On multiple occasions during his weeknight telecast The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly has made a particular effort to tell the viewers, and his right-wing guests, that he is not endorsing a presidential candidate and has no horse in the race. O’Reilly has maintained for years that he is only interested in presenting “analysis based on facts.”
The host of television’s most successful cable television news program also has repeated that he is not a Republican (or a Democrat), and that he votes for a particular candidate regardless of political party. O’Reilly will frequently offer proof of his independent credentials, and that of his program, by pointing to a poll that was conducted (now years ago) which found approximately 45 percent of O’Reilly Factor viewers were independents (a slightly smaller number were Republicans and less than 20 percent were Democrats).
It is true that Bill O’Reilly is much more of an independent voice in the world of conservative personalities that frequent the television and radio airwaves; spend a few segments with O’Reilly and compare that to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, Mike Gallagher etc.; the difference is quite clear. For example, O’Reilly has consistently maintained a fairly progressive stance on the environment and energy policy, vehemently criticizing U.S. oil companies and their cozy relationship with Washington D.C. Also, once upon a time, O’Reilly (a Roman Catholic) claimed to be against the death penalty, although his commentaries appear to be more tolerant of that criminal justice practice post-9/11.
However, if, in fact, The O’Reilly Factor were such a voice for independents, then how would O’Reilly account for the fact that virtually every single guest host that fills in for him is an unabashed Republican conservative? Laura Ingraham is his frequent guest host now (she hosted last night), but other conservative/Republican hosts in past years include former George W. Bush White House spokesman Tony Snow, former Republican congressman John Kasich, and conservative commentator Michelle Malkin. It is not clear what role O’Reilly has in picking his replacement, if any, or whether that decision is left up to his producers and Fox News Channel (who smartly do not ask Janine Garofelo to fill in).
With regards to the 2008 presidential race, John McCain fits in fairly snugly with O’Reilly’s professed “independent traditionalist” views, especially when compared to the liberal campaign platforms espoused by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. That said, O’Reilly has made some effort to resist personally attacking the Democratic contenders—giving them the fair shake his Republican guests often do not. For example, during the Pastor Jeremiah Wright controversy, while O’Reilly has clearly vilified Wright for preaching anti-American and bigoted views against whites, he has not lumped the Illinois Senator into that camp, despite his close association with the pastor. O’Reilly has questioned Obama’s judgment, but gives him the benefit of the doubt on his love of country.
Perhaps O’Reilly is holding out hope he will finally land an interview with Obama or Clinton this year; Al Gore and John Kerry did not appear on The O’Reilly Factor during their presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004 (though Kerry has been an occasional guest on the program since his defeat). After all, O’Reilly frequently reminds his viewership that he has the #1 news program on cable; perhaps, in the end, good ratings trump any private desire he may have to see one political candidate get elected over the other.