In his most intimate book yet, O’Reilly goes back in time to examine the people, places, and experiences that launched him on his journey from working-class kid to immensely influential television personality and bestselling author. Readers will learn how his traditional outlook was formed in the crucible of his family, his neighborhood, his church, and his schools, and how his views on America’s proper role in the world emerged from covering four wars on five continents over three-plus decades as a news correspondent. What will delight his numerous fans and surprise many others is the humor and self-deprecation with which he handles one of his core subjects: himself, and just how O’Reilly became O’Reilly.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer "present" or "not guilty."
If you watch the bold, fresh guy on television or listen to me on the radio, you know I'm not a rabidly partisan political guy. I don't endorse candidates for office or shill for them in any way. Party affiliation does not matter to me. Over the years, my philosophy has evolved into this: I vote for the person who I believe will do the least amount of damage to the country. It is rare that a true problem solver is nominated for office, so usually it's who will do the least amount of harm to the folks.
I know that sounds cynical, but let's be honest: politics in America is a money play full of charlatans and crazed ideologues. Once in a while a person of true principle emerges, but the media usually quickly destroys that candidate because honesty always, and I mean always, collides with ideology. Only independent thinkers can deliver unbiased appraisals of complicated problems, and independent thinkers have little chance to succeed in our -two--party system, which demands rigid adherence to left or right doctrine.
My philosophy about what's best for America is spelled out in vivid detail in my last book, Culture Warrior, so there's no need to state it again. However, no matter what I say or write, fanatics will attack it because -Kool--Aid--drinking ideologues on both sides resent my national platform and nonaligned analysis. I'm amused that the -far left attempts to demonize me as a rigid conservative, while at the same time the far right despises me because I'm not reactionary enough. As I always say, as long as the extremists hate me, I know I'm doing my job. So bring it on, Sean Penn and Michael Savage. You guys are totally nuts; it's a compliment that both of you attack me.
The political angst that I now proudly cause began rather early in my life. Thinking back, I realize my first brush with politics happened in 1956, when I heard my mother sing:
I like Ike.
I'll say it again and again.
I like Ike.
Let him finish the job he began.
Since I was just six years old, I -didn't "like Ike" because I -didn't know who the heck he was. I did know Buffalo Bob and Mighty Mouse, Davy Crockett and Elvis, but not this guy Ike. Both of my parents were traditional people in most ways but were also politically independent. Because the O'Reilly clan comprised mainly civil servants working in New York City, they were loyal Democrats. On my mother's side, the Kennedys and Drakes usually voted Democratic as well.
But the Democrat running against President Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson, was an avowed social liberal and held zero appeal for my parents, who believed strongly in -self--reliance and -Judeo--Christian values. Stevenson would say that year, "Trust the people. Trust their good sense." Well, old Adlai -shouldn't have been shocked that my folks and most others living in Levittown -didn't trust him. Overwhelmingly, they voted for Ike.
One of the reasons was his service. My father was a naval officer during World War II and respected Dwight Eisenhower's performance in the European theater. Back then and still today, traditional people supported the military. Ike won a second term in a landslide.
To me, a fresh but also shallow little kid, politics was really boring. Outside of the St. Brigid's classroom, my childhood was largely one big game. I played four sports: football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey. When games weren't scheduled, we played stickball in the street: cheap game, all you needed was a rubber ball and a broomstick. We also played -keep--away and ringolevio (don't ask). We were sweating all the time and had zero interest in public policy. For us, the Cold War took place on a hockey pond in -mid--January.
Forced into the Arena
As the election approached, my -sixth--grade teacher, a kindly old woman named Mrs. Boyle, came up with an idea. The class should have a debate. And since I never shut up, I was chosen to be one of the debaters. This was not good. I had no idea what a debate was, much less whom I should support. Giants versus Yankees, I knew. Kennedy against Nixon? Total blank.
"So, William," Mrs. Boyle said, "which candidate will you support?"
"Is Davy Crockett running?"
Yes, I actually said that stupid thing. But Mrs. Boyle was used to my nonsense, and so was the class, which considered me a hopeless buffoon. Since I had only two choices, I took Nixon, because my father was louder than my mother. It's true that was my sole rationale; Republicans and Democrats -didn't even enter into my thinking. Because my dad bloviated more about stuff than my mom, I figured he'd be happy to give me some debating tips.
My father, all six feet four inches, two hundred and ten pounds of him, lumbered home from work every day around six thirty p.m., exactly twelve hours from the time he left for the office in the morning. His job as a money changer for an oil company was boring, and, as stated, my mother's culinary skills were, well, incredibly bad. So, in addition to being exhausted by dull and tedious work, my father was usually hungry. This is not a good combination for a big Irish guy with a temper.
Typically, my sister and I usually avoided Dad until about noon on Saturday. He cooked breakfast on the weekends, which put him in a better frame of mind. My father's cooking was far superior to my mom's and she knew it. But she -didn't actually care.
I'm telling you all this because my plan was to have my father write down what I should say about Richard Nixon, to tell me why the guy was the greatest. In that way, I could memorize my father's point of view and dazzle Mrs. Boyle and the class with the wisdom of my dad, which, of course, I would claim as my own. I mean, how great was this strategy?
