Going into Sunday’s Bill O’Reilly interview with President Trump, you knew no difficult questions were going to be asked or answered. As the state media arm of the Trump administration, Fox News — the channel the president promotes and has made clear in tweets is his primary source of information — was not going to allow an employee to damage its ongoing relationship with the chief executive. That’s why O’Reilly’s run-up to the Super Bowl — he had spent the past week on The O’Reilly Factor saying he was going to ask tough but fair questions — was a tactic, setting up his audience to feel that he was tough but fair before the interview even aired.
Once it did, however, that hype collapsed. O’Reilly’s questions, which included, “Would you have done everything differently [about] the refugee deal?” and “Do you consider Mexico a corrupt country?” were dodged by Trump with little to no O’Reilly follow-up.
The anchor crept up close to a tough question exactly once, before retreating meekly. He asked, “ Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things you cannot back up factually” — specifically regarding voter fraud. “Some people are going to say that’s irresponsible of the president to say that,” said O’Reilly. Some people? Why don’t you say that’s irresponsible, Bill?
The quote that got a lot of advance publicity was from a clip that Fox had released earlier, about the president’s “admiration” for Vladimir Putin. O’Reilly said, “He’s a killer, though — Putin’s a killer.” Trump’s response: “Lotta killers. We got a lotta killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”
In the full interview that aired on Sunday, O’Reilly was then seen responding, “I don’t know of any government leaders who are killers in America.” Trump just blew smoke: “Take a look at what we’ve done — made a lotta mistakes.” Right on cue, O’Reilly wilted. “All right,” he sighed. “Let’s talk about Mexico.”
The roughly 10-minute interview was cluttered with questions about O’Reilly’s obsessive hobbyhorse — his hatred of sanctuary cities. There were a few understandable softballs tossed: Bill asked whether Trump ever wakes up in the White House and thinks, “I can’t believe I’m here.” Trump was asked his prediction as to who would win the Super Bowl. (The Patriots, by 8 points.) O’Reilly says we’ll see more of this interview Monday and Tuesday on The O’Reilly Factor, but you know that if he had something substantial, it would have aired on Sunday. Instead, he just let Trump be Trump.
Joe Buck led into the segment by crowing: “Up next: Bill O’Reilly’s interview with President Donald Trump. You can’t escape politics!” Well, turns out if you’re Trump meeting with O’Reilly, you pretty much can.