When former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin signed a contract in January to become a regular guest on Fox News, many of her critics said it was part of a strategy by the Republican to avoid tough or skeptical questions and engage only with friendly members of the media.
But Bill O’Reilly appears to have missed that memo.
The larger-than-life Fox News host with the top rated cable news show on TV has a history of challenging Palin. “You don’t have that much experience,” he told the former governor last fall, though he has also defended her performance as governor.
But Palin’s two most recent appearances on “The O’Reilly Factor” have drawn notice for the unusually testy exchanges between the TV titan and the most famous conservative political figure in America. This past Friday, O’Reilly interrupted Palin numerous times and pushed her to give an answer on how she would solve the nation’s immigration problem after securing the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Well, again, first let me go back to the importance of securing the border,” Palin said.
“No, no, but we got that, we got that governor,” O’Reilly interjected.
“Mm mm, no we don’t,” Palin countered.
“Yeah, the people watching this program have it. We have it. We assume that you as president would secure the border,” O’Reilly said. “But now you have to look inward, and you’ve got 12 million people staring at you. What are you going to have them do?”
Palin talked generally about not giving illegal immigrants a “free pass” and said, “We’re not going to reward the bad behavior.” She even, when asked what to do with immigrants who don’t register with the government, responded: “You deport ’em.”
But when O’Reilly pressed her to outline what to do with those who do register for normalization, Palin was either unable or unwilling to answer the question: “Bill, it makes me uncomfortable that we’re even going down that path so far when—”
“You have to go,” O’Reilly interrupted. “You have to go down that path because it’s going to come up.”
“This is where it gets very complicated governor,” O’Reilly said to Palin, who wore an expression that could be described as irritated or bemused.
WATCH: PALIN AND O’REILLY SPAR ON IMMIGRATION
Jere Hester, a former New York Daily News City Desk Editor who now teaches at CUNY’s School of Journalism, called it “an extraordinary exchange.”
O’Reilly’s quizzing of Palin on how to plug the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, during a June 15 interview, was not as tense as the most recent appearance. But O’Reilly did express disbelief at Palin’s argument that Obama was not doing everything he could to stop the gusher.
“I kind of have a big beef with you too though, Bill, if you don’t acknowledge that President Obama is wrong on his call for a need for energy policy,” Palin said.
A spokesman for Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC, declined to comment. But partisans on both sides of the Palin divide – those who love her and those who hate her – have taken notice.
“Whatever she’s for or not [on immigration], Bill O’Reilly doesn’t seem to have much respect for her ‘insights’ on the subject,” wrote the liberal website Newshounds.us. “For the second time in a few weeks, he virtually destroyed her credibility when she was poised to use his show to boost it.”
But a website with a close association to Palin – Conservatives4Palin.com – lashed out at O’Reilly.
“Mr. O’Reilly prides himself on being fair and balanced. O’Reilly regularly proclaims that when he interviews Governor Palin he’ll be fair without asking her gotcha questions. Well, on Friday night O’Reilly broke his own rule,” said the website.
“Had O’Reilly stopped interrupting her and allowed her to answer his question we would actually have heard what she had to say. Twice the Governor begun explaining her position and O’Reilly rudely interrupted her,” said a post author at Conservatives4Palin named Sheya. “To Bill O’Reilly: Can you PLEASE let Governor Palin finish her sentences so you actually get the ANSWER to your questions. You know, you may learn something in the process.”
WATCH: O’REILLY CHALLENGES PALIN ON BP OIL SPILL
Conservatives4Palin.com was started in part by a woman, Rebecca Mansour, who left the site to become a paid Palin consultant. SarahPAC paid Mansour $22,000 from April to June of this year for help with grassroots organizing and with managing Palin’s online presence, largely through her very active Facebook page, according to Federal Election Campaign filings.
A veteran Republican operative, however, said the O’Reilly sessions are good for Palin.
“Bill and Palin make for good TV. He gives her a run for her money and she feels free to give it right back to him,” the GOP official said. “The dynamic is a good one for the network, and it also helps stretch her on policy questions she would not otherwise feel obliged to answer.”