Right Hook

O'Reilly gets medieval on NPR's Terry Gross, and David "don't-hate-Bush" Brooks celebrates the Northeast's hate-filled baseball fans. Plus: Arnold makes the GOP "hip."

Published October 15, 2003 11:17PM (EDT)

On Oct. 8 Terry Gross, host of NPR's "Fresh Air," interviewed Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly. She asked him about his new book, his family background, and Fox News Corp.'s failed lawsuit against comedian and author Al Franken. When Gross tried to read from a People magazine article that had unflattering things to say about O'Reilly, the interview -- which has already joined Gross's encounter with Kiss band member Gene Simmons in the pantheon of fabled radio train wrecks -- came to an abrupt end.

Terry Gross: I'll read what the People magazine thing said...

Bill O'Reilly: Why? Why read it? Why read it?

T.G.: Because I want people to hear it--

B.O.: Why? Why?

T.G.: Because... You'll hear when I'm done why.

B.O.: Look, I'm getting the feeling in this interview, all right, that this is just a hatchet job on me. All right? And I don't like it. Now there's no reason for you to read that People magazine review. If they want to read it, they can go and read it.

T.G.: But this isn't the review of the book--

B.O.: Now wait a minute, hold it, hold it.

T.G.: --it's the review of how you handled it.

B.O.: It doesn't make any difference how I handled it.

T.G.: I think it's OK to ask you to be accountable for the things that you said.

B.O.: Accountable for what? You know, I came on this program to talk about "Who's Looking Out for You," and what you've done is thrown every kind of defamation you can in my face. All right, did you do this to Al Franken? Did you? Did you challenge him on what he said?

T.G.: We had a different interview.

B.O.: Yeah, a different interview, OK. Fine. "Fresh Air"? Is this what "Fresh Air" is? I'll get a transcript of this interview, of the Al Franken interview. You want me to do that? And compare the two?

T.G.: You're welcome to--

B.O.: And compare the two?

T.G.: You're absolutely welcome.

B.O.: All right, why don't you tell your listeners right now. Were you as tough on Al Franken as you are on me?

T.G.: Uh, no, I wasn't.

B.O.: No, you weren't. OK. Why?

T.G.: Well, Al Franken had written a book of political satire.

B.O.: Oh, oh, he was satire now, was it? By calling people "liars" and distorting their faces on the book cover, that's satire now, is it? And my book "Who's Looking Out for You" is designed to help people, to show them how they have to know how to read people in this society to succeed, yet you're easy on Franken and you challenge me. This is NPR. OK, I think we all know what this is. I think we all know where you're going with this.

T.G.: Well...

B.O.: Don't we? Yeah, don't we?

T.G.: Well, you can think whatever you want to.

B.O.: I am. I mean, I'm evaluating this interview very closely.

T.G.: Obviously you are.

B.O.: Now, we've spent now, all right, 50 minutes of me defending defamation against me in every possible way, while you gave Al Franken a complete pass on his defamatory book, and if you think that's fair, Terry, then you need to get [into] another business. I'll tell you that right now. And I'll tell your listeners if you have the courage to put this on the air: This is basically an unfair interview designed to try to trap me into saying something that Harper's [magazine] can use. And you know it, and you should be ashamed of yourself. And that is the end of this interview.

T.G.: Oh, so you're not even going to give me the chance to ask you a follow-up question? You have to make a speech and then have the last word?

T.G.: You're gone?

T.G.: OK, I guess that's the answer to that question. He's walked out.

On his own show later that day, O'Reilly was in self-congratulatory mode:

"Time now for 'The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day.' I had to stop an interview with NPR today because the conversation got completely out of hand. It was supposed to be about my new book, 'Who's Looking Out for You' -- I say 'supposed to be' ... The program is called 'Fresh Air' and I knew the people were not gonna be fair, but I decided to let it play out. That program gave one of the smear merchants running around the country a total pass when it interviewed him. But in my conversation they were much more aggressive, and I actually enjoyed telling the woman off, and I think you'll enjoy hearing it. If you want to know the ridiculous truth about NPR and 'Fresh Air,' go to BillOReilly.com or listen to the 'Radio Factor' tomorrow. Very interesting."

A Yankee for president?
Newly hired New York Times columnist David Brooks is off to a weird start. On Tuesday -- after an early Times column in which he had expressed great dismay at the hatred that many on the left feel for George W. Bush -- Brooks extolled the hateful, embittered Northeastern worldview, as reflected in the nasty, brutish behavior of Yankees and Red Sox fans.

