According to some pundits, Bill O’Reilly did exactly what he was hoping not to do. Before the interview O’Reilly wrote that he would not interrupt the president. In their previous interview during the 2008 presidential election, O’Reilly reportedly had interrupted Obama multiple times. But now O’Reilly asserted he could not do that because Obama is now the president and there is protocol to presidential interviews. There is an ethos among journalists that makes it impolite to interrupt the President of the United States. Even if you don’t respect the man, you should respect the office. But O’Reilly showed little respect and interrupted the president almost every time he spoke.
Some pundits, like those from the Center for Pragmatism, believe the interview will hurt O’Reilly and help Obama, observing that Obama came across as friendly even to a fierce critic. O’Reilly on the other hand seemed arrogant, rude, and disrespectful. An empirical analysis presented on MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell's show Monday and Tuesday nights indicates that O'Reilly interrupted the president 72 times -- once every 19 seconds -- during their highly anticipated interview, without allowing Mr. Obama to complete one thought.
O’Reilly doled out an unprecedented display of incivility, rudeness, and what I perceive as misguided paternalism dished to the wrong guy. The president was, as usual, presidential and appeared above the fray, like a tolerant school master suffering a mischievous student prankster. Despite the verbal bombast, O’Reilly’s interview failed to garner the blockbuster viewer numbers Fox and O'Reilly had anticipated. Apparently Fox executives had projected Barbara Walters-Monica Lewinski-type viewership numbers but fell far short of their ratings expectations.
It's disappointing to see Fox analyst Juan Williams towing the Fox spin hook, line, and sinker. I’ve met and interviewed Juan Williams and I find him to be a real gentleman and astute political analyst, but I'm afraid he's lost all sense of rational political perspective. Williams and the punditry at Fox News overwhelmingly believe O’Reilly conducted himself appropriately.
Not in my lifetime, nor in my recollection of American history has a sitting president been treated with such lack of decorum by a so-called journalist. O’Reilly’s assertiveness guised as zealousness for truth bordered on sheer contempt; his performance was a painful reminder of by-gone era in our history when the defense position in the landmark 1896 Supreme Court ruling in the case Plessey vs. Ferguson acquiesced to the conventional Southern racial mores of the day, that "A black man had no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” The court’s ruling led to a doctrine of separate but equal accommodations that took another fifty years to overturn when it was finally ruled as blatantly unjust and unconstitutional.
Hopefully, as a nation we’ve transcended much of the level of inhumanity and animus that spawned such irrational racial assumptions for several centuries. That’s why it’s disturbing to hear refrains from some ultra conservatives and pundits like Mr. O’Reilly who speak in terms of wanting to “right our American ship” and turn things back to the way they used to be; a loaded phrase that’s always been troublesome for many minorities in America. The American people have outgrown such flawed, racially charged suppositions. We need solutions and rational discourse in which civility is the order of the day. It starts with learning to listen respectfully to one another.