So, on the eve of the big debate, with pen and paper in hand, I asked my father why he was voting for Nixon. Sitting on the floor, I was poised to write down every single word.
"Because Kennedy's father is a crook," my dad said.
"Really, a crook?" I asked.
"In what way?"
"Sold booze during Prohibition."
Oh. I -didn't know what Prohibition actually was, but it sounded good, so I wrote it down, badly misspelling the -P--word.
Still, I needed more or it would be a short debate, so I pressed on.
"What about Nixon; why do you like him?"
"Don't like him," my father answered.
"YOU DON'T LIKE HIM?" Almost immediately, I was panicking.
"They're all phonies," my father answered, and went back to watching The Ed Sullivan Show.
I remember scribbling in my notebook: Kennedy's dad is a crook. . . sold booze. . . pro something. . . my dad hates Nixon. They're all phonies. A vague sense of doom gripped me, but what could I do? My father had spoken and was not a man you badgered for anything.
The next day, Monday, Mrs. Boyle announced that the debate would be held after the lunch recess. On my side were two other young Republicans; on the other side were three Democrats. All I remember about the ensuing fiasco is that I said something about Nixon being tough on the Russians and Kennedy's father being a crook. The other side totally ignored me and hammered home just one emphatic point: JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY WAS CATHOLIC!
They won the debate by a landslide.
Fine with me. That debating business was far too much work. Back then, if anyone had ever suggested that I would eventually become famous for debating on television, Mrs. Boyle would have called the mental health authorities to take a close look at the child who had suggested it.
After the election, the new Kennedy administration impacted me only because of the fallout-shelter drills at school. Once in a while a bell rang and all the St. Brigid's kids had to file out to the school parking lot, where, we were told, if a random atom bomb happened to fall nearby, buses would whisk us away to some underground bunker. Nobody seemed very concerned about it, but a few years later, the Cuban missile crisis did get the attention of the smarter kids.
But, obviously, I was not one of the smarter kids. American Bandstand had more influence on me than President Kennedy or any other politician. In fact, about the only time I locked in on Kennedy was when comedian Vaughn Meader did a -dead--on impression of him on TV. There was also a song called "My Daddy Is President" by a kid trying to imitate Caroline Kennedy, the President's young daughter. I remember thinking the song was stupid, which is somewhat incomprehensible, since I liked a Christmas song recorded by singers imitating chipmunks. It was that kind of taste and logic that defined me as a child.
The End of Innocence
At home, my parents never said much about the murder itself but were glued to Walter Cronkite for information. I remember that my father -didn't much care for Lyndon Johnson, who was distant to him in many ways. My mother was mostly worried about Jackie Kennedy and her two young children.
But, all in all, politics and the issues of the day did not intrude very much on the O'Reilly family situation. We soldiered on, so to speak, without much partisan activity. It was the same thing on the street; I can never remember my friends discussing politics at all. Why would you? We had the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Rangers, and Knicks. It was exhausting.
Then came the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love in San Francisco. For us teenagers in my Levittown neighborhood, love was often demonstrated in cars on dark lanes. But as Bob Dylan sang, the times were -a--changin'. Vietnam began heating up, and a few of the older guys came home injured from Southeast Asia. Some others showed up with completely altered personalities. For the first time in my life, I saw -close up what war could do. Curious, I talked with some of the returning vets, and they all said the same thing: Vietnam was chaos; there was nothing good about it.
That fall, I entered Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, exempt from the draft on a student deferment. Most of the neighborhood guys who did not have that advantage were called up, and many shipped out to Southeast Asia. One neighborhood guy came home from Vietnam and killed himself. Another became a -hard--core drug addict. Like everyone else, I saw the fighting on television and heard the intense debates. So I decided to ask my father about it. He said the war was a disaster, nothing like World War II, when the country was united against enemies that had directly attacked us. He -didn't further explain his opinion, but his blunt words overrode everything else on the subject, as far as I was concerned. My father was a tough guy, sometimes irrational in his anger over petty stuff. But he never lied to me and he was not uninformed. If he thought the Vietnam situation was screwed up, it was screwed up.
As opposition to the war mounted throughout the country, I paid more attention, but typically, I was essentially detached from most of it. Playing football for Marist College, socializing, and occasionally studying occupied most of my time. Even though not -pro--war, my father and many other Levittowners were rapidly becoming
appalled by the often outlandish behavior displayed by -hard--core antiwar activists. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and the rest of the militant protesters brought a few choice words from LTJG William O'Reilly Sr. As a former naval officer, he -didn't like drugs, he -didn't like sloppy appearances, and he -didn't like the pounding music from Iron Butterfly. He -wasn't overly angry with the yippies and hippies; he was more confused by them. What had happened to America?
I rarely discussed the state of the country with my father during my summers at home, because we were both working long hours. He was still a -low--level bean counter, and I made money as a swimming instructor for the Town of Babylon on Long Island. One night, however, I did play him a cut from the new Doors album. I can't remember why I did such an inexplicable thing, but I do clearly recall his terse response: "Stick with Elvis."
