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O’Reilly Factors into Alumni Weekend

Fox News prodigal on Obama, the media, and avoiding boredom

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Bill O'Reilly (right) speaks to a standing-room-only crowd in Metcalf Hall on Friday. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Bill O’Reilly isn’t usually on the receiving end of an interview. But there he was on Friday evening, lounging in a third-floor room of the George Sherman Union fielding questions minutes before taking the stage for what promised to be a raucous night before an overflow crowd at the start of Alumni Weekend.

O’Reilly (COM’75) called journalists over individually, like a doctor summoning patients into a makeshift office. Compared with his sharp, confrontational television tone, his manner was avuncular.

The star of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor remembers fondly his days at Boston University. A former Daily Free Press columnist, O’Reilly filed stories that ranged from campus issues to Boston’s school desegregation to an interview with stripper Fanne Foxe, the “Argentine Firecracker,” who was involved in a notorious 1974 scandal with Congressman Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.).

Working his way from local Boston stations to ABC and CBS, O’Reilly launched his Fox News show, whose weeknight slot draws six million viewers and has been the most watched cable news program for nine years. It also has become a symbol to many: O’Reilly as the angry white man, O’Reilly as the inflammatory bloviator, or O’Reilly as the truth-teller, O’Reilly willing to buck the liberal media.

The blue-eyed Irish-American says he’s always been a maverick. “When you’re an outsider, you have a more skeptical view,” he says. “And you can uncover things more readily than people who kind of buy the prevailing wisdom.”

As O’Reilly tells it in his 2009 autobiography, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity, he set himself apart from the lifestyle and politics that permeated BU in his student days. But he says he never had a problem with BU’s more liberal ideology.

“It’s not like Harvard,” he says, where he earned a master’s degree in public administration. “There, liberalism is in the fabric of the university. Here it’s more of a lifestyle than an ingrained tradition.”

He offers a simple explanation for his success: “People who like me know that when they turn on the television set, I’m going to speak the truth as I see it. I’m not going to play games with them. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. And they respect it. Americans like straight talk.”

And he has a simple characterization for those who don’t like or respect his show: “People who don’t like me are basically ideologues who feel threatened by an opinion other than their own. They don’t really bother me very much unless they start to do personal attacks and stuff like that.”

As to the recent White House decision to boycott Fox News, O’Reilly says that he couldn’t care less, although it’s been great for ratings. “I’m pretty much done with it,” he says. “I want to move ahead to other things. I don’t think it’s doing the country any good now.”

Speaking of moving ahead, it’s time to face the big crowd downstairs.

Showtime
A standing-room-only crowd in Metcalf Hall greets O’Reilly as he takes the stage with Bill Wheatley, former executive vice president of NBC News. The two, both former College of Communication Distinguished Alumni Award winners, face the crowd, a modest bouquet on the table between them.

Alumni and students clutch glasses of wine or beer bottles, waiting for the discussion, A Bold Fresh Look at the Future of News, to begin.

Wheatley (COM’70) tosses O’Reilly a couple of softball questions before delving into an analysis of his show.

O’Reilly refers to himself a traditionalist, not a conservative. The difference, he says, is that he does not push an ideology or try to persuade listeners. He insists that his goal is to stimulate thought.

“My positions are basically born out of problem solving,” he says. “I want these very difficult problems to be solved. I don’t care if solutions are coming from the left or the right.”

O’Reilly says that mainstream Americans are rejecting traditional nightly news programs and selecting ones like his because “they want to be stimulated. They already know the news; they want to know what you think about it.”

Wheatley tries to pin down Fox as a conservative news station, but O’Reilly turns the debate. Fox is conservative only when compared to other new channels, he argues, but concedes it does tend to have more conservative guests.

“On my show, I try very hard to have just as many liberal voices as conservative voices,” he says. His opinions are based on facts, dug up by his team of researchers, “which is why I win 95 percent of my debates.” He looks around as laughter breaks out. “I don’t think anybody would ever dispute that. That’s why a lot of people don’t want to come up against me.”

