The message was clear. Limbaugh was aware of the game O'Reilly has been playing since Obama was elected to office. Well, some might say O'Reilly had been kissing up to Obama long before the 2008 presidential election which helped land him an interview with the then Democratic presidential nominee.
It didn't take O'Reilly long to react to Limbaugh's mockery. On Monday, February 22nd, O'Reilly devoted nearly half of his television program to address Limbaugh's comments. One of the first guests on that evening's Factor was Newt Gingrich. O'Reilly asked the former Speaker of the House if he thought the President was a socialist. Gingrich answered "yes" citing Obama's political agenda as representing a form of socialism which runs contrary to the free enterprise system America was founded upon.
O'Reilly's next segment included one of those panel discussions featuring National Public Radio's Juan Williams and a conservative counterpart where nothing much was decided. However, O'Reilly followed by interviewing Brit Hume, a FOX News senior political analyst and a top anchor and executive with Fox News since the channel was launched.
Hume, noted for his level-headed approach to news commentary, agreed with Newt Gingrich by repeating that the President's political agenda was socialist in nature. Hume's words had to sting O'Reilly. Hume played a major role in setting up the FOX News division and though by choice he now has significantly less air time, Hume is still highly respected in the business.
O'Reilly was 0 for 2 and the segment with Bernard Goldberg was next. Goldberg, a frequent guest on the Factor and a best selling author of books including Bias, Crazies To The Left Of Me Wimps To The Right, 110 People Who Are Screwing Up America and A Slobbering Love Affair, provided O'Reilly some solace. Goldberg, who was formerly a leading journalist at CBS, refused to call Obama a socialist, but he qualified his answer by saying he was uncomfortable with providing such labels to anyone. Goldberg was being consistent in this circumstance, providing his answer in a strictly journalistic sense, though it was clear he agreed with Gingrich and Hume.
Now before anyone starts shedding tears for Bill O'Reilly, whose ego is as big as the great outdoors, don't pull out that handkerchief just yet. It is entirely possible O'Reilly knew what was coming before the show began. If there's one thing that can be said about the Factor's host it's that he's not stupid. O'Reilly was clearly playing to Limbaugh's conservative audience who were casting a weary eye towards the most highly rated news program on cable television. In fact, it wouldn't be at all surprising if FOX News Channel CEO Roger Ailes saw what might be coming after Limbaugh's mockery of O'Reilly and the forces were sent out to head off criticism at the pass.
But O'Reilly didn't go down easy. The "No Spin Zone" seemed like the center of a tornado after what the host concluded from the previous interviews. "So, Mr. Obama is being hit with the socialist tag and that's not good," O'Reilly offered. And that's the tune O'Reilly has been singing about the Obama socialist question ever since.
O'Reilly was trying to play the access game by soft-soaping Mr. Obama--before he was mocked by Limbaugh. O'Reilly wants Obama to come on his show again. Besides O'Reilly wanting to be invited to those elitist cocktail parties on Manhattan's Upper East side, he wanted to play basketball with Obama. But while playing this access game, O'Reilly is tampering with the audience which got him where he is.
In the following week since Limbaugh's shot across the bow, O'Reilly has been more aggressive in his criticism of Obama. Is it possible Mr. Bill ate a little crow to appease growing criticism among conservatives? We will probably never know for certain, but it sure looks that way.
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