At the same time, my father recoiled from the "America right or wrong" crowd. He wanted effective leadership in Washington, not fatuous propaganda. As the war foundered, his opinion of President Johnson and the Democratic establishment cratered, and, without viable
options in the campaign of 1968, my father was forced again to support Richard Nixon for President. As they say in MAD magazine: yeeesh.
Meanwhile, my college career was going the way that most college careers go: I did my work, tried and failed to beguile young ladies, and had a load of mindless fun without getting loaded. Well, I might be a bit unusual in that last category. You'll get a more thorough explanation later.
Also, because I had begun writing for the college newspaper, I started paying closer attention to world events, which were growing more chaotic by the week, both at home and abroad. Still, at Marist College, the antiwar movement was rather placid, because most of the students there were sons and daughters of working people: cops, firemen, salesmen, and the like. Those folks were not real enthusiastic about chanting, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" Trust me, few were burning flags and/or bras in Levittown.
Till It's Over-Over There
I was turned down!
Outrage gripped me. Turned down? Are you kidding me? My grades were better than most of those accepted, and I even spent more than an hour writing the damn Third Year Abroad essay explaining my desire to "accelerate my knowledge." It was complete BS, but so were all the other essays. What the heck was going on?
The answer to that question takes us back to my experience in grammar school: remember when I was labeled a "bold, fresh piece of humanity"? The problem, according to some Marist teachers, was that I was still simply that. In the eyes of my instructors, I had not evolved very much from the little wise guy that Sister Lurana had accurately branded. In short, I was a Philistine who could not be trusted to represent the college in a sophisticated foreign country-or any other destination, for that matter.
Now, I'm the type of guy who does not readily accept the word no. I've succeeded in my career because the more negative things said about me, the harder I work to disprove them. Living well is not the best revenge. Succeeding in your career and humiliating your critics is.
Anyway, I demanded that the professors running the abroad program explain themselves or I would write an article accusing them of -anti--Irish bias. Or -anti--Levittown bias. Or whatever bias I could conjure up. In a tense meeting, I explained to those pinheads that I studied hard, had achieved a high grade point average, had avoided any misdemeanor or felony convictions, and actually attended church most every Sunday.
So what say you, Professors?
They folded. I was accepted into the program. The problem was, I -didn't actually want to go abroad. But I had caused such a ruckus that, in September 1969, I found myself on an ocean liner sailing from New York City to Southampton, England. Accompanying me were hundreds of other students, many of whom were -long--haired, -pot--fueled male maniacs who did far better with the female passengers than I did.
Plus, I got seasick. Not good at all.
When I arrived in London to begin my courses at Queen Mary College, a satellite of the University of London, I immediately ran into a lot of -anti--American feeling. The Vietnam War, of course, was just as unpopular in Great Britain as it was in the USA, but there was also an undercurrent of hostility toward the American system in general. In my student dormitory, Commonwealth Hall, some of the "blokes" actually disliked me solely because of my citizenship!
Certainly we all can understand loathing me because of personality issues, but embracing hate simply because I was born in the USA? Completely unacceptable.
One guy named Derek consistently gave me a hard time about my New Yawk accent. It was clear to him that everything in British culture was far superior to anything America had to offer. I found this kind of amusing, since the -highest--rated TV program in En-gland in 1969 was Top of the Pops, a -rip--off of American Bandstand. And, for much of the year, the -highest--rated song on that program was a ditty by a group called Edison Lighthouse that featured this perceptive chorus:
Love grows where my Rosemary goes,
and nobody knows like me.
As the British are fond of saying: indeed.
Anyway, I annoyed Derek by mocking the Pops, and he continued on about my speech patterns until I let loose with this bit of intellectual wisdom: "Hey, bud, you'd have a German accent if it -wasn't for my father and thousands of other New Yorkers like him. So blank you, fish and chips, and the Beatles. Get me?"
Make friends everywhere; that's always been my motto. Somewhere in Poughkeepsie, the head of the abroad program was weeping.
The -anti--Americanism I witnessed in the dorm, during antiwar demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, in the British classrooms, and on the BBC, did not go down real well with me. I was no fan of the Vietnam War, but even at nineteen years old, I loved my country and understood its essential nobility. America is not a perfect place, but the good heavily outweighs the bad, and those who despise us around the world are misguided and often tee me off. So the origin of my intense feelings for the USA can be charted back to those intense days in London. Throughout my year over there, I gave it to the America haters good, often using a very loud New Yawk accent to do my debating. Blimey.
To this day, I believe much of the -anti--Americanism in Europe is driven by simple jealousy. America is a big, loud dog that generally struts its stuff. Many folks, even in the United States, do not like that kind of presentation. Overseas, some people form shallow, negative judgments about the USA without understanding or even looking at the overall picture. Throughout our history, Americans have freed hundreds of millions of people all over the world, yet a 2007 Pew Research poll, to use one example, found that the majority of British subjects have an unfavorable view of America. Even fueled by Guinness, that's a tough one to swallow.
Excerpted from "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity"
Copyright © 2010 Bill O'Reilly.
Excerpted by permission of Crown/Archetype.
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