Throughout, he maintains a straight face, a wry smile surfacing now and then as Wheatley throws a range of topics his way.

He says the American economy will rebound, yet he doesn’t think the government will level the playing field on Wall Street. “I felt that the Bush administration totally ignored overseeing Wall Street,” he says.

As to the government stepping in to bail out the journalism industry, O’Reilly is unequivocal: “I don’t want the government anywhere near the journalism community. The reason the Boston Globe is losing millions of dollars is because it’s boring.”

Thunderous applause erupts. O’Reilly is hitting his stride.

“The reason traditional nightly news stations are failing is because they’re boring,” he continues. “When you’re snooty and boring, you’re not going to get dates.

“I give viewers something they don’t get anywhere else. And I’m not boring.” He roars the last sentence. The audience loves it, laughing and clapping. The news performer has captivated his crowd, and doesn’t let up.

Once upon a time, newscasters could be boring and succeed, O’Reilly goes on. CNN anchor Campbell Brown is still following that mold; fair and smart, but ultimately — yes, boring.

Not The O’Reilly Factor. “I drive that show,” he says. “If I have a guest that’s boring, I take it over. I don’t let them say a thing.”

Again, the crowd erupts in approval. And when Wheatley raises Fox’s adversarial relationship with the White House, O’Reilly gets back to it: “Obama’s fighting harder against Fox than he is against the Taliban,” he quips, drawing roars of laughter. “If he put his energies into Afghanistan, maybe we’d get someplace. But he’s fighting us. We’re looking up waiting for the next drone missile to come down.”

Wheatley then moves on to written questions presubmitted by the audience. O’Reilly dodges some, answers others.

Then he focuses on students, who constitute about half of the supportive crowd.

This rich and powerful alum ends with some advice: figure out who you are, figure out what you would like to do, then make a living doing it.

“Don’t let anybody tell you, ‘You should do this; you should do that,’” he says. “That’s the key to your life. And finding people that you can trust. That’s really hard.”

Before O’Reilly reaches the door after bounding offstage, a swarm of students surrounds him for autographs.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu.

18 Comments

18 Comments on O’Reilly Factors into Alumni Weekend

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 6:48 am

    supportive crowd - ok, we get it

    “Don’t let anyone tell you, ‘You should do this; you should do that.” Thanks Mr. O’Reilly for outlining the very reason I chose not to participate in this event during Alumni Weekend.

    O’Reilly’s belief that boring is what has caused the downfall of journalism is really a sad piece of commentary. Sometimes we need to take a good long look at what has caused us to be in the situation that we find ourselves in. The economy is a good example. Very few people like to study economics, but we need some education about it in order to understand he sub-prime fiasco. This isn’t exciting, it’s necessary.

    Now, if you’ll pardon me while I turn on NPR and the BBC. They may be “boring”, but at least I didn’t spend too much time in the last two weeks worrying about the Boy in the Balloon or Jon & Kate.

    And BU, when you bring Stern back to campus, then I’ll come to Alumni Weekend. Until then, I’ll connect with my friends through Facebook. Oh, and BU Today, I get it – the crowd dug him. They were supportive. They were thrilled to listen. That’s great. Good for them. But, don’t slant the story so much to make it sound like O’Reilly was surrounded by a room full of objective individuals who were dazzled by his expertise and demeanor. He’s a bully and a liar.

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 8:57 am

    o'reilly factors into madness

    Many of us who come from earth where we exist with reality as a political reference not partisan magic slight of hand find o’reilly repulsive in his support of not conservative values, but advnacement lunacy and exploitation of the lay man, using race and freedom as tools to justify wars, greed, and crime

  • Huckleberry on 10.26.2009 at 9:19 am

    “I drive that show,” he says. “If I have a guest that’s boring, I take it over. I don’t let them say a thing.” When this guy ‘takes it over’ he attempts to silence his guests with noise whenever Fox’s (very apparent) political stance is challenged. This kind of buffoonery is abhorrent, and misrepresentative of professional political science.

