The first sign that Dan Le Batard’s interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly wasn’t going to end well probably came around the midway point.
O’Reilly was a guest Monday on Le Batard’s ESPN Radio program, where the cable news ratings king initially breezed through some questions about his latest contribution to the macabre pop history genre.
But then Le Batard brought up former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, who in 2005 revealed that O’Reilly was only a member of the club football team at Marist College. The school hadn’t even instituted a varsity football program when O’Reilly attended, somewhat upsetting O’Reilly’s accounts of his amateur athletic career. What was that all about, Le Batard wondered.
“Well, number one, I never comment on smear merchants,” O’Reilly explained. “And number two, it was a club football team in a club league but it was varsity football in the sense that we played Georgetown, Catholic U., Fordham, Manhattan, Iona, so, you know, look, it’s just — you know what it is, guys. You know what it is.”
O’Reilly has dutifully avoided addressing Olbermann by name for years, opting instead to use the “smear merchant” label reserved for his long list of adversaries.
“I love that you call him a smear merchant though,” Le Batard said, laughing. “Who else goes in that category of people who are smear merchants?”
“There’s plenty of them, unfortunately,” O’Reilly said.
The interview got slightly back on track, with the host and guest exchanging some silly banter about dancing and music. (“I don’t like rap. I don’t like hip hop,” O’Reilly said. “I don’t like that stuff.”)
But Le Batard eventually pulled O’Reilly out of his comfort zone again.
“Is there anything in your career that brings you shame?” Le Batard asked. “Anything that you’ve done that you’re embarrassed of?”
“Nope,” O’Reilly said. “I think we’ve been an honest purveyor of the news.”
O’Reilly limited his response mainly to his career as a broadcaster, talking up his show’s solid reportorial track record and enormous ratings success.
“So you don’t have a controversy that has been unpleasant to go through, a turbulence?” Le Batard followed up.
“Plenty. Plenty,” O’Reilly said. “But that stuff comes with the territory. Anybody famous gets smeared, particularly with the Internet. But we don’t, we just don’t comment on that stuff. We’ve run a very, very good operation for 19 years and the proof is in the numbers. Proof is in the ratings.”
“But what’s the biggest one?” Le Batard pressed. “What’s the one that caused you the most unrest because it’s not fun to go through those things?”
“I’m not gonna get into any of that stuff,” O’Reilly said. “So if you guys have another question, I’m good. If not, we’ll say good bye.”
Le Batard, no stranger to abbreviated interviews, didn’t like the sound of that.
“Well, wait a minute,” he protested. “What do you mean you’re not going to get into any of that stuff? I don’t understand, like —”
“We’ll see you guys,” O’Reilly said, cutting Le Batard off. “Thanks for making the time. I appreciate it.”
Le Batard, trying one last time to get his guest to squirm, quickly played audio of O’Reilly’s infamous on-set meltdown back when he was a host of “Inside Edition.” But it was too late. O’Reilly had ended the conversation.
“There’s no way he’s still there, right? He’s gone? He left?” Le Batard asked his producers after the clip ended. “Ugh. I wanted his reaction to that so bad.”
After he received some negative feedback from listeners, Le Batard defended the interview, contending that he was actually “gentle” with O’Reilly.
“If you’re conservative, you blame us, and if you’re liberal, you celebrate us. But how about examining without your politics what just happened there,” Le Batard said. “Bill O’Reilly is on selling something. This is the way the transaction works. He’s selling something, we let him sell it. He’s appearing in order to sell it. Answer the questions.”
“He wouldn’t tolerate that on his show,” he added.