Bill O’Reilly, former host of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, was one of the first people Roger Ailes hired at the fledgling network. He joined Glenn’s radio program on Friday to share his thoughts about his former boss. Ailes passed away on Thursday at the age of 77.
Additionally, O’Reilly shared details about his recent opinion piece for USA Today, in which he said the following about the iconic news executive:
To say that Roger Ailes led a full life is a massive understatement. A force of nature with an agenda, RA, as fellow executives called him, was a man on a mission.
Both Glenn and O’Reilly gave perspectives on their former boss, with O’Reilly detailing, in his opinion, the one characteristic that set Ailes apart from other news executives.
Enjoy this complimentary clip or read the transcript for details.
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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: This is going to be a fascinating hour. We are so fortunate to have joining us on Fridays Mr. Bill O’Reilly. One of the steady voices of reason for two decades on Fox News. And was one of the first hires at Fox News from Roger Ailes, who passed away yesterday. We’re going to talk to him about Roger Ailes, James Comey, the president, the world at large, and have him try to help make some sense out of this week in review. We begin there with Bill O’Reilly right now.
Mr. Bill O’Reilly, how are you, sir.
BILL: Good. Thanks for having me back. I appreciate it.
GLENN: You are so warm and friendly and personable, I don’t know if you catch that every time. But I can feel the —
PAT: It oozes out of the phone.
GLENN: You say very little to me. Just at that opening, you feel he loves me and loves being here.
BILL: Well, I rehearsed that all morning. Did I do okay?
GLENN: Oh, yeah. It sounded so sincere.
PAT: The depth and the warmth.
GLENN: Anyway, Bill, I thought of you a lot yesterday.
PAT: Are we in a wind tunnel.
GLENN: Or an oxygen tent? What the hell is happening? What the hell is happening?
BILL: I am outside. Can you hear me clearly?
GLENN: Oh, god. We’re going to do a professional radio program.
BILL: I understand, but I’m a child of nature.
GLENN: Yeah, I know. You’re, again, I feel that exuding from you.
So yesterday I thought of you, Bill, because of Roger Ailes, and you probably knew him better than anybody at Fox. And he didn’t reveal all sides of himself to everyone. He’s one of the most complex men I have ever met. He is in some ways an icon to me, an idol to me in some ways. And honestly, personally, one of the biggest disappointments in my life at the same time, and I have a — it’s weird. I’ve never liked someone as much as I like Roger Ailes and then despised some of the things that he did at the same time.
BILL: Well, I can’t speak to your situation because for two reasons, number one, you’re my friend. And number two, he was my friend.
BILL: And I as you know didn’t get involved in that when you were at Fox News, only to the extent that I told him quite clearly that you were very beneficial to the network, and then I — you and I partnered up to do a tour together.
BILL: So he knew that I was in your corner. So I don’t know any more than that. And when you left, I obviously was disappointed because I didn’t think it was good for the network at all. But, you know, you’re you, and he was him.
GLENN: Yeah, I’m not even talking about that, Bill. I just — you know that Roger when he wanted to be, would be ruthless. And I don’t want to get into all the charges back and forth of what happened to other people because that’s going to happen in court or, you know, none of us were there for that, so I don’t even want to talk about that. I mean if Roger wanted to protect you or somebody else, you knew he would. He would be loyal, loyal, loyal.
GLENN: But there was also the side of him that when he wanted his way, he could be the most ruthless man ever.
BILL: Well, I don’t know about that, but he was certainly a businessman who operated in a world where what was good for him was going to happen. And so if you were going up against what was good for him, then there would be a conflict. And I understand that. And I had to deal with that too.
GLENN: I know.
BILL: That thing about Ailes. But you and I both know, and this is important, and I want people to read the USA today op-ed that I wrote about you and I both know that what television and radio is all about. It’s about one thing. Money. And if you get in the way of money, you’re going to get hammered, and you’re going to die. If you can make them money, you’ll prosper.
BILL: That’s what it’s all about. So Ailes that was his basic business plan. I’m going to be successful. I’m going to crush the opposition. Not just beat them. I’m going to crush them. Okay? Because there were very, very strong psychological reasons why he hated the establishment, he felt that they were arrogant, and they were never fair to him and all of that.
