With another year at the helm of cable news’ top show and his contract with Fox News Channel up next year, Bill O’Reilly hasn’t decided if he’s going to stay in the arena or not. But the often-blunt host knows exactly what he thinks of the media’s coverage of the Presidential race.
“I thought the coverage of the election was disgraceful, and it was dishonest. It was ideologically driven and I think that the news agencies that did that will never return to a level of credibility ever,” The O’Reilly Factor anchor says of the way now-President-elect Donald Trump was covered by the likes of CNN and the New York Times.
Ending a 2016 that saw his 8 PM powerhouse Factor hit its second-best year ever and rise 18% year-over-year in total viewers and 17% in the adults 25-54 news demo, O’Reilly has now held the No. 1 spot in cable news for 16 consecutive years. He also has another nonfiction No. 1 with Killing The Rising Sun, the latest in his historical book series with Martin Dugard that started with Killing Lincoln in 2011.
In a rare interview, O’Reilly chatted with me about those heights, why The Factor works and his plans for the future. He also discussed the scandal that marred Fox News’ 20th anniversary and saw Rupert Murdoch take over directly after Roger Ailes exited amid accusations of sexual harassment. With the media meltdown of the Trump Vs. Hillary race for the White House, O’Reilly also offered his take on the outgoing President Barack Obama – as a role model and a leader.
DEADLINE: You know all the impressive stats of your own career, but what really makes it all work year after year as you are about to see your fourth President take office?
O’REILLY: I think the secret to success is a short-term outlook. So for example, I’m writing the next Killing book now and I have to just make every chapter compelling, so I can’t get too far ahead of it. I just stay in the present and then go over what I have to do. Same thing on the Factor. Each segment has to pay off, so you have to look at it in a very, very micro-level and make each chapter in the book, each segment on a TV show, entertaining and informative, and if you do that then a cumulative affect will be success.
DEADLINE: A straightforward premise, but not a replicative one, as your competitors have learned.
O’REILLY: Well, we have a couple of advantages. Number one, I’m the executive producer so I can make decisions. Now, I do consult with my staff, but I make the decisions so that I don’t have to go through a lot of meetings and all that. Also, we do minute-by-minute ratings, minute-by-minute, and we see where the audience goes, so if the audience is bored with a certain segment or with certain people, we know that.
DEADLINE: And you’ll cut the dead weight almost instantly?
O’REILLY: Oh yeah because you have to. In a country where people’s attention span is short and they are holding the clicker in their hand, and they got a hundred other options, you have to basically understand what the audience is responding to. If you don’t, you’re going to fail, so we do the minute-by-minute, we look at it, and therefore, we’re confident that certain things work like ‘Watters’ World,” for example — that segment works.
DEADLINE: With all that, with hitting 20 years on Fox News a couple of months ago, the top-rated and most-watched show on cable news for another year, and the bestsellers in The Killing series, your contract is up next year. Do you think, “I’m at the top of my game; this would be perfect time to exit”?
O’REILLY: Well, I don’t look at it that way because it’s a matter of whether I think that continuing the books and the TV show is a positive for me in my life and also, for all the people who work for me. I have to think about them too, so it’s a complicated decision. Certainly, it’s not like it was 10 years ago that’s for sure. If I feel that it’s too much and I don’t want to do this kind of work, I don’t want to work this hard, then I’ll walk away.
DEADLINE: So, as of yet, you haven’t determined which way you’re going to go on that one?
O’REILLY: No, because there are a lot of factors involved with it. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.
DEADLINE: You were already a TV veteran when you started the show back in 1996 as The O’Reilly Report, but what have you learned about doing the job and making the show work since then?
O’REILLY: Well, in primetime cable television today, the anchor or anchors, with an “s”, have to drive the hour. Therefore, if a segment’s not working, the anchor has to be skilled enough to take it over. So if I find that it’s getting boring or I’m not getting information I want, I’ll take it over. I’ll do a soliloquy, I’ll ask an outrageous question, I’ll wave my arms in the air, I’ll lift it myself. It’s like a quarterback that’s back to pass and nobody’s open. Well, you got to run and you got to make something happen.
Another thing is that three times over the 20-year period I’ve revamped the show. I’ve made it more personality-heavy the last time around, which is about six years ago. I’d introduce personalities, strong personalities that I believe the audience would respond. So now, we have at least three contributors in every show and then three segments that are booked out. I can do that because I’ve got all this experience. Not a lot of people can and that separates me from the pack.
DEADLINE: This should have been a big year of celebration at Fox News with the 20th anniversary, but instead there were a lot of spotlight on scandal with sexual harassment accusations against chairman Roger Ailes and eventually some big changes behind and in front of the camera, including Ailes leaving in the middle of the GOP Convention. You were in the middle of it, you spoke out about it. Now, what is your take on what was happening and where things are?
O’REILLY: I stayed away from it because my crew is away from the rest of the Fox News Channel. We’re on our own floor and we’re apart from everyone.
But I felt very, very badly for Roger Ailes because I had worked with him for a long time. As I told Seth Meyers, he’d always been very fair to me and very helpful to the program, so of course, I felt bad for him. I didn’t know what happened, if the women involved were abused in any way. However, of course, you feel bad for them.
I still don’t know what happened, and so when you don’t have any fact-finding ability, you can’t know what the truth is and what is false when you can’t know. You have to recede, which I did. We didn’t change, nothing changed with our operation. We went on the way we had and then when Rupert Murdoch took over, nothing changed. It was business as usual, so I can’t add much to that other than the fact that I feel sorry for everyone involved and I wished it had never had happened.
