"I subbed for Keith and the ratings did not go down"

O’Donnell has enough detachment and self-awareness to acknowledge that some of what gets on cable is amped up for effect, that part of it is an act and that, to a certain extent, he’s playing a character. Real life, and actual governing, he says, bears little resemblance to what you see on a talk show. “Working with Republicans was never like that,” he says of his time in government. People on opposite sides of the aisle, he says, tended to address each other reasonably, respectfully and usually honestly, even when they sharply disagreed.

“My weakness is I don’t take a lot of this [incendiary rhetoric] seriously,” he says after his show. “It’s hard to get me outraged. I hate the yelling stuff. I hate the way interruptions look.”

Really? So why does he do it himself at times? Where’s the integrity in that?

O’Donnell smiles to himself at the mention of integrity and tells a story about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s days as a Hollywood screenwriter. Struggling to complete his first script, Fitzgerald watched as a far-less-talented colleague produced one commercial success after another.

“I don’t understand it,” one of America’s greatest writers said to a studio boss. “I do everything you ask me to do and fail. He’s a success and he writes [bleep].”

“Ah,” responded the boss, “but even [bleep] has its own integrity.”