I have a confession to make. I was punk’d by Bill O’Reilly. My wife was too. And I didn’t know to stop—let alone top—him. But I’ve got the skills now, thanks to a master who’ll show you how to whack O’Reilly back. In the body of this diary, I’ll impart that knowledge to you.
If you read on, I promise you’ll become a hero to me and the long parade of suckers—er—guests humiliated by that balding, soft and sedentary man in a suit.
First, let me explain the guy to those of you who watch TMZ for the "news." In the world of talking heads, no cranium is more swollen than Bill O’Reilly’s. After a checkered early broadcasting career, including a stint on tabloid TV news show Inside Edition, Bill moved to Fox News in 1996, where he now hosts The O’Reilly Factor, the number one cable news show, with over two million viewers. And while that’s only a tiny fraction of, say, The Mentalist’s 20 million, O’Reilly has parlayed his odious charisma into a huge paycheck and national notoriety.
My own history with O’Reilly is brief and painful. In 1997, my wife and I wrote a little book called I Forgot to Wear Underwear on a Glass-Bottom Boat, about the extraordinary secrets of ordinary Americans. Not exactly political, unless you consider a story like "I Threw Up on a 20-Topping Pizza and None of My Fraternity Brothers Even Noticed" an argument to raise the legal drinking age to 30.
So how’d we wind up on a Fox News show then called the O’Reilly Report? I have no idea. I also had no idea, at the time, who Bill O’Reilly was. Fox News was slightly more than a year old and our local cable provider didn’t carry it.
Nevertheless, we soon found ourselves in midtown Manhattan, burly Fox News security guards ushering us into a "green room" the size of a coffin where we hobnobbed with Adam West, the original TV Batman and another guest of even lesser celebrity wattage. As you can see, O’Reilly wasn’t big time yet.
I was completely relaxed. I mean, when you’re promoting a book about secrets, you don’t expect a third-degree grilling, right? Plus, a pair of O’Reilly’s producers had prepped us with the questions he would be asking.
In fact, I was already looking past the interview to a meal at our junior publicist’s favorite gourmet restaurant—all on our generous publisher’s tab.
Boy, did I ejaculate prematurely.
Let me put it this way: Have you ever been surprised by a tap on the shoulder? Then, when you turned around with a stupid smile on your face, you got punched out by a superhero with a 2,000 pound concrete fist? Me neither. But that’s the best way I can describe the mugging that transpired from the moment we set foot on the O’Reilly Report’s cheap, vinyl-clad, cable-access-level set.
My wife puts it more prosaically. Take the mic, baby:
"Bill O’Reilly was pompous, arrogant and dismissive, yet he wasn’t even man enough to look me in the eye. He leafed through our book, dropped it back on his desk, sneered, and didn’t ask a single question his producers had prepared us for. Clearly, that a**hole had higher ambitions. He was only sharpening his claws for the pursuit of bigger game than us and f***ing retired TV Batman!"
Since then, O’Reilly has turned a host of actual luminaries into quivering jelly, from Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman to—yes—Barack Obama. (And if you don’t believe he did, You Tube probably has the tapes.)
I don’t know how President Obama feels about O’Reilly, but I’ve been dying for payback since 1997. And in you, avid reader, and the gentleman I’m about to introduce you to, I think it’s gonna happen.
After months of sleuthing, I finally found "Floyd Yeltsin" hanging about the lurid confines of an infamous New York topless bar with the incongruous name of "Happy Feet." I’d been told it was here that he loudly debated any and all comers about subjects ranging from nuclear disarmament and the existence of God to whether management watered down the cocktails during Happy Hour. Floyd was a legendary, Harvard-, Sorbonne- and Oxford-educated, once-renowned, now-disgraced high school debate coach, fired from his last job for employing controversial techniques including:
*Magnetizing the braces of an opposing debater so he couldn’t open his mouth.
*Requiring one of his buxom charges to flash her breasts and "throw off the rhythm" of the other team’s debater.
*Developing a list of 25 pro/con topics, all of which revolved around one aspect or another of teen-age sex.
*Blinding a competitor with a laser light as he was making an important point.
*Filling the opposing team’s water pitcher with a 40 percent solution of vodka.
*And the final straw: Jerking down on an opponent’s tie in a failed attempt to smash his forehead on the lectern.
