The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Fox News shocker: Fox analysts agree that Bill O'Reilly's Obama interview was terrific

February 8, 2011 |  5:27 pm

Bill-Oreilly Covering Hollywood, I've learned that one of the worst things about the business is how everyone kowtows to the boss. When a big-shot filmmaker shows his pals and associates a first cut of his new film, everyone is full of praise, no matter how awful the movie actually is. The same goes inside the studio executive suite, where once a studio chief has offered unbridled excitement about a spec script, the underlings are quick to echo that enthusiasm, no matter what they might privately think.

I was thinking about all that showbiz Group Think when I was watching "The O'Reilly Factor" Monday night, knowing that the real fun wasn't so much in watching Bill O'Reilly interview President Obama on Super Sunday, but in watching Papa Bear crow about his scoop the following evening. Sure enough, O'Reilly was busting his buttons with pride, replaying a bunch of the highlights, along with some unseen interview footage, but not before boasting that his session with Obama was, as he modestly put it, "the most widely viewed interview of all time."

But what really mattered wasn't just how much O'Reilly liked the interview, but how much his cohorts at Fox News liked it as well. So O'Reilly brought in a host of Fox News staffers, all of whom--gasp!--told him what a great job he did interviewing the president. Fox contributor Juan Williams could barely contain himself, gushing "Let me say congratulations! You're the talk of the nation today." Fox analyst Mary Katharine Ham told O'Reilly his interview with Obama was marvelous, just "as it always is when you two guys talk." Even Brit Hume showed up to pat O'Reilly on the back, saying in his cozy, barroom baritone: "I thought you did fine." Bernie Goldberg, who is sort of Fox's in-house mainstream media critic, also stopped by to offer praise, at least when he wasn't taking shots at rival news interviewers who'd supposedly been condescending toward Sarah Palin.

The whole show had the same air of blissful unreality that was no doubt on display the first time James Brooks showed his friends an early cut of "How Do You Know." Not that O'Reilly did a bad job at all. He's a good interviewer, once you get used to the fact that he's not content to just ask questions about Afghanistan or the debt crisis, but needs to let us know what he thinks about the issue too. I know a lot of my liberal pals thought O'Reilly interrupted the president way too often--20 times by AOL's count, 28 times according to MSNBC.

But as O'Reilly himself noted on Monday, when he heard that he's interrupted Obama 20 times in 15 minutes, he immediately thought--"That's all? I thought it was more!" That's good reporting. When you do a live interview, you have to be willing to prevent your subject from running out the clock. And that's hardly a conservative media trait. If MSNBC wants to count interruptions, it should start with its own Chris Matthews, who's so eager to hear his own voice that if he were interviewing a Shakespearian actor trying to recite "Hamlet," the poor guy would never get past "To be or not to be," because Matthews would be stepping on his lines, barking, "Well, which one is it?"

--Patrick Goldstein    

  Photo: Fox News' top rated host, Bill O'Reilly, at his New York studio.

Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times