    The O’Reilly Factor is NOT a program that provides an objective view of current events/issues at all…

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 9:57 am

    BU alumni: Martin Luther King to Bill O’Reilly; from the sublime to the embarrassing.

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 10:25 am

    Calm Down

    The typical response comments you’d expect.

    Love him or hate him, O’Reilly is extremely successful in the journalism industry. You can’t argue with that. He’s good at what he does.

    I just don’t understand why people feel so constantly threatened by Bill O’Reilly. He’s expressing a viewpoint, just like hundreds of others on the airwaves. I’d bet most people have never even seen his show.

    There’s objectivity for you. Hope these people aren’t journalism majors.

  • Brian Norton on 10.26.2009 at 10:45 am

    Opinions are Relative

    O’Reilly has seen amazing success from the very ideas that he has brought forth in the world. The positions he has supported and the ways that he has spoken about them has brought him worldwide notability. They are his opinions, and he is entitled to them just as equally as any person is entitled to an opinion.

    His success as a journalist and show host only demonstrates that others also agree with his opinions. That’s not a bad thing. Politics are a gray area where those like O’Reilly are able to offer their opinions just as much as President Obama can.

    Don’t hate a man for having an opinion. Prove him wrong if you can. But if he makes valid points just as much as you do, try to understand that you may both be right. Then the spin will stop on both sides.

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 11:04 am

    Sour Grapes

    I love the posts on stories like this, they are always so entertaining.

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 12:05 pm

    Really?

    Do you think you could drool over him a little more? I don’t think you’re totally blinded by your unprofessional celebrity-worshipping yet.

    This is disgusting. BU’s decision to faun all over O’Reilly for alumni weekend definitely factored into my decision to stay in New York–and not answer the phone when BU called for donations this weekend.

    COM has hundreds of amazing alumni out there working as JOURNALISTS, not pundits–as can be seen by those interviewed in BU Today’s Daily Free Press series, which was excellent. I would have much rather heard from a panel of them discussing the future of journalism than a screeching head that’s just tying to boost his ratings and his ego.

  • fairly certain on 10.26.2009 at 1:14 pm

    “I drive that show,” he says. “If I have a guest that’s boring, I take it over. I don’t let them say a thing.”

    That doesn’t sound like the “fair and balanced” mantra from Fox News?!?

    On further thought, it sounds like a “Talk Show” and not news at all…

    Maybe Bill should go against Ellen in the afternoon, but I bet he can’t dance…

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 1:17 pm

    “People who don’t like me are basically ideologues who feel threatened by an opinion other than their own.”
    So either we always agree with what we’re told, or otherwise were pathetic ideologues? Last time I checked, that wasn’t what the media, and journalism as a profession, were supposed to be about.

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 1:57 pm

    Bill O'Reilly is not

    Bill O’Reilly is not “extremely successful in the journalism industry.” He is extremely successful in the entertainment industry. There’s nothing wrong with that–the left has its own news-based entertainment programs as well (The Daily Show, Bill Maher), and they can be very effective in challenging authority. I’m pretty sure O’Reilly himself would admit as much.

    Anyway, the problem with this article isn’t O’Reilly. It’s that COM offered him a completely uncritical platform to lavish him with praise, and that BU Today followed suit. Yes, BU should welcome all alumni perspectives, including O’Reilly’s, and yes, BU Today has to show support for such decisions. But both COM and BU Today are run by trained journalists, and they should be ashamed of this glib, shallow representation of O’Reilly’s reception on campus. “O’Reilly dodges some [questions], answers others”? How about letting us know which ones he dodged, since we already got all those glowing grafs about his dedication to speaking the truth? Or better yet, how about just rewriting this entire article as a straightforward account of what was asked and said at the event? Guess O’Reilly-ites would find it too boring.

    But BU Today should be kind of boring. It’s supposed to represent a university, not sink to new lows to get page views. I used to enjoy this site, when it actually gave news about interesting research/people/events on campus. But by trying to insert itself into the hot-button issues of the day, all it does is insult readers. If you can’t give both sides to a story, then don’t cover it!

