For the past six years, President Barack Obama has sat down with various news anchors from the respective television networks that have broadcasted the Super Bowl. Bill O’Reilly last spoke to the President in 2011 when Fox showed the match, and he stepped up to the plate once more this year. In the style of interviewing for which is he best known, O’Reilly took an aggressive stance when he posed questions about the 2012 attack on Benghazi, Lybia and the U.S. government’s rollout of, among other issues. Viewers can find a complete copy of the interview on the Fox News website.

It is O’Reilly’s aggressive stance versus the President’s passive interviewing style that shaped the nature of this year’s interview. O’Reilly repeatedly tried to back Obama into a corner where he would directly answer the questions posed to him. Obama, in turn, politely refuses such directness in favor of long-winded explanations.

A quick analysis of each question O’Reilly poses to Obama can lead viewers past what lies on the surface and into the depths of each man’s character. Their characters inherently affect their questions and responses to one another, and as a result, viewers can gain deeper insight about the interview as a whole.


President Obama leans back, relaxed, as O’Reilly leans in intensely.
Image: Fox

To begin, O’Reilly states that he wants to “get some things on the record.” That statement wholly includes his intention to find out specific information about various events. The directness of his statement, and the fact that he says it at the outset, implies also that he’s sending a message to the President that he doesn’t want any indirect information. The interview was scheduled only for 10 minutes, and O’Reilly indicates that he wants answers /now/.

He then asks Obama his first question, about the rollout: “When did you know that there were going to be problems with [the] computers?” His question addresses only the President, yet the President responds by saying, “I think we all anticipated that there would be glitches.” Obama acknowledges that the website could have problems — like new programs often do — and he speaks about how it’s the government’s problem as a whole, not just his own. He then comments that he didn’t anticipate how large the glitches would be and focuses on the degree of the problem when O’Reilly interrupts and asks a similar question to corner the President as an individual.

O’Reilly follows up by asking Obama why he didn’t fire the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius after the rollout started so poorly. He insinuates that “she had to know… that it wasn’t going to work,” to which Obama replies in the same manner as he did to the first question. Obama says that the government’s priority is to create a website that works. He intentionally chooses not to speak about the past — about Sibelius. Instead, he speaks about what is necessary now and will be in the future. And again, viewers see O’Reilly latch onto his response with an interruption. “You’re not going to answer that?” he says, not five seconds into the President’s initial response.

O’Reilly doesn’t let up in his next question, when he asks Obama, “Was it the biggest mistake of your presidency to tell the nation, over and over, ‘If you like your insurance you can keep your insurance’?” And he continues his focus on Obama as a singular entity when, after that question, he asks the President if former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the President that the attack on Benghazi was a “terrorist” attack.

The Fox News anchor pushes for the President to say whether or not his statement concerning insurance were the “biggest mistake” and whether or not Panetta said the Benghazi attack was a “terrorist” attack. He clearly wants to hear a “yes” or “no” answer for the former question and the word “terrorist” in regard to the second question. Throughout the interview, he seeks direct answers and words with powerful connotations.

The President clearly doesn’t give in to those demands. He responds to every question by either passing blame for mistakes across a number of government entities — insisting that various government departments and individuals are necessary to implement and fix government programs — or by describing the nature of a situation as it currently exists. Often, he does both.

Obama makes a point to be laid back; O’Reilly makes a point to confront. Viewers can even see that in each man’s body language, where the Fox News video shows Obama leaning back in his chair and O’Reilly sitting on the edge of his own. Their postures are intentional, and each posture respectively speaks to the nature of each man’s being.

In this interview and in others that include either figure, make it a point to notice the interviewer’s and interviewee’s posture and repeated ways in which they interact with each other. When it comes to conversation, there is always more than the text in a transcript. There is context. And context can mean nearly everything.