Television viewers may have wondered why Bill O’Reilly was on NBC’s Today show answering questions about sexual harassment allegations from Matt Lauer. The former Fox News star has a new book out today, Killing England, which gives his take on the American Revolution, but it takes a long, long time to get to that topic. Instead, Lauer gets right down to business, pressing O’Reilly on his termination from his two-decade gig, expressing considerable skepticism over O’Reilly’s firm denials of wrongdoing.
“You don’t let your Number One guy go,” Lauer counters after an O’Reilly denial, “unless you have information that makes him –” O’Reilly cuts him off, saying, “That’s not true!” He tells Lauer that the boycott from Media Matters forced Fox News’ parent company to protect itself from an advertiser revolt, and that the termination was strictly “a business decision” to protect “billions of dollars.” Later in the exchange, O’Reilly slaps at the Today host, telling him, “You got the story wrong, Lauer”:
At one point, Lauer challenges O’Reilly as to why he never filed countersuits against his accusers if the allegations were false, while hailing the courage of the women for taking on their network’s top star. O’Reilly replies, “Because you can’t win those lawsuits,” and referred to Sarah Palin’s unsuccessful attempt to sue the New York Times as an example. On that, he’s certainly correct; he’d have to prove actual malice if he filed those suits against respondents who would be very sympathetic to a jury if he couldn’t. O’Reilly explains that his legal strategy is to keep putting information in front of the American populace to give them what he says are the full accounting of the facts.
The bottom line, O’Reilly insists, was that his firing was the result of “a political and financial hit job.” It become clear early on that O’Reilly got annoyed at the continuing questioning on the topic. O’Reilly sighs deeply into the microphone on more than one occasion, and upbraids Lauer for getting “sarcastic” after Lauer suggested that O’Reilly was positing a “vast left-wing conspiracy.” The former Fox host refuses to give an inch, insisting that he sleeps well at night and has never mistreated any employee.
None of this will likely change anyone’s minds one way or the other about O’Reilly; if you thought he was guilty, you’ll still feel that way, and if you didn’t, you’ll get enough to reinforce that conclusion. In that sense, it seems like a waste of time. Lauer spent almost seven minutes of an 8:35 segment talking about an old scandal and got nothing new out of it.
With about 90 seconds left, Lauer finally says he’ll honor his promise to talk about O’Reilly’s book. Frankly, that seems like a bad trade for O’Reilly, but one has to wonder whether anyone else’s book on the history of the revolution would have gotten 90 seconds of mention on Today, either. It’s worth noting the vast difference in tone between this interview and the Hillary Clinton softball lob last week for her book release. This was Lauer being a tough journalist; too bad this Lauer wasn’t around last week.