Bill O’Reilly is As Loud As You Think
Here, it turns out, is how you get Bill O’Reilly on the phone. E-mail a Fox News spokesman and explain you’re writing about something very non-contentious (in this case, my story about his alma mater’s student newspaper, the Daily Free Press), and then gladly accept when the spokesman writes back and says, “I can get you Bill by phone tomorrow at 5 p.m. for 10 minutes—does that work for you?”
On the appointed day, you call his producer at 5 p.m., identify yourself, and then you hear that familiar, audible cannon: “Bill O’Reilly,” says Bill O’Reilly, when Bill O’Reilly is answering his phone.
Truth be told, I didn’t need him for a full 10 minutes. I had only a few questions to ask, and I knew my story would be short. But if Fox News was going to give me 10 minutes, I’d take it, if only to gain a little extra time seeing what Bill is like without the spotlight on him.
I always wonder how guys like him are during these moments, because surely, they can’t be bullies all the time. Who could go through life that way? (I can’t even watch it: I’ve never seen more than a few minutes of his show.) No, I often think: These guys are just great at playing characters, and they name those characters after themselves.
Hi Bill, I say. Thanks for taking the time to talk. I’m calling because I’m working on this story about the Daily Free Press, which has been working to overcome its debt and—
“Hold on for a minute, Jason,” Bill says.
And then the phone is muffled, and Bill is talking with someone, and I’m thinking: Did I stutter too much? I need to speak more directly. This is Bill O’Reilly. He doesn’t have the patience for—
“Go ahead,” he says, suddenly, and so I re-launch. I’m calling because I’m working on this story about the Daily Free Press, which has been working to overcome its debt…
Bill: “Yeah, I mean, look: The Daily Free Press for me was just the gold standard, because it allowed me, back in the mid-70s, to just roam around town and cover all the good things, the interesting things that were happening in Boston.” And then he’s off, reminiscing about covering busing and the Fanne Foxe / Wilbur Mills scandal.
Through the rest of the interview, Bill is helpful. He’s polite. He doesn’t rush me, doesn’t interject. He listens to my questions, and answers in detail. He’s never personable—never laughs, never sounds reflective, never goes off-subject. That’s fine. I don’t need more.
And yet, despite his clear willingness to be helpful, he was imposing. He’s just naturally loud, determined, speaking as if he’s thought everything out before, even when there are no cameras on him and no way to preach to his gigantic choir. His voice (deep, thick) took my voice (nasal, stuttering), and punched it in the throat.
It is, no doubt, what makes him successful as a political bullhorn. But it’s odd and equally disorienting to hear that same strength used nonchalantly, to discuss less-inflamed matters. As it turns out, that’s just the way he speaks. But is that Bill O’Reilly, or the byproduct of always playing a character called Bill O’Reilly? That’s not something I’d get in 10 minutes.
“Alright, sir,” he said at the end.
“Bill, I appreciate it.”