The pre-Super Bowl interview with President Obama conducted by Bill O’Reilly yesterday was not only notable for the Fox News anchor’s constant interruptions, but also for his harping on old news. The travails of HealthCare.gov, the murderous attacks in Benghazi and the actions taken by the IRS against conservative groups chewed up 9 minutes and 45 seconds of the 10-minute sitdown.
We all know that those topics are nothing but chum for O’Reilly’s anti-Obama audience. But the president successfully avoided the rhetorical traps set by the ambassador from “fair and balanced.” And he respectfully stood up to the disrespect demanded by said audience by giving as good as he got.
The conversation about the failure of the HealthCare.gov launch focused on what did the president know and when did he know it. O’Reilly spun his tires trying to get Obama to explain why Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hasn’t been fired. And the newsman tried get the president to admit that “biggest mistake of your presidency [was] to tell the nation over and over, if you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance.”
No doubt, the rollout of the Obamacare Web site was a disaster. But the president said exactly what he should have said.
OBAMA: — what — what we’ve ended up doing is we’ve got three million people signed up so far. We’re about a month behind of where we anticipated we wanted to be. We’ve got over six million people who have signed up for Medicaid.
OBAMA: We’ve got three million young people under the age of 26 who have signed up on their parents’ plan. And so what we’re constantly figuring out is how do we continue to improve it, how do we make sure that the folks who don’t have health insurance can get health insurance…
Then O’Reilly moved on to Benghazi. It was as if O’Reilly was trying to relitigate Mitt Romney’s big stumble from the second presidential debate. Over and over again, O’Reilly and Obama talked over each other as the former tried to get the latter to admit that he was told by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that what went down in Benghazi “was a terrorist attack.”
OBAMA: You know, in — in the heat of the moment, Bill, what folks are focused on is what’s happening on the ground, do we have eyes on it, how can we make sure our folks are secure…
O’REILLY: Because I just want to get this on the record…
OBAMA: So, I…
O’REILLY: — did he tell you it was a terror attack?
OBAMA: Bill — and what I’m — I’m answering your question. What he said to me was, we’ve got an attack on our compound. We don’t know yet…
O’REILLY: No terror attack?
OBAMA: — we don’t know yet who’s doing it. Understand, by definition, Bill, when somebody is attacking our compound…
OBAMA: — that’s an act of terror, which is how I characterized it the day after it happened. So the — so the question ends up being who, in fact, was attacking us?
And that waste of time was followed up by an obsessive focus on meetings with Douglas Shulman, the former head of the IRS. “He was cleared into the White House 157 times, more than any of your Cabinet members, more than any other IRS guy in the history, by far,” O’Reilly said. “Okay, why was Douglas Shulman here 157 times?” Obama explained that Shulman came to the White House for routine meetings centered around financial reform and the IRS’s role in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
More crosstalk ensued when O’Reilly desperately tried to draw a link between Obama and Shulman to somehow prove there was White House involvement in the extra scrutiny given to conservative groups during the 2012 presidential election. More than once, the president told O’Reilly his he was “absolutely wrong” to insist that all isn’t known about what happened with the IRS. And then Obama lowered the boom.
Bill, we do — that’s not what happened. They — folks have, again, had multiple hearings on this. I mean these kinds of things keep on surfacing, in part because you and your TV station will promote them.
It’s always difficult to tell whether the tail is wagging the dog over there at Fox, but I would argue that the IRS conspiracy theories and others are in large part due to O’Reilly and Fox. Neither the station nor its anchor has shown Obama or his office the respect both deserve. And that 10-minute interview was a perfect illustration of it.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj