During his interview with Donald Trump on Tuesday night, Bill O’Reilly tried nearly every trick in the book to get the front-runner to reconsider his debate boycott, from noting that Christians are taught to forgive to calling in vanilla milkshake–related favors. After their 16-minute discussion, the answer was still no, but O’Reilly probably didn’t expect to win Trump over. Going through with the previously scheduled interview was a win for both men, even if O’Reilly was ribbed on Twitter for acting as the journalistic equivalent of Lloyd Dobler standing on the lawn with a boom box over his head.
As New York’s Gabriel Sherman noted earlier, O’Reilly’s refusal to cancel his Trump interview represents “a new dynamic to the clash of egos” inside Fox. The controversy has focused on Trump’s feud with Megyn Kelly, Fox’s rising star, but the segment allowed O’Reilly to inject himself into the discussion on the eve of the debate. “Sources say O’Reilly feels he made Kelly’s career by promoting her on his show, and he’s been furious that Kelly surpassed him in the ratings,” Sherman reported.
Yes, it was a bit embarrassing to see O’Reilly give the front-runner tips on campaign strategy:
But on the other hand, O’Reilly got to remind everyone of his position at the network, declaring, “I’m the flagship on Fox. We treated you fairly.” The host made almost no attempt to defend his colleague, saying only, “Kelly’s question was within journalistic bounds.” When Trump made the ridiculous point that the O’Reilly interview was “much tougher” than being questioned by Kelly because he is “much smarter” than her, O’Reilly didn’t protest. “That’s why you should do it, and have fun tomorrow night,” O’Reilly answered.
For Trump, the appearance was an even bigger win. He repeatedly plugged his competing Thursday night event to raise money for veterans, and now if anyone accuses him of being too scared to face Fox’s anchors, he can say he survived a grilling from the toughest, smartest journalist at Fox (according to him).