No matter who wins the White House in four weeks, Bill O’Reilly believes the country is heading for a very dark period.
“I don’t think Americans are going to come together,” Mr. O’Reilly told The Washington Times from his New York offices while preparing for his daily “The O’Reilly Factor” show on Fox News. “In 2008, after Obama beat McCain, 70 percent of Americans said, ‘OK, that’s fair and square; we’ll give him a chance.’ This time, it’s not going to be close to that.”
Mr. O’Reilly believes that when either Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on Jan. 20, the liberal and conservative attack wings of the media will not simply lay down their arms. Rather, he thinks the battle will heat up.
“Say Trump wins. Do you think The New York Times and The Washington Post are going to stop hammering him?” he said. “And the same thing with Hillary: If she wins, is the right wing going get behind her? That’s inconceivable.
“So 2017 is going to be a very tough year for America.”
The Republican presidential contender was on Mr. O’Reilly’s show this week after his second official debate with Mrs. Clinton on Sunday and less than a week after news reports revealed tapes of Mr. Trump speaking crudely about grabbing women inappropriately. In his Tuesday interview, the garrulous Mr. O’Reilly barely got a word in edgewise when asking the candidate what he meant in a tweet saying “the shackles have been taken off” after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and other prominent Republicans essentially abandoned their party’s nominee.
“Are you going to be more outspoken?” the host asked? Mr. Trump replied, “I don’t think I’m that outspoken, to be honest with you.”
“I admire Trump for facing me, because Hillary Clinton will not,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “She’s running a campaign where she’s imperious and feels she’s above any kind of rigorous questioning, but Trump comes in. I know a lot of his staff are like, ‘Why are you going on with O’Reilly?’ And so I admire that, because that’s what public servants should do.”
Asked if he believes Mr. Trump would ever apologize for any of his previous — or recent — offensive comments, on his show or otherwise, Mr. O’Reilly said the candidate is “not that type of guy.”
“He’s not going to say, ‘Yeah, I was wrong here.’ But at the same time, he does expound on areas where he’s frustrated,” he said. “Some of it’s worthy and some of it isn’t. But we get more out of him than anybody else.”
A bygone era
Mr. O’Reilly’s book “Killing Reagan,” about John Hinckley’s assassination attempt of the 40th president in 1981, is now a film premiering Sunday on the National Geographic Channel. Tim Matheson stars as the president barely into his first term when he is struck by a bullet. “Sex and the City” alumna Cynthia Nixon co-stars as first lady Nancy Reagan.
“I think the takeaway for the viewer will be, ‘I wish we had Reagan back rather than these two people running for president,’” Mr. O’Reilly said with a chuckle. “Because it is so stark the way he conducted himself and the courage that he showed — as opposed to this circus that we have.”
At the time of the assassination attempt, Mr. O’Reilly was a Washington-based reporter working the front lines as the nation waited anxiously to find out whether Reagan would emerge from surgery to remove the bullet next to his heart.
“It was a horrendous story, and we covered it from a local point of view,” he said. “But I wasn’t directly involved in it.”
Comedian Kyle S. More offers a chilling portrayal of the unhinged Mr. Hinckley, whose obsession with actress Jodie Foster led him to shoot Reagan in an attempt to “impress” the young thespian, who was at the time in college at Yale. White House press secretary James Brady was struck by a bullet above the eye, and a Secret Service agent and a D.C. police officer were also wounded.
After he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, Mr. Hinckley was sent to a psychiatric ward. He was released in September after more than three decades — an irony of history as Mr. O’Reilly’s film was about to come out.
“I thought it was terrible,” Mr. O’Reilly said of a court declaration that Mr. Hinckley, now 65, posed no danger to society. “I thought the damage the man did was incalculable on Brady and all the other people who were wounded.
“Why should this guy be cut a break? For what reason are we bending over backward to get this guy out? And you could argue who’s insane or not — that’s part of the great things about watching ‘Killing Reagan.’”
Mr. O’Reilly said he doesn’t necessarily think Mr. Hinckley will harm someone else but feels his actions do not merit late-life clemency.
“I never, never in a million years would have let the guy out — not because he might hurt somebody, but because he doesn’t deserve to be let out for what he did.”
It’s not the first time that history has smiled upon Mr. O’Reilly’s writing. His most recent book, “Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan,” came out in September, just months after President Obama became the first sitting U.S. head of state to visit the atomic bomb site in Hiroshima.
“We caught a break that that happened in the sense that it brings attention to the situation,” he said. “So we’ve been lucky in the sense that the news cycle has reflected what we were writing about in historical terms.”
In addition to penning every word of “The O’Reilly Factor,” Mr. O’Reilly carves out chunks of his day to work on his books and various other projects, including his series “Legends & Lies” on Fox News.
“It’s a basic military operation,” Mr. O’Reilly said of his busy schedule and working with his staff. “And I don’t delegate a lot because I do write everything. And I do work on [the books] on weekends.
“I have to build in fun time and exercise time to keep my mind clear,” he said. “That’s how we do it.”
The Harvard-educated journalist believes the state of his chosen profession is in free fall, with newspapers collapsing and social media giving voice to anyone who has an opinion — trained media professionals or not.
“There are no standards anymore, so any accusation is a conviction,” he said bluntly. Mr. O’Reilly believes the women who came forward this week accusing Mr. Trump of sexual assault were not properly vetted by The New York Times, which reported the story.
“We didn’t know who they were or where they were coming from — or why they waited so long,” he said. “They print anything on the internet, so therefore the newspapers that are dying feel they have to compete and print anything. They have a bunch of irresponsible editorial people who don’t even care what’s right for the country.
“Then CNN and MSNBC spent 45 minutes on this. All this crazy speculation built on nothing but blather. A certain amount of people will watch it, and that’s why they do it.”
Of the mainstream media, Mr. O’Reilly has little praise except for The Wall Street Journal, but he cautions that even that paper’s coverage can be suspect.
“You have to look hard to see what the attribution is,” he said. “It’s not like it used to be where you had to have a basis to print something and editorials were based on facts. That’s gone; it’s never coming back.”
He points to a hopeful sign of accountability in Gawker being driven out of business after it was ordered to pay $140 million for posting the sex tape of former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan.
“That sent a message that there’s at least a line, and that the legal system is at least going to impose some kind of punishment for people who go over the line,” he said.
In prepping his Thursday “Talking Points” for his show, Mr. O’Reilly said he is focusing on how whoever wins on Nov. 8 will “go into the White House as the most unpopular president in elected history.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.