For those who've been complaining that George W. Bush doesn't grant enough interviews, the president's decision to appear on "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Dr. Phil" this week has proven that he's prepared to undergo the sort of grilling rarely seen since Leonardo DiCaprio took off the gloves with Bill Clinton in 2000. (President Clinton: "Just by changing the lighting in this whole building [the White House] we lowered our electric bills by $100,000 a year." DiCaprio: "Wow.") There was always the chance, however, that Bill O'Reilly--who despite a reputation for toeing the Fox News party line (not that there is one, of course) considers himself "one of those independent men"--might actually ask a couple of hard questions and even follow them up. But with Fox News having aired about one third of O'Reilly's interview with Bush last night--the rest is on the way tonight and tomorrow--it's pretty clear that hopes for a genuinely tough interview must now rest with Dr. Phil.More tough stuff tonight, I'm sure.
At first, O'Reilly seemed a bit awed by the occasion and jabbered a bit: "I've got 15 questions for you. If they're dumb, tell me they're dumb. Because the audience will like that. If they're dumb questions, say, 'Look, O'Reilly, that's just dumb.'" (Bush seemed amused but did not reciprocate the invitation.) Then the first question: "According to a poll taken by the Coalition Authority last spring, only 5 percent of the Iraqi people see the United States as liberators. Are you surprised they don't appreciate the American sacrifice more?" Well, okay, this was a decent start, even if the emphasis on Iraqi ingratitude was a trifle unseemly. (Hey, it is Fox.) Bush answered with a standard riff about things being "tougher than heck right now," but progress, he said, was being made, and one day Iraqis will "look back and say, 'Thank God for America.'"
And, to be fair, O'Reilly's follow up was solid, too: "But can they vote when people are being blown up, and these guys are threatening them?" To which Bush replied, "That's when you're supposed to vote"--an unwelcome surprise to voters who still rely on more traditional means of marking election dates.
But then the tough talk stopped. O'Reilly--who once declared: "If the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean. He has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush administration again"--evidently feels it would be unwise to rush to any conclusions. The exchange with Bush on the subject of WMD in Iraq went as follows:
O'REILLY: What happened to Saddam's chemical arsenal, do you know?
BUSH: No. I don't. We thought we'd have stockpiles. Uh, we do know he had the capability of making weapons. And that capability could have been passed on to terrorists, and that was a risk, after 9/11, we could not afford to take.
O'REILLY: No I understand that. But you, to this day, don't know what happened to his chemical weapons. He didn't tell us, and, and....
BUSH: No. Not yet.
O'REILLY: He hasn't given us much, has he?
BUSH: No ...
And Bush went on to agree that, true enough, Saddam Hussein has provided us with no information on the missing weapons and that Saddam will continue to be uncooperative, since he has no incentive to tell the truth. What soon became obvious, unfortunately, was that this sort of exchange would characterize the entire interview. O'Reilly's thorniest questions had a curious habit of morphing into marshmallows:
O'REILLY: The mission-accomplished statement in May 2003, if you had to do it all over again, would you not have done it?
BUSH: Uh, well first of all, the statement said, thank you for be--serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, thank you for being on one of the largest, longest cruises in our nation's history. Thank you for serving our country, and we've still got tough work in Iraq. Now I'm, I'm going to go and thank our troops every chance I get.
Here a conscientious interviewer might have pointed out that--even accounting for tricks of memory--such a statement would have been a bit lengthy for a two-word banner. O'Reilly, however, took a different path:
O'REILLY: But the press spinned it, you know how they spinned it.
BUSH: Well, they spin everything.
So there it was: The press had once again victimized the president, a gentle naïf in a world of spin.
Most impressive of all was O'Reilly's follow-up technique, which consisted of sternly--very sternly (O'Reilly runs a "no spin" zone, after all)--asking the president if he was sure. Call it the "You sure? Okay" method:
O'REILLY: Do you think the Iraqis are going to fight for their freedom?
O'REILLY: You do.
BUSH: No question in my mind, they will, you bet. [Bush elaborates.]
Or, on the subject of Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier:
O'REILLY: Would you do it again?
BUSH: You mean have the sign up there?
O'REILLY: No, no, but go in there with the flight jacket.
O'REILLY: You would.
BUSH: Of course. [Bush elaborates.]
And so on. O'Reilly did manage to squeeze an assurance out of Bush that Iran would not be permitted to build a nuclear weapon, but where the host truly regained his nerve was on the topic of the greatest concern to Americans--well, greatest concern after the economy, terrorism, health care, Iraq, taxes, the deficit, foreign affairs, the environment, and corporate corruption, according to a February 2004 Gallup poll. We speak, naturally, of illegal immigrants. O'Reilly remained persistent on this subject. When Bush asserted, for instance, that the "long-term solution for this issue on our border is for Mexico to grow a middle class--that's why I believe in NAFTA," O'Reilly responded with, "We'll be in the grave."
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
O'Reilly getting hard with Bush. I hesitate to publish the whole thing here, but what the fuck.
Posted by weinish at 3:33 PM