don't have more accountability, like through electronic medical records...

PESCA: Well, look, you and I both ask questions. That was conversational. But sometimes a really short question doesn't allow wiggle room, and she just pivoted - he kept talking, he said Moses, and she pivoted off it.

FOLKENFLIK: You, of all people, know that the first rule of improv is you go with the scenario that's handed to you. She just played with it, and ran with it.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

She totally handled that well, I thought.

PESCA: Well, do you think the whole jokey style allowed her to wriggle her way out of questions? Was it shtick over substance?

FOLKENFLIK: It allowed her to get talking points. It allowed her to give the appearance of being hit with the hard questions by the toughest prosecutorial questioner, and that's what she wanted to show. She wanted to show that she's able to take it, which after all is sort of the backbone of her current appeal.

You know, who do you want to make the tough calls at three a.m.? And B, she wanted to show, hey, she's perfectly at ease with conservative Democrats, with working class ethnics, with people who speak to them, like Bill O'Reilly. Because she's willing to go in there, she's not hostile about it. She's at ease.

PESCA: Do you think there's any clear connection between the states and Guam? But Indiana, North Carolina, and O'Reilly - is there a big O'Reilly audience there, or is it just now that the time is right?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's about time, but I think she looked at how she did in Pennsylvania between particularly-conservative Democrats, independent-minded voters, white ethnics, and these are people in Indiana that she really needs to reach out to if she has a hope of beating or holding off Obama there. And I think that Fox gives her an opportunity to try to show and signal that she's open to them, and she's going to speak for them.

PESCA: Real meta question, I can only give you less than 30 seconds, but someone who is listening to this is going, why you are even talking about this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's fun. You've got a leading presidential candidate. You've got the leading cable news outlet. They have been hammer and tongs since 1996, fascinating to see her go on "The O'Reilly Factor." To see him build it up as a huge thing. To see her build it up as a signal moment. You know, it's sort of an amusing moment.

PESCA: O'Reilly a showman? How unusual.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah.

PESCA: And that is NPR's David Folkenflik, who covers media and interesting stuff. Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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