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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ernest Shackleton biscuit from 1907 South Pole expedition to sell for £1,500

Lieut Shackleton (Pic: PA)

A single biscuit from Ernest Shackleton's Antarctica ­expedition looks set to make a packet at auction.

The Huntley and Palmers snack that stopped the explorer and his exhausted men starving to death in 1909 is expected to fetch £1,500.

It has somehow survived intact for an amazing 102 years since returning from the intrepid group's hut on the frozen wastes near the South Pole.

Specially made for the gruelling trip and fortified with ­concentrated milk protein Plasmon, the biscuit helped keep up the mens' diminishing strength as they returned from their trip, called the Nimrod mission. One, Frank Wild, later told how Shackleton made him eat the snack daily to stay alive as they headed home from their failed bid to reach the South Pole.

He wrote: "Shackleton privately forced upon me his one breakfast biscuit, and would have given me another tonight had I allowed him."

"I do not suppose that anyone else in the world can realise how much generosity and sympathy was shown by this; I DO by GOD I shall never forget it."

The biscuit will go on sale at Christie's in London on September 29. Spokesman Nicholas Lambourn said: "The biscuits played their part in the Nimrod expedition."

"A lot were made and this one survived for over 100 years."

The highest price paid for a biscuit at auction was £7,637 in 2001. That was from Shackleton's more famous Antarctic expedition in 1914.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Becoming Adolf
Hitler's Toothbrush mustache is one of the most powerful symbols of the last century, an inch of hair that represents infinite evil. The author had his reasons for deciding to wear one.
by Rich Cohen

The Toothbrush mustache will forever be associated with its famous wearer, Adolf Hitler. The Toothbrush mustache will forever be associated with its famous wearer, Adolf Hitler. By Heinrich Hoffmann/Corbis.

I decided to grow a Toothbrush mustache. Well, that's not what I called it. Until I started this story, I had only one name for the thing in mind: a Hitler mustache. An inch of hair that speaks of bottomless evil. A few nights earlier, I had seen Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, interviewed by Bill O'Reilly, who, citing Stalin and Hitler, said he thought atheists, because of their lack of restraining faith, were more susceptible to evil. To which Dawkins (in essence) replied: both Stalin and Hitler wore mustaches—do we therefore think the mustache was the cause of their behavior? I experienced this as an epiphany: By Jove! I said to myself. It was the mustache! From that moment, I stopped shaving. From that moment, I started reading. From that moment, I became wrapped up in facial hair, and the role it has played in politics. The Toothbrush mustache offered a new way to look at the past. It was a pinprick through which I could see the old scene from a fresh angle. It was the history of our time retold as the story of the 'stache.

The author and his Hitler mustache. Photograph by Gasper Tringale.

The Toothbrush mustache is the most powerful configuration of facial hair the world has ever known. It overpowers whoever touches it. By merely doodling a Toothbrush mustache on a poster, you make a political statement. Actually wearing a Hitler mustache, as I planned to do—well, that is like yelling racial epithets in a crowded subway. Wasn't Hitler amazing? Whatever he touched turned to ice. His life ended the long and fabled career of the name Adolf, which had included the stories of Adolph Zukor, Adolphe Menjou, Adolph Ochs, and Adolph Coors. Never again will a pregnant mother innocently consider the name for her son, or imagine shouting it across a teeming playground. As for the Toothbrush mustache, it did not only die with the Führer—it was embalmed with him. It was his essence, and so it has been relegated to the black book of history.

This is the part where I am supposed to explain just why I decided to write this story now. I might talk about the re-emergence of facial hair on the world stage, or the rise of the "new anti-Semitism," or Holocaust denial in Iran, but, the fact is, my interest in the Hitler mustache never started and never ends. It is always. If you're a Jew, the Hitler mustache exists in the eternal present. I grew it for the same reason Richard Pryor said the word "nigger." I wanted to defuse it. I wanted to own it. I wanted to reclaim it for America and for the Jews. My name is Rich Cohen, and I wear a Hitler mustache.

The Imperial, the Walrus, the Stromboli, the Handlebar, the Horseshoe, the Mustachio (also called the Nosebeard or the Fantastico), the Pencil, also called (by idiots) the Mouthbrow—the catalogue is illustrious. (The history of the razor is longer than the history of the mustache, but only by a few minutes.) Most mustaches lie waiting for some Clark Gable or Tom Selleck to fix them in the mind. The greatest are identified with a single man, a bad man, usually, who so wrapped his identity with a particular configuration of facial hair that the two became inseparable. Like the Fu Manchu, in which long tresses hang to the chin, where they can be stroked as the madman laughs. It is named for Sax Rohmer's (racist) villain from the golden age of Hollywood, the bad guy from the B movies who became a symbol for the creeping Asian menace. Or think of the long, droopy Pancho Villa. It was worn by the pistol-flashing Mexican bandito as he chased gringos through the border towns along the Rio Grande. These days, you see it only on Halloween, or at reunion shows of Crosby, Stills & Nash.

