STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
And now, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News has put out a book called "Killing Lincoln." O'Reilly and his co-author, Martin Dugard, examine the plot against the president at the end of the Civil War in April of 1865, and they also reconstruct the final days of Lincoln's life. Bill O'Reilly, welcome to the program.
BILL O: Thank you, Steve. I appreciate you having me in.
INSKEEP: What draws you to Lincoln and to that particular moment?
O: And I wanted to draw attention to him and write a book that was very dramatic and very exciting to read, but at the same time, show Americans what true leadership is, so that they can compare it to what we have today, and perhaps maybe seek out better leaders.
INSKEEP: Well, I love that you bring up Lincoln as an example, because so many people admire him today, of course. But you also write in this book - this is a quote from the book, in the present tense, "In 1865, he is by far the most despised and reviled president in American history." What made him seem that way to a lot of people at the time?
O: Well, obviously, the South hated him, and many in the North just didn't want to make the sacrifice. There was a lot of racism in the North, obviously, and they said, why are we losing hundreds of thousands of people and fighting this bloody, prolonged war when we don't really care that much?
INSKEEP: Well, what made him a great leader, given that circumstance that so many people were opposed to him or anxious about the course that he was taking?
O: There was no security to stop you. There were actually people who Abraham Lincoln didn't know, sleeping in the hallways of the White House trying to get to Lincoln with a petition or whatever. And he would take some of those petitions.
INSKEEP: He would see people. He would give them time.
O: He would see - absolutely, widows, and people who were in trouble. And then he would turn over their letters and write things on the bottom of the letter, let this be done, let this woman see her son who's incarcerated, whatever it may be - very, very compassionate man on an individual basis.
INSKEEP: What did you think when you went back and read the media in those days, you know, it would say that Lincoln's a dictator, that Grant's a drunk, that General Sherman is insane? Everybody was ripped up at one time or another.
O: Well, that's what the media is today. The media remarkably hasn't changed since Benjamin Franklin was - written "Poor Richard's Almanac." The media is a bunch of guttersnipes and, you know, low - what can I tell you? I mean, look. I'm in the media. I've been doing it for 35 years. I know the media as well as anybody in the world knows it. And there are always going to be people who try to make money by slamming other people and by, you know, creating all kinds of stuff that doesn't really get us anywhere.
INSKEEP: Do you think you add to that sometimes?
O: You know, I try not to do it personally. I think that we bring a robust debate to the nation every night. I think we try to stay away from the personal stuff. We try to back up our opinions with facts. So, yeah. I mean, you can accuse me of anything you want, but, you know, I'm trying to do the right thing.
INSKEEP: What do you think when you hear people complain about the quality, not just in the media, but of political discourse today, that it's departed from reality, for example?
O: But some of his acolytes, they just can't help themselves. And on the other side, there are people who just hate him, and everything he does is bad. And I criticize those people just as much.
INSKEEP: Some people will know that you interviewed President Obama, at least twice. Is it twice so far?
O: Yeah, twice.
INSKEEP: And if I'm not mistaken, after one of those interviews in the White House, he took you to the Lincoln Bedroom to look around.
O: So after the Super Bowl interview was over, he was kind enough, the president, to take me up to the Lincoln Bedroom, which I had never been in there before. And then, there in the bedroom, on a podium, is Lincoln's handwritten Gettysburg Address that he wrote out in his own hand. And, I mean, it'll almost make you cry.
INSKEEP: You're also writing, Bill O'Reilly, about a period in history where I think it's fair to say the political system broke. There was this great issue facing the country. They tried to deal with it. They couldn't deal with it over time, and in the end, it led to a war and hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Do you wonder if the political system is breaking now?
O: So I don't see any fracture along those lines. I do see that zealotry, probably, is way higher than it should be. Dishonesty in the media is almost at a scandalous level. But there's so much media now, with the PCs and all of that social network. There's so much, that I think Americans, if they really try and they think, they can get the real story.
INSKEEP: Although I'm just thinking about the media today, if Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address today, it would be far too long for an evening news soundbite. It'd be far too long for a tweet. Somebody would write about it on a blog that favored Lincoln, but other people might ignore it or denounce it. I just wonder.
O: And I don't see it as dire as some other people see it. I'm fairly optimistic that if we can get this economic stuff under control, America will make a stunning comeback.
INSKEEP: Bill O'Reilly is co-author with Martin Dugard of "Killing Lincoln." Thanks very much.
O: All right, Steve. Pleasure to talk to you.
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