In subsequent years, Yeltsin had briefly published a self-described "edgy" scholarly debating journal called Blunt Force Talking, the basic theory of which was that actions spoke louder than words. The publication advocated an extreme form of debating in which polysyllabic words were disallowed. It was discontinued when a prototype competition ended in an unscheduled riot.
When I located Floyd, he was on the third couch to the left of the center stage pole, nursing a Gin Fizz, the signature drink of his coaching heyday. In the dazzling light of a disco ball, he appeared to be about 45 going on 70, with sallow skin, unwashed gray hair and an unevenly-trimmed dyed-orange goatee.
Our first exchange did not go well. "Your mom gives better blow jobs than your dad!" Floyd screamed, after I introduced myself and my quest to vanquish Bill O’Reilly. "Which side you want? Pro or con?" Before I could answer, he unleashed a five-minute stream of invective that was both surprisingly personal and profoundly disturbing. I was thrilled. The rumors were true: Bill O’Reilly had modeled himself after Floyd Yeltsin, toned down for TV. He’d had no choice, because Floyd, unfiltered, was too strong for public consumption.
Then Floyd gummed a toothless smile, clapped my shoulder and added, "You will need the hide of a rhino to beat O’Reilly. My first suggestion is for you to prepare for battle by getting a loved one who knows you intimately to excoriate you in the vilest possible language, exposing your every physical flaw and psychological weak point for a minimum of five minutes twice a day. But before that, consider this: O’Reilly has lost every shred of human decency, and that’s what makes him so effective. Only by losing your own sense of decency can you beat him. Are your readers ready to take that step?"
"Without a doubt."
"Wonderful. That ingrate O’Reilly stole my act and he’s terrified about debating me directly. This way, I can put him back in his rightful place—kissing my feet—because I am his master."
Floyd then regaled me through two shifts of dancers about how "absolutely anyone can devastate Bill O’Reilly in a debate. What you need are the right techniques, not the right position."
Here, in capsule form, are Floyd Yelstin’s devastating debate tips:
- Rid yourself of every shred of human decency and compassion.
- Have a loved one loudly identify your every flaw for at least five minutes, twice daily.
- Stand on a street corner in your city’s toughest neighborhood and pick arguments with total strangers.
- Bring O’Reilly to your home turf, whether that’s a "topless bar, crack house or public men’s room," says Floyd. "At Fox News, the game is fixed so that only O’Reilly can win. He throws bean balls at every batter and gets away with it. Truth be told, his whole show is a racket. O’Reilly is allowed to violate every rule of ethical debate while maintaining the pretense that’s he’s fair and balanced."
- Pack the crowd. "On O’Reilly’s set, the guest is surrounded by hostile Fox News employees. It’s like being trapped behind enemy lines. The entire scenario is carefully constructed to O’Reilly’s benefit—even his chair is raised up so that he towers over you. Exploit your own home field advantage by packing the audience with muscle-bound friends possessing one or more felony convictions."
- Offer O’Reilly a carrot on a stick. "Every guest who appears on The Factor holds his tongue in return for the opportunity to expose his ideas to two million people. Disarm O’Reilly with a similar incentive like a post-debate lap dance with a broad in the back room. Not that he’d ever indulge..."
- Act like a psychopath. "Scream and rant at every opportunity. Instill fear. Make it appear that a single wrong word out of O’Reilly’s mouth could launch you on a homicidal rampage."
- Answer every O’Reilly question with another question. "It’ll drive him nuts. In addition, smile condescendingly or laugh uproariously at every point he tries to make."
- Finally, your ace in the hole: "Visualize a man of O’Reilly’s age, stature and appearance masturbating in a hotel room as he engages in phone sex with an unwilling young assistant. Superimpose that image over the real O’Reilly during the entire debate. That’ll bring him down to size."
- Declare victory the instant the debate ends. "Perception is everything. Leap from your seat into the arms of your admirers. Perform a victory dance—then rub it in by patting O’Reilly on the back and congratulating him for finishing second."
I thanked Floyd for his help, bought him a Gin Fizz and exited Happy Feet. Later in my hotel room near Fox News, I discovered a note he had slipped into my shirt pocket. On it he had scrawled a practice debate topic: "If God really exists, why is there Bill O’Reilly?"
The podium is yours.