The Toothbrush mustache was first introduced in Germany by Americans, who turned up with it at the end of the 19th century the way Americans would turn up with ducktails in the 1950s. It was a bit of modern efficiency, an answer to the ornate mustaches of Europe—pop effluvia that fell into the grip of a bad, bad man.[1] Before that, the most popular mustache in Germany and Austria had been the sort worn by the royals. It was called the Kaiser, and it was elaborate. It was perfumed, styled, teased and trained. It turned up at the ends. It was the old, monarchical world that was about to be crushed by the rising tide of assembly-line America. In other words, in the case of Hitler and his 'stache, America faced an extreme case of blowback.

By the beginning of the century, it had been taken up by enough Germans to draw notice in the foreign press. In 1907, The New York Times chronicled a growing distaste for the import under the headline "toothbrush" mustache: german women resent its usurpation of the "kaiserbart."

In the years before the First World War, the Toothbrush was taken up by a German folk hero, which is the moment it became a craze. Before that, it had been an elite fashion shared by the dandies and swells of Berlin and Vienna. After that, it was worn by every yokel who dreamed of greatness. I am imagining young Hitler poring over newspapers in search of any mention of Hans Koeppen, a Prussian lieutenant who had become a pop star in the manner of the solo aviator, the illusionist, or the tightrope walker. Here is how he was described in The New York Times: "Lieut. Koeppen is 31 years old and unmarried. Six feet in height, slim and athletic, with a toothbrush mustache characteristic of his class."

The moment he appeared in the press with the Toothbrush mustache is like the moment Michael Jordan appeared on the basketball court in Bermuda-length shorts, changing the look of the game forever. In early 1908, Koeppen was given leave from the Prussian Army to cover a New York–to–Paris motor race for Zeitung am Mittag, a German newspaper. When I think of the Hitler who must have followed this race, because it was followed by everyone, I think of the Hitler who loved cars and built the autobahn. (As opposed to the Hitler who killed the Gypsies and the Jews.)

After a disagreement with the German drivers, Koeppen took over. By the time he left Vladivostok, he was a star. The Times: "When he dashes across the German frontier from Russia … the tall, trim young infantry officer"—with the Toothbrush mustache—"may count upon a greeting hardly less joyful than if he were returning from victorious battle."

By the end of the war, the Toothbrush mustache was being sported even by the defeated royals. A last image of the Old World is captured in pictures taken in November 1918, when William Hohenzollern Jr., the son of the Kaiser, the heir to an office that had ceased to exist, was sent into exile. He stands on the deck of an imperial steamer. He wears shiny boots, a greatcoat, a military cap, and a Toothbrush mustache. When he turns to look at the people crowding the shore, showing them only his Toothbrush mustache, he is showing them a picture of their future.

I search the photos that survive of Hitler before Hitler was famous for the moment the 'stache appears. Because that is the moment the Devil gets his horns. In early photos, he is barefaced. The first shot that captures Hitler being Hitler was taken in August 1914, at the Odeonsplatz, in Munich. It was photographed from high above the square and shows thousands of people. Hitler, who was nothing and nobody, is no bigger than a cigarette burn, yet he jumps out. Once you see him, you can't stop seeing him. He wears the sort of grand mustache you expect to see on a barkeep. His eyes glow. A speaker has just read the declaration of war. I shudder when I see this photo, and remind myself he is dead and I am alive.

Experts disagree on the exact year Hitler began wearing the Toothbrush. Ron Rosenbaum, perhaps the only historian to give the mustache its proper due, fixes its appearance with confidence. "It was Chaplin's first, before Hitler's," he writes in an essay from The Secret Parts of Fortune. "Chaplin adopted a little black crepe blot beneath the nose for his Mack Sennett silent comedies after 1915, Hitler didn't adopt his until late 1919, and there's no evidence (though some speculation) that Hitler modeled his 'stache on that other actor's."

But some suggest Hitler began wearing it earlier. According to a recently re-discovered essay by Alexander Moritz Frey, who served with Hitler in the First World War, Hitler wore the mustache in the trenches. Because he had been ordered to. The old bushy mustache did not fit under his equipment. In other words, the mustache that defines Hitler was cut in a shape to fit a gas mask. Which is perfect. Because Hitler was the bastard son of the Great War, conceived in the trenches, born in defeat. He inhaled mustard gas and exhaled Zyklon B. In another memoir, dismissed by some as a fraud, Hitler's sister-in-law Bridget claims she was the cause of the mustache. Bridget Hitler was Irish and lived in Liverpool, where, according to the memoir, the young Adolf spent a lost winter. Bridget (or whoever) says she often bickered with her brother-in-law. Because he was disagreeable, but mostly because she could not stand his unruly 'stache. In one of the great inadvertent summaries of historical character, she writes that in this, as in everything, he went too far.