But the one thing that separated him and everybody should know this, even if they don’t have any motion invested in Fox News or Roger Ailes is that if you got into trouble, if he thought you were a loyal person, he would do anything to help you. And that is very different from most of the executives that work in radio.
GLENN: Very true. Very true.
Bill, what was it like at the beginning of Fox News? When you were there, I mean, you were one of the first hires, and he came to you, and you said in your USA today article today, your op-ed piece to him, you know, do you want to see a treatment of what I want to do? And he said, no, just tell the truth, take no prisoners, don’t make any, you know — no sacred cows, and don’t screw it up.
BILL: Yeah, well, he knew me from “Inside Edition” where I had anchored that program for six years and made it a success after David Frost got fired after three weeks on the air. And Ailes is a business man, so he knew me. He knew that I turned a program around. He knew that I could do it. But I was surprised that — because I had heard, well, he’s this ideological guy and, you know, he wants it his way, and I was surprised he never told me, hey, I want you to do this or hammer this guy or be friendly to that guy. Never. He just wanted me to go and do it, and that’s why we were successful.
GLENN: Roger Ailes is gone. He left Fox News. They started changing Fox News, obviously you are no longer with Fox News. I remember somebody said to me when I was there, so who’s going to replace Roger Ailes? And I said I don’t think anybody can replace Roger Ailes. But they certainly weren’t grooming anybody. Bill Shine was probably the closest that could begin to think like Roger. But he never in his mind, I think left the roots that he had in Ohio. He could still think like somebody in the center of the country, which is nobody in New York City at an executive level is doing.
We’ve seen this —
BILL: No doubt.
GLENN: Go ahead. Comment on that.
BILL: Yeah, look, Roger was a child. He was one of the first baby boomers. Okay? He was a little bit before that, born in 1940. But he had that mentality. And his father was a tough guy and, you know, Roger was a working class, and he was a human philiac, so as a child, he had tough health issues, and he was a small guy, so I think he was a victim of bullying. He took all of that, and he said you know what? I’m going to show you. I’m going to show you, and I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if you’re Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan or if you’re the head of GE, I’m going to show you. And I’m going to show you how it’s done because I have a link, just as you have and I have with regular Americans, working Americans. I have that link. And that’s what made him successful.
GLENN: You think that’s what he saw in you? Because I think that’s —
BILL: Oh, there’s no doubt about it. No doubt about it. You know, he could have had all the stones and forests and, you know, all of these network people who were named after inanimate objects, he could have had them. He could have done that. He could have had pocket Hankies all over the place. British accents, Peter Jennings, clones. He could have done all of it. But he wanted regular people. So he hires Hannity. He hires a bunch of tough Irish guys who we knew would be brawlers. He hired you, and he put together the staff that he knew blue-collar people would identify with.
So, you know, he was a genius. But what he did wasn’t genius, it was just out of the mainstream. And that’s why Fox News became a $2.5 billion a year grossing bank. I mean, can you imagine that much money? And that’s what happened.
GLENN: He was a genius. And what he did, I think, was genius. It was just out of the — it was just actually in the mainstream but not the mainstream of media. You know as well as I know, Bill, that you could be confused by one of the most complex issues of health care and the bills and everything else. You would see Roger Ailes for two minutes, and he would boil it down off the top of his head in two lines, and you would go “That’s freaking genius. I’ve never — that’s brilliant.”
He could just —
BILL: Yeah, that came from his political background. He told me a story one time about Ronald Reagan, and I have this in my book. I have this exact story in the book. And Reagan was lost when he was running second time around, and he got hammered the first debate. So they brought Ailes in the second debate because the poll numbers are going down for Reagan, Reagan looked discombobulated, so here comes Ailes walking in. Okay? And he didn’t know Reagan that well. And he sat Reagan down and looked him in the eye and said going to lose. The whole thing is going to blow up unless you start to wise up. And then Reagan was startled because who talked to Ronald Reagan that way when he was President of the United States? Nobody but, you know, you could see Ailes doing it. And then Ailes said here’s what you’re going to do. We’re going to have three or four themes that we’re going to — that you’re going to have to emphasize, and I’m going to give you two strike lines that when we know he’s going to say certain things, you’re going to go back at him. And one of them was I’m going to hold my opponent’s age and inexperience against him. You remember that.
