Russian President Vladimir Putin during a recorded TV address in Moscow on Dec. 27. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via Associated Press)

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly recently made headlines when he pressed President Trump on Russian President Vladimir Putin being a “killer.” The new president, whose relationship with Putin has been described as a “bromance,” responded this way: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. … You think our country’s so innocent?” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) ripped Trump’s comparison: “There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America — the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world — and the murderous thugs that are in Putin’s defense of his cronyism.”

Even though O’Reilly drew out Trump’s abandonment of U.S. authority, he sounded awfully ambivalent about the matter on his program last night. “Here’s how I processed the president’s answer,” said O’Reilly in a discussion with Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. “Not that it was a moral equivalency between the United States and Russia about actions, but that we don’t have a right to form a judgment. And it’s the same philosophy that Franklin Roosevelt used when he dealt with Stalin. What Trump wants to do is enlist Putin’s help to defeat ISIS and to get away from Iran, to weaken Iran. So he says we don’t have a right to make these personal judgments that you and I just made about Putin, which are accurate, okay. Because in the past, the United States has done bad things too. That’s how I processed it.”

This is how he processed it: charitably.

An excellent exchange with Krauthammer followed soon after O’Reilly’s explanation. Here it is:

O’REILLY: I am not going to say — my job was to elicit answers from him, not to bait him in that. It was a hard news interview. And perhaps he did make that equivalency. I took it the other way. It was a matter of he doesn’t want personal judgments. But I will tell you what the other headline was.

KRAUTHAMMER: You thought the other networks were distorting him by saying it was a moral equivalence?

O’REILLY: No, I didn’t say they were distorting it. I am saying, they were looking for a hammer to use on his head.

KRAUTHAMMER: But I mean, that’s a hammer that any sentient being would seize immediately. When you say that this guy is a killer —

O’REILLY: But they weren’t looking at the interview for information. They were looking for something to get him with. And that’s a fact. That’s a fact.

KRAUTHAMMER: But look, I wasn’t looking for something to get him with.

O’REILLY: Well, I am not saying you, I said the other hate-Trump networks.

KRAUTHAMMER: The point is that Mitch McConnell, a lot of other people who are not looking to get the president, reacting in the same way, it was a universal reaction.

Bolding added to highlight a theme of O’Reilly’s coverage of Trump — that of slighting the motives of news organizations — and critics — seeking to hold Trump accountable. In the telling of the King of Cable News, these folks are simply dead set against the president and will stop at nothing to tear him down. “In President Trump’s case, no matter what he does, there are some Democrats who will oppose him. And that is harmful to America,” said O’Reilly in a recent broadcast.

Vice President Pence and senators of both political parties on Feb. 5 reacted to President Trump's comments about Russia and the United States in a Fox News interview. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Which is to say: It helps Trump to say that his critics were using the Putin comments as a “hammer,” rather than to call into question his critical-thinking faculties. In closing his argument with Krauthammer, O’Reilly protested that it was his job to get Trump “on the record, and I did.” Fair point there.