The veteran newsman and outspoken host of The O'Reilly Factor has traveled the country in search of the big stories. Here, he reveals some of the places and spaces he's encountered along the way.
It's 90 minutes before Bill O'Reilly begins another broadcast of his hit show, The O'Reilly Factor, a nightly talkfest in which the highly opinionated host discusses issues of the day with pertinent individuals. Beyond being the number-one news program in the country, the Fox News Channel franchise has spawned a pair of bestselling books (The O'Reilly Factor and The No Spin Zone) and imparted O'Reilly with an influential voice on America's political scene.
Plain-spoken O'Reilly got his start in news by working his way through local broadcasts in markets such as Dallas, Denver, Boston, and Hartford. He anchored a program on CBS in New York during the early 1980s, worked as a correspondent on ABC's World News Tonight from '86 to '89, and made a strangely zigzaggy move by taking on anchor duties for the tabloidy Inside Edition in 1989. He spent six years there before leaving broadcasting to attend the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he received a master's degree in public administration and was promptly tapped to host his eponymous show on the then burgeoning Fox News Channel.
An old-school reporter whose career has taken him to countless countries and just about every state in the U.S., 55-year-old O'Reilly exudes plenty of prickly skepticism on the air and off. It comes through when he sits down with me in his cluttered corner office - decorated with historically significant front pages, like the one that mistakenly reported "Dewey Defeats Truman" in the 1948 presidential election - and discusses everything from the inner workings of politics to the trickiness of making deadlines on the road to his knack for finding good food in strange cities.
What draws so many people to The O'Reilly Factor?
Straight talk. There are millions of Americans who believe that what we say to them is the truth - which it is - and they respond to that straight talk. This is a program where you know where I stand every second. You know how I feel about things.
Sounds simple enough. Why doesn't everyone get the market share that you do?
You've got to take risks, and broadcast journalists are not known for risk taking. The attitude is that you shouldn't make any waves and everyone will make a lot of money.
What will define the upcoming presidential election?
Two issues: the economy and Iraq. That's all. … It's a very simple election.
And if you were to do a bit of prognosticating …
I couldn't possibly predict the outcome of this election. Normally, we get about 80 percent of our stuff right, but here there are too many things that nobody can know.
What's your favorite city to be in during an election year?
Boston. … My parents met in Boston and I went to school there. It's a great, historic city. It's the foundation of our liberty. If we could get back to our New England roots in this country, we would be a lot better off. Look at the level of political interest in Boston, locally and nationally, and you'll find that it's enormous. Everybody is involved. In other cities, nobody even knows who the mayor is.
You attended Harvard during the 1990s. Any favorite haunts near the university?
Charlie's is the place for cheeseburgers. Henrietta's serves a good breakfast - you walk in, order, and you're out in 15 minutes. But if you really want to get the Harvard thing going, head for the Hasty Pudding Theater and eat in the restaurant upstairs. That's where you see all the guys wearing bow ties. You can make fun of them while you enjoy your English peas. Charlie's is just the opposite. Blue-collars go there to watch the Bruins on TV.
Over the years, you've spent loads of time on the road, traveling for business, dealing with intense deadlines. What do you look for in a hotel?
Discipline. If I see that a front desk is disorderly or the manager isn't available, I don't go there. I need to know that I will get faxes and messages. For that reason, I like the Park Hyatt in Los Angeles. They are cognizant of my needs, get stuff to me quickly, and don't leave callers on hold for five minutes. Those are the things I care about. One bed is the same as another bed, and I don't need a marble tub. I don't have time for the marble tub.
Any special places you like to eat after filing a big story or finishing a particularly compelling show?
I am not a big gourmet guy. I usually go to my old haunts. I have different ones in every city.
Let's hear them.
In New York, there's Langan's, down the street from Fox. I walk in, they know me. [He snaps his fingers.] I don't want to wait an hour for my meal. You're going to laugh at this, but in L.A., I go to a local chain called Hamburger Hamlet. You sit at a booth and can get anything you want. In Dallas, when you're hungry, there is only one place to go: Celebration, on Lovers Lane, for good old Texas cooking. And plenty of it. Jake's is the place to go in Portland, Oregon, for seafood. In Miami, I'll go down to Little Havana and wander into one of the cantinas to get whatever's up that day. I always ask the waiter what he ate, and that's what I get.
You seem to have the values and vibe of an old-school TV reporter. Do you favor any of the media's classic watering holes around the country?
I'm not a big socializer. I like little places like Via Italia on 46th Street in Manhattan. It's a hole-in-the-wall Italian place with great food, no attitude, fairly inexpensive. I don't like a maitre d' handing me a wine cork to smell. I wouldn't know what I was smelling. I just want good food on the table.
You spent some time in Denver as a reporter/anchorman, and were on TV almost every night. Did the exposure make you feel like a big shot?
Back then, the only celebrities in Denver were the Broncos and the local TV guys. Everyone knew us, and it was a lot of fun. Dallas, Denver, and Portland were all good for me. I developed a mentality that's different from what I grew up with on the East Coast, which is where I'm from, and those cities are big enough that I didn't get bored.
What kept you from being bored in Denver?
Denver is beautiful. The whole state of Colorado is nice. On weekends, we went to Durango or Aspen. Clubs in Denver were packed. There were enough sporting events to keep you occupied. But my place in Denver is the Aurora Summit Steakhouse. I'm not a big steak guy, but the meat there is unbelievable. They serve what is probably the best steak in the U.S.
Where do you stay in Denver?
Usually, I stay outside of town, at the Loews Denver. It's got a suburban feel to it. … If I'm going there for a quick hit, I stay at the Brown Palace [downtown].
Back when you were a teenager on Long Island, you knew Billy Joel. You both grew up to spend lots of time on the move. Does a journalist's life on the road ever get as good as a rock-and-roller's?
Never. We've got to work, and we're not sitting around the pool. You can't run up big tabs and do nothing. Look at when we covered the O.J. trial. We were anchored at the courthouse for nine hours. You didn't get back to the hotel with a desire to run around Melrose Avenue all night.
What's your favorite airport?
No contest, Reagan National. The concourses are easy to navigate, you don't walk forever to get to your plane, it's clean, and it's orderly. You feel like you are in a little village.
Looking around the office, I notice that you collect political memorabilia. Do you pick up very much on your travels?
I've got a dozen guys who know I collect, and they send me catalogs. But I usually come across things here in New York. It's the center of art, and these are considered art.
Are there any particularly juicy finds that you'd care to share?
I was at an antiquarian book fair, in the Park Avenue Armory, rummaging through a bin, and I came across a letter signed by Aaron Burr. There was no price on it. The letter was in good condition, but his writing was hard to read. It was about the Louisiana Purchase and James Monroe being in France to negotiate it. I immediately knew that this was big. I asked the dealer what he wanted, and he told me $100. Turns out that it's worth $10,000.
During your years of reporting, you traveled throughout the U.S. Tell me four sights that every American ought to see.
I'm not going to tell anyone what to do, but here are four that impressed me. Let's start with Gettysburg, site of the most important battle ever fought in this country. They haven't changed a blade of grass there. So you can see where the soldiers were and get a sense of scale. Next, you go to Lexington and Concord, outside of Boston. That's where you find out about the minutemen and how the Revolution began. Number three is Mount Rushmore. It's an amazing achievement, and the Black Hills are a great setting. Lastly, I would say Pearl Harbor. Check it out. Visit those four, and you will get a sense of how this country evolved.