Bill O'Reilly's ridiculous Super Bowl interview with President Obama

Marc Ambinder
The Week

Never have I ever watched a less informative, self-parodic nationally televised interview with the President of the United States.

So bad, in fact, that it makes me question whether Bill O'Reilly, famously Fox News's most erratically independent primetime voice, a very smart man and incredibly talented broadcaster, has lost his ability to distinguish between what makes a question tough in the real world and what gets that distinction in ox News's made-up world of indignant self-pity.

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O'Reilly doesn't get along with Sean Hannity, but it seems like Hannity somehow took over his brain.

Question one was about the Obamacare website. Mr. O'Reilly wanted to know, first, when Obama knew, for sure, that the website was going to have problems of the magnitude that it did.

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Think of the premise behind that question. Health care was Obama's signature initiative. The website is its portal to the world, and the fulcrum of its success or failure. Obama somehow learns well in advance that the website won't work, thereby jeopardizing his entire presidency, and says nothing about it to anyone, because...? Because? Well, at this point, I admit my imagination fails me. I can't possibly envision why Obama would want to sabotage his own presidential legacy. But by spending time trying to figure out when Obama knew, O'Reilly is promoting the theory that...well, I still don't quite get what the point is.

Of course, Obama had no answer to the unanswerable. Then O'Reilly asked him why he hadn't fired Kathleen Sebelius, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, once the magnitude of the problems became clear. On the surface, this is a marginally better question. But it's been asked and answered: Obama doesn't blame her for the problems with the site. A much better question, one that should have occurred to every Obama-hating producer at Fox News, is this: "Mr. President, can you provide one example of when you held someone specifically accountable for a major screwup? One example? Over five years?" And if Obama prevaricated, then O'Reilly could have asked Obama why he seems to go out of his way not to hold his political appointees publicly accountable for mistakes of omission or commission.

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But instead, O'Reilly entered the imaginary world of conspiracies and cover-ups and let the President off easy.

Benghazi was subject number two. Apparently, O'Reilly missed the second presidential debate of 2012, where this point was litigated and decided, but he asked Obama about the subject of a conversation between himself and Gen. Carter Ham, then head of all U.S. troops in Africa, on September 11, 2011. O'Reilly wanted to know if Ham told Obama that terrorists were responsible. Now, if you weren't paying attention to the news for the past several years, maybe you don't know that Fox News still believes that Obama's administration deliberately and repeatedly decided to obscure the role that militants associated with Al Qaeda played in the Benghazi compound attack. (Investigations-upon-investigations later, the answer is, interestingly, that it's not entirely clear.) But because Obama was so afraid that if he acknowledged an al Qaeda connection in Benghazi, it would undermine his claim that he had decimated core al Qaeda and thus his claim to have acted responsibly to protect the American people, and thus, he would certainly lose the election to Mitt Romney.

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O'Reilly could have asked Obama whether he had intelligence that arms provided to Libyans ended up in Syria. Or he could have asked Obama whether Benghazi caused him to re-examine American deployments around the world. Or whether the Libyan intervention was worth it. Or even about Egypt.

But instead, he play-acted.

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Final question was about the IRS scandal. Or, not scandal, since there's no evidence of anything approaching "scandalous" or illegal or thuggish behavior by the IRS. But ok. Instead of asking Obama whether the IRS's move to crack down on 501(c) social welfare groups will unfairly put conservatives at a disadvantage, or to ask him whether he endorsed the tougher enforcement because of imbalances created by the Citizens United campaign finance decision, O'Reilly again asked the President about his conversations with the head of the IRS at the time, a total irrelevancy.

O'Reilly's questions were grossly, wholly, ridiculous. They don't exist as legitimate questions except in the way that they justify the masturbatory self-indulgence of Fox News's elite worldview, which increasingly, if not entirely, is self-pitying. These questions exist because if they didn't, we our world view would fall apart.

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It's a shame. O'Reilly had fifteen minutes and an audience of millions to ask the President hard questions.

Instead, he lobbed lumpy softballs.

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Worst presidential interview ever.

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