Bill O'Reilly thinks media coverage of Donald Trump is often unfair and agrees that there are “severe problems” with the political and justice systems. But O'Reilly is clearly uncomfortable with the Republican presidential nominee's warning that the Nov. 8 election could be “rigged.”
O'Reilly told viewers on Tuesday that “the vote cannot be possibly rigged two weeks from tonight, and Mr. Trump should accept whatever happens at that vote, unless there is compelling evidence of corruption. Undermining our electoral system is not a patriotic thing.” On Thursday, O'Reilly spent the entire first block of his show questioning Trump about various rigging theories.
These were the questions and follow-ups:
- “So, let's begin with the rigged business. How exactly do you think the election is rigged?”
- “What about the vote itself? You know, it's close in a lot of states here. It's very, very close, and a lot of your supporters are worried — and they write me — that they think there might be nefarious things going on at individual polling places. Can you reassure [them] that that's probably not going to be the case? Will you do that tonight?
- “But do we have any data on that? Do we have any facts on that? You know, anybody can put out anything.
- “Yeah, but I don't have any facts to back up any kind of wide, conspiratorial way to skew the vote.”
- “But on a mass level — on a mass level, you don't believe that [with] 120 million American votes that the thing is going to be dishonest, do you? Do you believe that?”
- "[Michelle Obama's] message is that you're undermining the desire of people to vote. Do you buy that?”
- “Now do you believe the polls are rigged? Do you believe that certain news organizations and other organizations when they poll have their thumb on the scale, and they want Hillary Clinton to come out on top in the poll? Do you believe that?”
- “Are there any in particular that you think are dishonest?”
- “Okay, but if something's going on, it's incumbent upon all responsible politicians in this country to get the facts and present the facts because speculation can erode spirit and can erode credibility of the election. So that's my position. You gotta get facts.”
In case you are wondering, Trump said he could not assure supporters that the vote will be counted accurately, doubling (tripling? octupling?) down on the very rhetoric that O'Reilly said is “not a patriotic thing.” At least Trump is consistent on this point.
Aside from one moment during the Republican primary when Trump told O'Reilly that he had “become very negative” and needed to talk to a psychiatrist, Trump has sought to maintain good relations with the king of cable news ratings. O'Reilly has often hit Trump with tough questions but has not joined what the candidate refers to as a media “pile-on,” taking a measured approach to recent accusations of sexual misconduct.
But O'Reilly is obviously troubled by Trump's attack on something as fundamental as respect for the integrity of the vote — to the point where he seemed, at times, during Thursday's interview to be hoping Trump would say that he doesn't really mean be such an alarmist. Trump didn't back down at all.
But he did soften his tone a bit on Friday, after the FBI reopened its investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server, saying the justice system (not the vote) “might not be as rigged as I thought.”
The question is whether Trump remains at risk of turning O'Reilly, with whom he has enjoyed a mostly friendly rapport, into a tough critic in the final days of the campaign. Perhaps Trump will instead dial down his “rigged” rhetoric, now that his opponent is back in the FBI's crosshairs, and give O'Reilly less to criticize.