Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly have engaged in their fair share of verbal jousts, but last night at the 92nd Street Y, the two Fox News bloviators were, for the most part, deferential as they discussed such topics as Iraq, gun control, stop and frisk, marijuana, social media and, of course, President Barack Obama, who was fundraising in New York this week.
“O’Reilly,” Mr. Rivera began, “why are you so unremittingly hostile to President Obama?”
“I give him a fair shake,” the talk show host said to a packed house comprised mostly of old white men. “He’s in a rough patch right now.”
Mr. O’Reilly’s utterances felt like a mixture of stump speech and stand-up comedy routine.
“I don’t have ideology written into it,” he said of his show, The O‘Reilly Factor, which airs on weeknights at 8 p.m. “I’m an ombudsman for the folks.”
And who are those folks?
“Working class people with traditional values,” Mr. O’Reilly, who describes himself as a “registered independent,” said to rousing applause. “They don’t like to be told what to do by pinheads.”
Mr. O’Reilly called himself a “fact-based guy.”
“And a lot of people don’t understand that,” he said. “I’m not Rush limbaugh or Al Franken, where everything has to fit into my worldview.”
Mr. Rivera turned the discussion toward immigration, a subject that almost resulted in an on-air brawl between the two TV personalities in 2007.
You’re a proud descendant of Irish immigrants, Mr. Rivera said. Are you suggesting that we deport 7-year-olds?
“If I were president,” said Mr. O’Reilly, who takes a hardline approach to immigration reform, “they wouldn’t have gotten in because the national guard would have been on patrol.”
Why doesn’t he run for president then?
“I don’t want to get involved in a system in which I have to promise things for money,” he said, adding: “I have more power than anybody but the president.”
Is the president disengaged?
“I think he’s overwhelmed,” he said, to yet another round of vigorous hand-clapping. “Barack Obama had no experience running anything.”
(“What President Obama believes, and I know this to be true, is that we’re not a fair country,” Mr. O’Reilly later said.)
What if Hillary Clinton had won the presidential election in 2008? Would the country be in better shape?
“Geraldo just asked a good question, because with Hillary you get Bill,” Mr. O’Reilly noted. “He understands how the world works. Hillary Clinton doesn’t understand how the world works. She doesn’t.”
The discussion turned to Fox News.
“If you want to think that Fox News is an arm of the Republican Party then you’re misinformed,” Mr. O’Reilly said calmly.
But isn’t the network pretty hard on the president? Mr. Rivera asked.
Mr. O’Reilly proceeded to go through the network’s segments. He called Steve Doocy of Fox & Friends an “Obama basher.” The other two, he said, referring to Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Brian Kilmeade, “they’d rather whip up a soufflé.” Shepard Smith he called “a liberal.” Sean Hannity? “Reagan Republican.” (It spans the gamut at Fox.)
MSNBC took a bashing from Mr. O’Reilly. “Al Sharpton is giving me a headache,” he said.
CNN took one too. “They don’t have any flamboyant obnoxious people like you and me,” Mr. O’Reilly told Mr. Rivera. “Wolf Blitzer, he looks like a U-Boat commander.”
Mr. O’Reilly said that if he were in control right now he would bomb Iraq, which is under attack by the insurgent group ISIS.
“I don’t give a whit what the Iraqi government thinks, [Prime Minister] Maliki and all those corrupt midgets” he said. “This is between Al-Qaeda and us.”
Of another leader, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. O’Reilly said: “I would never talk to Putin unless he had a shirt on.”
(Fortunately for Mr. O’Reilly, and the audience at 92Y, Mr. Rivera, who wore black boots, rose-colored glasses and a beige suit, kept his shirt on for this affair.)
On social media: “Killing the kids,” he said. “They can’t handle the machines, they’re not emotionally ready for them.”
Gun control: “If you live in Montana a bear might eat you. If you live in the city, chances are he’ll be eaten before he gets here.”
Stop and frisk: “I would never have called it stop and frisk,” he said. “That was the big thing. I would have called it meet and greet.”
Horse carriages: “Give the Irish guys a break.”
Mr. Rivera told Mr. O’Reilly that he must be the only adult he knows who’s never tried marijuana. Why hasn’t he ever indulged in a toke?
“Because,” Mr. O’Reilly said, “I’m uninhibited enough.”