“Bill, I know football.”

O’Reilly and Obama in the Fox Bowl

So, it turns out Bill O’Reilly and the president give a better pregame show than Christina Aguilera. In the fifteen-minute live chat that preceded the cheeseheads’ victory last night, O’Reilly got his first bit of face time with Obama since the president assumed office and all-in-all he used it reasonably well. O’Reilly led with Egypt in typically blunt style—“Alright, Mubarak—is he going to leave soon?”—before quizzing Obama on the Affordable Care Act, his centrist/leftist ideology, and, inevitably, his pick for the big game. No gold rings for guessing that the president hedged his bets.

Here’s the interview.

Obama is the expert evader-in-chief, and deftly avoided definitive answers on whether Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was leaving any time soon, or how much “dirt” the Egyptian president had on the U.S. On the domestic front, he did say he hadn’t moved to the center, and was still the same guy he was before the midterms. In terms of “big reveals,” it was hardly The Crying Game.

(Keach Hagey at Politico has a thorough report on the Fox-White House relationship that served as a background to the interview.)

But love him or hate him, there is something refreshing about O’Reilly’s approach to a big interview like this and it showed last night. Where normally the Fox-man might shout down a liberal guest with views similar to the president’s—or stalk him on his way to work—the host’s clearly on his best behavior when signing in to Pennsylvania Avenue. There’s still fire there, and an urge to win, but there is also a smidgen of deference and clear respect. The result is an O’Reilly who’s direct, but who allows his guest to engage. The result is an aggressive, solid interviewer and interview.

We got more pushback than is usually given a president. “So you don’t know when he’s going to leave…” O’Reilly said bluntly when Obama wouldn’t be drawn on Mubarak. And when O’Reilly asked if it disturbed Obama that so many people hated him, and Obama began by saying “the people who dislike you, they don’t know you,” the host interjected: “They hate you.” He even pressed Obama on how much he knew about football after the president assured him he was a watcher of the sport. But do you know blitzes? O’Reilly asked, seemingly skeptical.

The smiling, tie-less president seemed to be having a jolly good time: “Bill, I know football.” Obama’s other best line? “The Wall Street Journal would probably paint you as a pretty left-wing guy.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be O’Reilly if he didn’t throw his two cents in every so often. When he couldn’t squeeze much blood out of Obama on the Muslim Brotherhood, O’Reilly let the president know “These are tough guys… I wouldn’t want them anywhere near that government.” And the fifteen-minute time limit gave the exchange a rushed feel, with O’Reilly clearly racing through a list of questions—including the Oprah-esque, “Have you changed as a person?”—and trying to cover all bases. Pushback was often less a question than a final word on a given topic. The quick jumps from subject to subject meant that while it might have been a more combative interview than we’re used to seeing with the president, and enjoyable beer-guzzling viewing on that front, it was also more jagged.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , ,