As popular television commentator and host Bill O’Reilly has pointed out on a near daily basis, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has yet to appear on his program, despite numerous on-air (and presumably private) invitations. Should Obama make the pilgrimage to ‘The Factor?’

O’Reilly has led in the cable television news ratings for years, but has failed to convince recent Democratic nominees, such as Al Gore and Obama, to make appearances on his show during their presidential campaigns. In 2000 and 2004 George W. Bush appeared on the program, and 2008 Republican nominee John McCain was a guest in late May 2008.

O’Reilly has maintained that Al Gore would have won Florida, and the 2000 election, had he appeared on his program just once (‘The Factor’ is seen by millions of viewers each weeknight). Despite what some may view as simply the case of an overinflated ego, there is truth to O’Reilly’s statement. When nominees like Gore and Obama refuse (or ignore) O’Reilly’s invitations, they hurt themselves in two ways among independent voters (who comprise a fair amount of O’Reilly’s viewership).

For one, Democratic candidates are turning down an opportunity to get their message across in a forum where, despite O’Reilly’s reputation, they will be treated with respect by the host, at least during the interview itself. Secondly, by failing to appear (which O’Reilly will mention continuously through the summer and autumn), the Democrats seem like they are ‘running scared’ or purposefully avoiding the nation’s #1 cable news program simply because they do not want their views challenged by an admittedly tough host.

O’Reilly himself believes Democratic candidates are so tied to the “ crowd�? (which he regularly berates) that they risk alienating the far left component of their base by even appearing on his program (it would be tantamount to ‘dealing with the Devil’).

In the end, candidates will not regret appearing on O’Reilly’s show; Hillary Clinton survived and thrived during her April 30th debut on ‘The Factor’ – in the midst of her 2008 primary campaign surge. John Kerry has even appeared after the 2004 election.

Would an appearance on ‘The Factor’ benefit Obama? Perhaps not, but not appearing will hurt him. The truth is that while Bill O’Reilly’s politics did take a turn to the right after 9/11, his reputation as a commentator to be lumped in with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity is simply not warranted. O’Reilly has repeatedly stated on air several views which do not fall into the right-wing camp:

· He has stated that, given the chance to do it all over again, the U.S. should not have invaded Iraq (something to which Hannity would never admit)
· He has railed vociferously against big oil companies, the profits made by their CEO’s, and the need for America to “stick it to them�? by, among other things, investing in alternative energy sources
· He believes that America should make the reduction of our impact on the environment a priority (whether or not we are responsible for global warming)
· He is even against the death penalty (likely due to religious beliefs; though, admittedly, he hasn’t mentioned this view as frequently since 9/11)

While the world does not revolve around Bill O’Reilly, candidates usually relish airtime on top-rated programs. In the case of Al Gore, his failure to appear on the factor made him look, frankly, that he was unwilling to subject his policies to a potentially confrontational host. In the case of Obama, he runs a much more important risk: O’Reilly’s mantra is that we do not really even know the Senator from Illinois.

When Bill O’Reilly covered the New Hampshire primary on location in January of this year, his cameraman was involved in an incident where he believed an Obama staffer was purposely blocking his shot. At the end of the confrontational exchange, Obama himself, on camera, stated to O’Reilly that he would appear on ‘The Factor.’

O’Reilly is now taking bets from some of his guests, like media watchdogs Bernie Goldberg and Jane Hall, as to whether Obama will follow through on that pledge.


  1. Graham on July 31, 2008 at 10:42 am

    “they will be treated with respect by the host, at least during the interview itself.”

    Which alternate-reality Bill O’Reilly are you referring to here?

    And far from seeming to be “running scared” from FOX News, one could interpret it as “running smart.”

    Sure, the Democratic candidates took a knock when they boycotted the FOX/Congressional Black Caucus (Edwards was first out the gate there), but by simply avoiding a partisan media machine’s reality-distorting push-poll-like questions, they all did themselves a great service.

    Hillary Clinton’s appearance on the show primarily seemed to be playing to her strategy of getting out the “Appalachian vote” rather than out of true respect for

    But, since as you point out O’Reilly is a bit all over the board when it comes to the issues, is known as being a loose cannon (“We’ll do it live!”), and has an audience that is very likely already virulently opposed to Obama’s candidacy, the Democrat has very little to gain and a whole lot to lose from making an appearance.

    I wouldn’t rule it out, because I think Obama could charm the pants off just about anyone if he really applied himself, but I just don’t see it happening… and for good reason.

  2. Ohnjaye on July 31, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Why should he appear on Bill O’Reilly’s show? To make O Really look fair and balanced — that will never happen/

  3. DL on July 31, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Eric –

    Do you have any data whatsoever to suggest that independent voters make up “a fair amount of O’Reilly’s viewership”, or is this just an assumption that goes unquestioned? In particular, are these the “independent voters” who mechanically pull the GOP lever on Election Day, or true independent voters?