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 1:59 pm

    Ya really

    All these negative comments are simply driving home his point: you people feel threatened by him. You can hate all you want, but none of you will ever be as successful as him.

  • We should be proud of all successful alumni on 10.26.2009 at 2:32 pm

    all alumni are good

    I’d rather see O’Reilly than the misogynistic Howard Stern!!

    But, we should be proud of all successful BU alumni, whether they are liberal loonies or conservative neanderthals. Way to go, BU! Keep bringing us articles about all the great BU alums out there

  • Anonymous on 10.26.2009 at 2:38 pm

    “When you’re an outsider, you have a more skeptical view,” he says. “And you can uncover things more readily than people who kind of buy the prevailing wisdom.”

    That’s funny, because in 2002/’03, the prevailing wisdom was that the U.S. should divert its combat resources from a war in Afghanistan (a country that had actually harbored terrorists who attacked us on American soil) and instead launch a (practically) unilateral war on Iraq. The prevailing wisdom further stated that we would be greeted as liberators by flower-throwing Iraqis, and that Saddam’s WMDs would be found in the desert. I don’t recall the host of the most-watched cable “news” program being much of a skeptical outsider back then. Now 5,000+ American soldiers are dead, and the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan. Some journalist. (Well, at least we had the vast “liberal” media like the New York Times to give it to us straight, right? Oh, wait a minute.)

    O’Reilly is a heck of an entertainer, but he should have stuck to interviewing strippers. It’s a sad state of affairs that entertainment *is* trumping “boring” news.

  • Chris Faraone on 10.26.2009 at 3:52 pm

    Boston Phoenix Recap from O'Reilly's BU Homecoming

    http://thephoenix.com/BLOGS/phlog/archive/2009/10/26/bill-o-reilly-s-boston-university-college-of-communication-homecoming.aspx

  • Anonymous on 10.27.2009 at 1:01 pm

    Alumni Relations

    BU’s decision to host O’Reilly as a guest for alumni weekend, as well as its decision to run this blatantly biased, right-wing propagated bullsh*t makes me want to vomit and is the reason I will never donate a dime to this school.

  • Anonymous on 10.27.2009 at 4:16 pm

    BU needs to take a firmer stance

    As a COM alum, I am impressed by all the alumni that we see globally in the TV medium. I’m also impressed by the journalistic values of many who are now being published. This article, however, was a mere COM 101 feature article that had no stance or message other than to give a brief history of O’Reilly and a snippet of his resume. I’d be impressed if the writer had a positive or negative view on what O’Reilly has to say. The one time the writer tries to dig in, O’Reilly again takes control and tells the writer to move on.
    Don’t be afraid of interviewing "successful" alumni. At the end of the day, you’re a journalist that needs to find YOUR voice. Please have more confidence when you write another article. With a figure like O’Reilly, I want to hear more of his crazy ideas than a bouquet of flowers on the table. That’s sugarcoating COM 101!

  • Anonymous on 10.29.2009 at 3:45 pm

    O'Reilly, good for him!

    “Using race and freedom as tools to justify wars, greed and crime.”

    Add religion to your preamble! These have always been the foundations for such acts since man came to be! Wars have been fought because of race, because of religion, because of democracy. To think that you lay blame on this man (see aforementioned quote) for “his view(s)” is nothing short of hypocrisy in and of itself. Just because he sits on the opposite side of the aisle, he is bad. Because you disagree with his views, he is bad. Because he was a successful journalist turned entertainer, he is bad….no I think you are being a tad-bit melodramatic.

    I “AM” a BU alum, and regardless of who they might be or what they represent I stand next to them as a team player, HELL I’ll even go a few rounds of beer pong with the Zinn WHILE I wear my former United States Marine Corps dress blues, but honestly I don’t think he could hang, not with the beer mind you, rather the site of me in uniform, but I’d give him a shot.

    J- (MET 95’)

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