BILL: So Ailes was a political guy, political consultant, and he basically brought that over to TV. And he didn’t want pinheads on the air with, oh, well, I think we have to go back and look at the amendment. That gets you fired faster than anything. So his formula worked. Works to this day. They’re still doing Roger Ailes on Fox News. The personnel has changed, so they’re having a hard time. But they’re still doing what he put into place.
GLENN: You know, you said that he didn’t hire rocket science people. But I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about my interview with him. The first time that I had met him, two or three times, and he had just said “Let’s have a casual dinner. I just want to know you.
And then he said I would like to talk to you about joining Fox, and we had dinner together in some private room at a steakhouse in New York.
And the first question he asked me was “What did you think about the 1972 China trade deal?”
And I said “Roger, I’ve got to be honest. I don’t know.”
And then the next question was “What was the biggest accomplishment of the Eisenhower administration?”
And I looked at him and I said Roger, I have two ways to go here. I could either bluff and kind of make something up, or I could tell you the truth. I’m not up on that one either. And possibly end the interview right here, but I’m going to bank on not bluffing with you. I don’t know.
He said really? And then he said nothing to me for ten long minutes as we ate.
BILL: Really? You ate your salads, huh?
GLENN: But he got up. Neither of us had salad. And we got up afterwards, and then he pushed me to the wall. Pushed me to the wall. I mean questioned my faith. Got in my face so much. And then I thought this is over. I lost 15 pounds of sweat, and I thought this is over. I’m never going to work at Fox. He stood up at the end and he said it is great to meet a man who actually knows what he knows, isn’t afraid to say it, and isn’t afraid to say what he doesn’t know. Good for you.
And that was the end of the interview. It was a nightmare. A nightmare. He was wicked smart and knew exactly what he was looking for.
BILL: Yeah, and he carried that over, and that bluntness got him in trouble, as I wrote in the op-ed. You know, there’s two ways to take it. The way you took it, and the way that some other people that hated him. And they —
GLENN: But, you know, there’s a lot of people — because I watched you closely because you have a reputation of being a hothead, and I never saw that. And I saw — what I did see was Bill O’Reilly expects you to do your job and to do it with excellence because he’s doing his job with excellence and not phoning it in. And if he doesn’t screw it up, you don’t screw it up. So the only time I saw people have a problem with you is when they were bluffing. And it was the same with Roger Ailes and the same with me. Don’t bluff. Don’t do it.
BILL: If you’re going to run a successful enterprise in a ultra hypercompetitive situation, you have to demand excellence. You have to. It’s like the military. If you’re going to be one of the elite troops — I mean, you can’t allow people to slough off or give you 75 percent effort. So, you know — but a lot of people don’t like that and a lot of people don’t want to be challenged and a lot of people don’t want to be criticized. So therefore, Ailes made enemies after enemies after enemies plus conservative ideology alienated the press right off the jump, and they were out to get him. I mean, if you look at the clip file from the time Fox News started in 1996 to this very day, the negative Fox News articles run 100 to one.
GLENN: All right. Bill O’Reilly at BillOreilly.com. We’re going to continue our conversation. I want to ask him when we come back if — MSNBC is beating Fox News for a week after Bill O’Reilly leaves. Does Fox News survive without Roger Ailes? Without Bill O’Reilly and others in possibly a new direction? We get that. Also, I want to talk about Trump, the week’s he’s had, Comey, and you can hear him every day on his podcast at BillOreilly.com.
GLENN: Bill, I’ve got about two minutes here, and I want to switch and go onto something about Trump. Something stunning happened that has never happened before. You leave cable news and Rachel Maddow is now number one person on cable news. And MSNBC won cable news for the week. What does that say about — what’s happening? I know you watch the ratings. Is this beginnings of fox actually having to really work hard to hold its place?
BILL: They have a problem. Fox News has a problem. There’s no doubt about it. Whenever you lose key personnel in any industry, competitive industry, sports media, you better have a plan. And it doesn’t look like FNC has a plan.
The Trump haters are going over to MSNBC and there’s a lot of them. A lot of haters. So they’re being bolstered by the problems the president is having. But by the Fox News side, you know, they made their decisions, they didn’t have to make those decisions, and they didn’t have a plan. You know, when you take a guy like me out of the line up, and I’m doing five, six million viewers a night, you better have a plan to replace that. Tucker Carlson is very talented. He’s very good. But I don’t see a plan.