    To be honest, I’ve been somewhat disappointed in this blog. It is only a bit more data-driven than many others out there, and your biases are much less transparent.

  4. Eric Ostermeier on July 31, 2008 at 11:19 am

    > Do you have any data whatsoever to suggest that
    > independent voters make up “a fair amount of O’Reilly’s
    > viewership”, or is this just an assumption that goes
    > unquestioned?

    This is a good and fair question. A few years ago, a FOX Opinion Dynamics poll found 40+ percent of O’Reilly’s viewership were political independents. Now, it is also true that – in terms of ideology – about 2/3 are conservative according to a more recent Pew survey. However, remember many political independents are also conservative. So, when you have independents giving Bush a 30% approval rating, that means there is a large percentage of whom (even conservative independents) that would consider voting for a Democratic candidate (though, perhaps not so liberal as Obama).

    > It is only a bit more data-driven than many others out there,
    > and your biases are much less transparent.

    If my biases are ‘much less transparent’, how is it that they are visible to you? What biases you have unearthed? Can you point to some examples?

    And, I’m curious, do you actually think you have pegged my personal political ideology or policy positions based on this blog? I will ‘give you the floor’ and your own posting if you can even come close to guessing what my personal political views are.

    Also, you should scour down the list of entries during this past few weeks and I defy you to find ‘many blogs’ that are more data driven than Smart Politics.

  5. Eric Ostermeier on July 31, 2008 at 11:36 am

    >> “they will be treated with respect by the host, at least during
    >> the interview itself.”

    > Which alternate-reality Bill O’Reilly are you referring to here?

    Graham – how many O’Reilly interviews of political candidates have you actually seen? I am sure if one year ago you were asked if Hillary Clinton would be treated with respect by O’Reilly in an interview, you would have said, ‘no.’ Did you see the Clinton interview? Have you seen O’Reilly’s interview with John Kerry? Go to the source, don’t believe all the hype; O’Reilly would be tickled pink to get Obama as a guest and would not blow it by being obnoxious or disrespectful.

    With regards to what Democrats could gain from appearing on his program, hubris aside, do you honestly believe Al Gore could not have netted 500+ votes from Floridians by putting in a strong showing on The Factor a few weeks before the 2000 election?

  6. Brad Hart on July 31, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    It would be absolutely stupid for any candidate to go on any show where the host is hostile to them and their agenda.

  7. Graham on July 31, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Ok, you’re actually right there, Eric. I have not seen many interviews by O’Reilly of political candidates, particularly the ones you mention here.

    I am basing my opinion more on how he treats non-candidate guests, even sitting congresspeople and senators, who don’t seem to get the respect that should be afforded them.

    Perhaps he does afford them more respect than “regular” guests, but I agree with Brad Hart (above) that it would be stupid for any candidate to go on a hostile program.

    For me, the major problem with Obama going on any FOX program is that it grants the network a sense of legitimacy that it should not be afforded. It does not follow traditional journalistic values and should not be treated as a news organization as such–it should be handled for what it is, which is a mouthpiece of the radical right-wing.

  8. Graham on July 31, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    p.s. the fact Clinton was treated civilly during the primary and that it would have been unthinkable that she would receive such treatment one year prior just proves my point above: that FOX’s radical right-wing agenda overrides all other considerations.

    All of FOX News treated the Clinton campaign well because it helped to hurt Obama, who was seen as a more threatening (young, black, popular, “most liberal Senator”) figure than Clinton (older, white, established, seemingly more centrist ala her husband).

  9. Eric Ostermeier on July 31, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    > All of FOX News treated the Clinton campaign well because it
    > helped to hurt Obama, who was seen as a more threatening
    > (young, black, popular, “most liberal Senator”) figure than
    > Clinton (older, white, established, seemingly more centrist ala
    > her husband).

    Except you’re leaving out the part that one of Bill O’Reilly’s most frequent guests during the entire presidential primary campaign was Dick Morris who spewed more anti-Clinton (Bill and Hillary) rhetoric than anyone on television.

  10. Graham on July 31, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Touché. Still, you can’t deny that, overall, FOX News was biased in favor of Clinton in the primaries.

    When Terry McAuliffe calls them the fairest of all the networks (broadcast and cable), that tells you what you need to know right there.

  11. Eric Ostermeier on July 31, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    > Still, you can’t deny that, overall, FOX News was biased in
    > favor of Clinton in the primaries.

    I would be interested in how you make distinctions, if any, between the alleged pro-Clinton bias at FOX News during the primaries and coverage in kind of Barack Obama at MSNBC.