DEADLINE: One of the changes was also that Greta Van Susteren left Fox in September as the lead-in to Factor. What effect did her departure and Tucker Carlson eventually taking over the slot have on your show?
O’REILLY: You know, I’m not dependent on a lead-in, thank God. We’re appointment television at eight o’clock. Now, of course, I want a quality program in front of me and I thought Greta delivered that and I think Carlson is delivering it as well. I’ll tell you I like Carlson’s feisty style. I think he is getting through to the audience that he’s not just some kind of remote-control anchor. They see that he’s a real person, and I think because of that he’s going to be successful in that slot.
DEADLINE: Speaking of success, you had a couple of good one-on-ones with President Obama over his terms in office including during the Super Bowl in 2014. Where do you think he’ll be remembered in the pantheon of Presidents?
O’REILLY: Well, I like Barack Obama as a person and I think he is a sincere man. I think he and his wife conducted themselves magnificently in the White House. There’s not a better role model for American kids to watch Barack and Michelle Obama, so all of that is off-the-chart positive.
On the policy front, I just believe that Barack Obama was misguided. That he somehow sees this country as being in need of a drastic overhaul. What he tried to do actually hurt the country rather than helped it and the best example is Obamacare. It’s a good idea to insure people who can’t or won’t buy insurance but you can’t punish the working class to make it happen, which he did. Now everybody’s paying higher premiums and more deductibles that’s coming out of working people’s pockets and that’s one of the reasons that his legacy has been refuted.
On the foreign policy front, he’s not a confrontational man. He stayed away from all confrontations, and you can look and see what happened overseas. It’s a mess everywhere. There isn’t anywhere where American power is effective right now. So he made major mistakes, major policy mistakes. Those mistakes are not going to be forgiven by history. They’re not, so he’ll go down alongside George W. Bush in that realm as middling presidents because both made too many mistakes to be categorized as an effective, good president.
DEADLINE: Presidential elections always bring big ratings bumps to cable news and you certainly saw double-digit rises in both viewership and demo. But now it’s all over and we’re in the Trump transition — what do you think of the way the race was covered?
O’REILLY: I thought the coverage of the election was disgraceful, and it was dishonest. It was ideologically driven and I think that the news agencies that did that will never return to a level of credibility ever. I think it’s all over for the newspaper industry in this country. I think cable television is wobbling and I think people aren’t going to forget what happened — because you had a situation where one of the candidates was hated, not just disagreed with, hated. You can’t have that. If you hate somebody, I’ve got to step aside or I need tell the audience look, I hate this person. You know I’m not going to give you an objective view of them. But they didn’t do that about Trump.
I think the American people rebelled against that and I think that the terrible, disgraceful coverage actually got Trump elected, along with Hillary Clinton’s inability to connect with voters on any level.
That’s another thing, she was a terrible candidate.
So the combination of Hillary Clinton not being able to be a real person out there and the media just kicking the hell out of Donald Trump. And they did it unfairly sometimes, not all the time, but that sometimes was enough to drive people who didn’t really think Trump was that great saying, “You know what, I’m going to take a chance here because I don’t like the press and I don’t like her,” and that’s what happened.
DEADLINE: With that perspective, how would you rate President-elect Trump so far?
O’REILLY: Trump so far is sending a signal that he’s going to run the government like his business and maybe that’s going to work. I don’t know, so I’m not going to second-guess it. It’s a new approach but there’s no doubt that he wants to run this as one continuing negotiation. It’s just that who he’s negotiating with that changes and he believes that he can impose better deals and the United States with benefit from them.
So I figure you give the man two years to see if that approach works, the business rather than the political approach. You’ll see at the end of two years if new jobs are being created, money flow comes back from overseas, all of that, the immigration chaos subsides. You got to give him two years, but I think I know what he’s trying to do and you know we’ll watch it.
DEADLINE: The National Geographic adaptation of your Killing Reagan book didn’t get any recognition this week from the Golden Globes, but the books continue to be bestsellers. Who are you and Martin Dugard Killing next?
O’REILLY: Can’t say what they are because other people come in and then try to rip off the idea, unfortunately. But we have three more Killing books to deliver and we’re working on the one for next September.
I liked Killing Reagan the movie, I did, and I thought it would get nominated for a Golden Globe. What they did there was a very taut, intense, very accurate look at how history was changed by Reagan being shot with very compelling performances especially by Tim Matheson. But you know because it isn’t a glamour thing and because Hollywood’s so left, it’s hard to get consideration for these kinds of movies, but I was very happy with it.
DEADLINE: As you go forward into 2017, forward with the next Killing book and forward if you do sign a new contract, what has to change for you? I mean you’re old school, Bill, but this is, as Trump has shown, a tweet can make more headlines than a thousand-word article on the cover of the Washington Post…
O’REILLY: But I’m not going to change. Why would I change? I don’t tweet like Trump. I’m not on Facebook. I should amend that. We do tweet, but we basically use it as a promotional opportunity to drive people to the show to tell them what’s on it. I don’t attack people using tweets, and I don’t do the Facebook and I’m not going to – that’s not my job.
My job is to watch the powerful. It’s a simple job description, watch powerful people and make sure they don’t hurt the folks. That’s it. That’s not changing. Now, will television change, will people, their tastes change? Yeah, they will, but I’m counting on the fact that we have built up over the years an incredibly large and loyal audience that will still want what we give them every night. As you said, 16 years on top, continues to roll in historic numbers of people watching it, I mean, that’s incredible. Our live shows are sold out everywhere, the books sell, and so hard work pays off.
I guess that’s my real message: I work very hard.
We’re an honest presentation, we try to give people entertainment and information at the same time, and it’s working. I don’t see any need for big drastic changes in our presentation.