Why the Smartest Thing President Obama Can Do is Go on “The Factor”


After President Barack Obama spoke to a joint session about health care reform last night, Senior White House adviser David Axelrod appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Bill O’Reilly asked Axelrod about a number of issues surrounding the debate, and finished by asking him to extend a welcome for Mr. Obama to come on “The Factor.” It’s a shame that Axelrod demurred at the suggestion because a long-form, unedited, and civil conversation is exactly what President Obama should do to change the tide of the debate.

As we’ve said before, the real debate over health care appears to be between the Obama Administration and Fox News; that is to say that among all cable news networks, FNC seems to most consistently — and at times stridently — question the basic assumptions of the left. While some have found the style of FNC to be “distasteful,”  their ratings prove that no single news outlet currently has more influence, particularly given the comprehensive, nay, relentless coverage of the issues that Fox News holds most dear.

So why go on “The Factor”? Of all the “big-time” personalities on FNC, O’Reilly is arguably the most moderate. A proud, self-described “independent,” O’Reilly was the least antagonistic towards Obama during the presidential campaign, which Obama rewarded when he agreed to sit down for a much-ballyhooed interview — an event that not only got great ratings but appeared to help Obama in the polls.

Since the inauguration, O’Reilly has been a fairly vocal critic of this administration, but his critiques have been relatively tepid, which was evident after the Obama speech. As MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough noted via Twitter after the speech, “Bill O’Reilly is sounding somewhat supportive of the President’s insurance reforms right now. Opposes the plan but likes some parts.”

The current trend of opinion journalism has turned a partisan divide into a seemingly insurmountable chasm. And if Obama is genuine in his desire to cross the aisle for a bipartisan solution, as we think he is, what better way to demonstrate that by going on “The Factor?” The same held true last year for their first and only interview, which was wonderfully described by Time’s James Poniewozik:

And to continue to freeze out Fox would go against one of Obama’s most consistent messages: that people are sick of red-vs.-blue America divisions and that we should be able to talk with people who disagree with us. In that sense, Obama made his strongest argument simply by showing up.

O’Reilly at least gave Obama props for that. In typical O’Reillian fashion, the host had two analysts on immediately after the segment, essentially to assess how well he had interviewed Obama (verdict: great!), and O’Reilly praised him for coming onto the show. “He’s a tough guy, Obama … I looked at him eye to eye — he’s not a wimpy guy.”

Obama, after all, had stared down Papa Bear. And in the No-Spin Zone, that’s the greatest leadership credential of all.

O’Reilly’s relatively warm reaction to the speech last night has given the White House an opening — one they’d be short-sighted to ignore. While those on the left might be concerned that there will be some dirty tricks or ambush by Factor producers, no one respects the station and decorum of the office of the President more than Bill O’Reilly (also a self-described traditionalist).

It might be Obama’s best chance for exacting the sort of change he hopes for.

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Colby Hall is the Founding Editor of Mediaite.com. He is also a Peabody Award-winning television producer of non-fiction narrative programming as well as a terrific dancer and preparer of grilled meats.