    One could argue, and I wouldn’t be the first to do so here, that FOX News’ coverage appeared biased in favor of Clinton only if you take MSNBC’s coverage of Clinton/Obama to be the baseline – a standard which most media watchdogs and critics would not wish to establish, I don’t believe.

  12. Debranne on July 31, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Actually, there should be no discussion about why or why not Obama should go on Fox News.

    What would be the point? I say “screw” O’Reilly” and Fox News, too. Fox will manipulate the interview with their editing. No one will hear the real interview. Nothing positive will come out of an interview on Fox News for Obama. CBS and Fox News belong together, both are unfair and definitely unbalanced.

    End of story.

  13. DL on August 4, 2008 at 3:02 am

    Eric –

    My point is that I don’t know what your biases are – they’re not transparent! I suspect that you tend towards the right of the spectrum, but I wouldn’t bet on it. When I read Daily Kos, Minnesota Campaign Report, Michelle Malkin, or Power Line, I have a good idea of how to evaluate the material in question. With you, I don’t know.

    Unlike many of the nincompoops who run the media today, I don’t think having a viewpoint is somehow bad or wrong. It is natural. I just want to know how much stock to put into an opinion. If you say Barack Obama should appear on O’Reilly and you’re a huge fan of O’Reilly (or of Obama, for that matter), it makes sense for me to know that. I’d imagine that having a Ph.D. helps blunt some of the reflexive reaction to politics that people tend to have, but of course it doesn’t somehow remove a person’s political viewpoint, and your blogging will reflect yours, no matter how hard you might try not to let it. Political scientists, of course, think harder about politics than anybody, yet many (I’m thinking of Larry Jacobs in particular) wouldn’t reveal their persuasion at gunpoint. Maybe that’s necessary to protect your discipline, but human beings are psychologically incapable of completely setting aside their biases, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

    As for being not particularly data-driven, this post is an example. There’s no data in here (minus your point about the independents, and I thank you for providing the poll data for it, though I am skeptical about a FOX poll about O’Reilly, not to mention the issues these days with self-identified independents, but that’s a different story), just opinion. If you look at a lot of the partisan/ideological blogs, there is lots of discussion of polls, with discussions of cross-tabs, maps, all kinds of reasoned and thoughtful content. One particular example of this is at and in sections of certain national blogs, like at from just the other day. I don’t say this blog isn’t data-driven, nor even less data-driven than others. I only say it’s “only a bit more data-driven than many others”. One fantastic and truly data-driven blog (which, sadly, is not written anymore) written by a Ph.D is at

    Don’t get me wrong – I like this blog, as otherwise I wouldn’t read it. The problem is that I do not get very much here that I can’t get elsewhere. Sure, it contains “thoughtful non-partisan analysis” (though again, without knowing anything at all about your biases it’s difficult to know how to evaluate your opinions) but I can get thoughtful and variously or not-too-partisan opinions from a number of places. What could make this place golden is by using the knowledge, resources, and insight that your Ph.D. (and J.D., for that matter) to point out things that other people, lacking the training you have, haven’t seen. Under the “voter turnout” category on the right, you have three posts, one from 2008. It’s a press release announcing that a CSPG study tracked increased voter registration over the primary season. That’s fine, but I could figure that out from reading Daily Kos. What I’d love to see is you breaking that down for your readers, showing who these new voters are, who they advantage, who usually does well when voter turnout surges, etc. Electoral politics is where baseball was pre-sabermetrics. I’d like to see this blog help end that.

    When I said I was disappointed by this blog, I didn’t mean that it was bad or lacking value. I simply meant that when I read about it in the alumni magazine, I imagined a lot more from a U of M political science Ph.D.

  14. Jordan Shaffer on August 7, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I enjoy how most of you are totally left-wing biased. Bill O’Reilly is pretty fair, although he does have a slight right wing lean.

    Not going on O’Reilly screams coward. Obama said he was going to go into Tehran for negotiations. So if you can’t go to New York for an interview by a non-left wing media outlet, what makes us think he will go into Tehran?

    Fox is actually the most fair and balanced network. CNN, NBC, etc constantly rip McCain or any other republican or conservative.

    Fox News is credible. The stations you watch aren’t.

  15. Jordan Shaffer on August 7, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Further proof that fox is credible. More democrats watch it then CNN or MSNBC

    “In Q2, 2008 Fox News Channel averaged 1,585,000 viewers. CNN: 961,000, MSNBC: 685,000. So according to the PEW survey, how many of these are Democrats? Numbers don’t lie:

    FNC (31% Democratic): 491,350 Dem viewers
    CNN (45% Democratic): 432,450 Dem viewers
    MSNBC (48% Democratic): 328,800 Dem viewers”

  16. jkruse on August 14, 2008 at 10:02 am

    More importantly, when will
    William Jonathan Drayton Jr appear on the Factor?

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