"Last week I visited Tucson, and then flew back to attend a Yankees-Red Sox playoff game. It occurs to me that some of my friends in the Southwest may be watching the series on TV, and may be alarmed by some of the behavior they are seeing on the field and elsewhere...

"My friends should remember that the Yankees-Red Sox series is a contest between two Northeastern teams, and while the Northeast is no longer a particularly important region of the country -- we haven't sent a person to the White House in 43 years -- we do have a distinct way of doing things, which we cherish.

"For example, while most people in the Southwest seek pleasure and avoid stress, we in the Northeast do not have that orientation. The place in their culture that is occupied by the concept 'happiness' is occupied in our culture by the concept 'cursing at each other.'

"So when you go to a game at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park you will see lawyers, waiters and skinheads sending off enough testosterone vapors to menace the ozone layer. If a Martian came down and landed in the stands of a Yankees-Red Sox game, he would get the impression that human beings are 90 percent men and 10 percent women in tight T-shirts, and that we reproduce by loathing in groups...

"A few years ago some singers from the Pacific Northwest tried to pioneer something called grunge rock. But watching people from Washington State trying to appear grungy is like watching Norwegian kids try to rap. The effort is there, but the essence is missing.

"We know that our region is not the future. Every year, people move out of the Northeast to Scottsdale and other places where it is considered fashionable to coordinate your toenail polish with the color scheme of your Lexus.

"Those of us who are left here know we will never be happy. If God had meant for us to be happy, he would have had us born in Aspen. We know that every year the political center of gravity in this country moves farther south and west, because most voters do not appreciate the importance of sarcasm when selecting their leaders.

"But at least in the era of our decline we have our internal feuds to sustain us. You may deprive us of our greatness, our honor, our very lives, but you will never take away our rage."

The GOP gets in bed with Hollywood
Not only has the outcome of the California recall pushed the country to the political right, says Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal, but it also proves that Arnold's political savvy includes a critical "cool" factor. Likewise, Henninger lauds the stiff-collared GOP for seeing the wave of the future -- getting hip to Hollywood in the age of celebrity. The charisma-deficient Dems, he says, may just have to drop the gloves and go for the new governor's jugular:

"Once the tectonic plates of this recall-cum-gubernatorial election stopped shifting, the one political monument lying in pieces was the traditional notion of just who and what constitutes a 'moderate' ... I think the definition of political "moderate" has shifted seismically to the right...

"If after this week the definition of a GOP moderate now sits halfway between the center and what the avowedly conservative Tom McClintock represents, then the 'center' in American politics is migrating steadily to the right in a measurable and significant way. And of course by definition this would move the Democratic base even further leftward from the mainstream. It's too early to know how permanent California's shifts are, but I suspect that a lot of voters who participated in or watched this election for the first time feel comfortable in this new political place -- where Arnold is...

"No matter the special circumstances in California, these rightward shifts in the political landscape are remarkable because they are so difficult and rare...

"There's one last, large intangible that Arnold has slipped into the political waters: He's cool.

"Like it or not, the force field of celebrity is part of the cultural physics of our era, and it looks as if the first party to get totally wired-in to a mega-celebrity is, incredibly, the GOP. Something weirdly attractive was coming off the Schwarzenegger camp's victory stage on TV round about midnight [last week] -- Arnold, Maria Shriver (a get-out-of-jail-free card for many centrist Democrats feeling trapped in an inhospitable party), Jay Leno's funny introduction, Rob Lowe nearby, Eunice and Sargent Shriver, the extended Shriver clan, and a sea of young, attractive faces. Liberal pundits will mock this scene unmercifully, but in terms of mass-market politics it was as hip as any politician could ever hope for. Arnold, with all that media reach and the aura of living wholly inside the country's popular culture, may be changing ideas of who can live comfortably on election day among the Republicans.

"A lot of what I am suggesting depends on the mythic Arnold having some real-world success as governor ... But what we just had in California was a virtual national election; everyone was watching. It's possible that with Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory a dam burst in the center of American politics. If any significant number of younger voters, independents impatient with a relentlessly tired-sounding Democratic party, and conservatives start to flow together inside the broad, new political space Arnold has staked -- a space also covered by George Bush -- then Democrats have a problem. Which is why California's Democrats, rather than govern, will soon decide they simply have to bring Arnold down. If so, Arnold should make sure they do it out in the open. We'll all want to watch this one, too."

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

MORE FROM Mark Follman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2004 Elections Al Franken D-minn. Arnold Schwarzenegger David Brooks Fox News Npr