Clinton Keeps Cool on Fox's 'O'Reilly Factor'

Hillary Clinton and Bill O'Reilly hashed it out on The O'Reilly Factor Wednesday night. The conservative news host quizzed the Democratic presidential candidate about her plans for health care and taxes.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Hillary Clinton gets talked about on the "O'Reilly Factor," but it was rare that she appeared on it last night. She made an appearance on the most popular show on the Fox News Channel. Bill O'Reilly kicked off last night's interview in Indiana, which hosts this primary next week.

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

Mr. BILL O'REILLY (Show host): And also, we're in the land of the fighting Irish.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Well, I'm a fighter. So, you know, we have something in common there.

Mr. O'REILLY: And I'm Irish. So we've got the thing going on.

INSKEEP: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik was watching as they had the thing going on.

David, good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Haven't Democratic presidential candidates been avoiding Fox News largely?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you think during the primary's that's not the place that's going to be most rich in Democratic voters. You know, last year, John Edwards, who had recanted his vote against authorizing the invasion of Iraq, you know, made a big deal of saying, look, we're not going to go to Fox. It's not a fair place.

And Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pulled out of a debate in Nevada that had been scheduled on Fox News after a lot of pressure from the anti-war group MoveOn.org. It was seen as not a place to go.

But, you know, there're these primaries you're mentioning in Indiana, as well as North Carolina. It's a place where Independents and perhaps more conservative working-class ethnic white Democrats might be more likely to watch. Hillary Clinton's had some success in places like Pennsylvania, you know, in getting voters like that, and she's trying to court them.

INSKEEP: So what did those voters see last night?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, O'Reilly started off with a hot button issue of the radical views of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who's, after all, somebody who's been cited - until very recently - as this sort of spiritual advisor and mentor of Senator Obama. Aside from about a minute or two of that, though, he kind of let it drop. He played, I don't know, a sharp-tongued interrogator, the role that he presents himself as every night. But Clinton was at ease much of the time, as in say, for example, this exchange, I think we have, about her plans on health care.

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

Mr. O'REILLY: You know, you're going to bankrupt the country with Hill Care, right? The health care program. Do you have any…

Sen. CLINTON: Oh, no I'm not. No I'm not.

Mr. O'REILLY: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. You're going to bankrupt the country.

Sen. CLINTON: No, I'm not. That is so untrue.

Mr. O'REILLY: Look, California…

Sen. CLINTON: If we don't get to universal health care, we will continue to bleed money.

FOLKENFLIK: So she hit her talking points without sounding like somebody who was hitting her talking points. She was completely at ease in, you know, what Democrats would think of as the lion's den.

INSKEEP: And we should mention that Bill O'Reilly also asked this candidate who's seeking working-class votes about her own wealth.

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

Mr. O'REILLY: You know, your husband and I make a lot of money. Did you know that?

Sen. CLINTON: I've heard that.

Mr. O'REILLY: Yeah. We make a lot of money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'REILLY: And you, if you're president, are going to take more of my money and your husband's money away, away. Okay. Now I'm paying 33 percent Fed tax now. You're going to raise that to what?

Sen. CLINTON: You know what? Rich people - God bless us - we deserve all the opportunities to make sure…

Mr. O'REILLY: All right. So I'm going to assume…

Sen. CLINTON: …our country and our blessings continue to the next generation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: David Folkenflik, did they resolve that argument?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I don't know about that, but when is the last time you had a candidate not named Mitt Romney admit she was rich? You know, that's something that as you're trolling for working-class votes you don't try to dwell on that much. O'Reilly managed to extract that from her.

INSKEEP: Can I ask what's in it for Fox News to have a Democratic candidate on like this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's been a little bit of anxiety about what Fox's role is in the post-George W. Bush world if Democrats, for example, take the White House. If people are on an anti-war swing, where do they go? You know, there's been a lot of viewer and voter interest in this political season, but Fox has been lifted perhaps less than its competitors on cable, which, after all, have more ground to make up.

In this case, Fox gets to show it's relevant. It just had on Senator Obama for the first time in 700-something days. Here they're back in the swing of things.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

INSKEEP: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

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