He was wearing the Toothbrush at the first Nazi meetings, when there were just a few people in a room full of empty chairs. One day, an early financial supporter of the Nazi Party advised Hitler to grow out his mustache. He did this delicately but firmly, in the manner of a man trying to protect an investment. The mustache made the Nazi look freakish. Hitler was advised to grow it at least "to the end of the lips." Hitler was a vain man, and you can almost feel him bristle. Here's what Hitler said: "If it is not the fashion now, it will be later because I wear it."

In the coming years, the Toothbrush mustache would belong to just two men, Chaplin and Hitler. The funniest and the scariest. The dialectic of history. For many people, the Toothbrush mustache became no less a symbol of evil than the cloven hoof.

But here's the big question: Did the mustache affect history, or was it just a matter of style? Did it attach itself to a person and drive him crazy? Was the man in charge, or was the mustache calling the shots? Ron Rosenbaum argues that the presence of Chaplin's 'stache on Hitler's face encouraged Western leaders to underestimate the Führer. "Chaplin's mustache became a lens through which to look at Hitler," he writes. "A glass in which Hitler became merely Chaplinesque: a figure to be mocked more than feared, a comic villain whose pretensions would collapse of his own disproportionate weight like the Little Tramp collapsing on his cane. Someone to be ridiculed rather than resisted."

In 1942, Vidkun Quisling, the premier of Norway, whose name, because of his sellout to the Nazis, became synonymous with treachery, forbade Norwegian actors from mustache wearing. Because thespians had been donning the 'stache to parody the Führer. "The purpose of this singular ordinance is … to halt 'actor-pranks' that have been 'stopping the show' by affecting a Hitler mustache," The New York Times reported. Note how, in this story, the Toothbrush mustache is not identified as the Toothbrush mustache but as the Hitler mustache. From then on, the Toothbrush would belong only to Adolf. Not just a symbol but a totem of the dictator. A voodoo doll. It's not hard to see how you go from here to the plan cooked up by officers of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the C.I.A., to inject estrogen into Hitler's food—female hormone that would make Hitler grow weepy, make Hitler grow breasts, and, crucially, destroy his mustache. A smooth-faced Adolf would lose confidence and fall from power. I mean, without the mustache, is Hitler even Hitler?

When Hitler died, he took his mustache with him. Not even the most cutting-edge stylist can pry them apart. If you dress like Chaplin, you run the risk of being mistaken for Hitler, as, if you dress like Evel Knievel, as I do when it rains, you run the risk of being mistaken for Elvis. The Vandyke, the Goatee, the Soul Patch, these things can become the objects of nostalgia, but the Hitler mustache is never coming back.

You could not wear a Toothbrush mustache after World War II, obviously. Because if you did, you were Hitler. In fact, you could not wear any kind of mustache after the war, because, running from Hitler, you might run into Stalin. Hitler plus Stalin ended the career of the mustache in Western political life. Before the war, all kinds of American presidents wore a mustache and/or beard. You had John Quincy Adams, with his muttonchops. You had Abe Lincoln, whose facial hair, like his politics, was the opposite of Hitler's: beard full, lip bare. You had James Garfield, who had the sort of vast rabbinical beard into which whole pages of legislation could vanish. You had Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland, and Teddy Roosevelt, whose asthma and elephant gun were just a frame for his mustache. You had William Howard Taft—the man wore a Walrus!

After the war, the few American politicians who still wore a mustache were those who had made their name before Hitler and so had been grandfathered in. Like Thomas Dewey. Dewey was Eliot Spitzer. He was a prosecutor in New York in the 1930s (and later governor), the only guy with the guts to take on the Mob. For Dewey, the rise of Hitler was a fashion disaster. Because Dewey wore a neat little mustache. Dewey ran for president twice—losing to F.D.R., losing to Truman. In my opinion, without the mustache, the headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune (dewey defeats truman) turns true. One of the few prominent American politicians to wear facial hair in recent memory is Al Gore, who grew a Grizzly Adams beard after he lost to George Bush, in 2000. The appearance of this beard was taken to mean either (1) Gore would never again run for office, or (2) Gore had gone completely mental. The decision to grow a mustache or a beard is all by itself reason to keep a man away from the nuclear trigger.

As a player in political life, the mustache lives on only in the Third World—a conclusion drawn not from any statistical analysis but from my own travels. You see the mustache on politicians in such lands the way you see old Peugeots in the French Antilles. It is the past. It is what we left behind. In the Third World, a portion of voters still go for the sort of hair-growing display that once brought the Volk to Hans Koeppen. Until recent events caused me to re-assess, I even entertained a theory—my only stab at a Tom Friedman–like, one-phrase-tells-all formulation—which I call "¿Quien es mas macho?" According to this theory, a country led by a man with a mustache is more likely to start a war, and more likely to lose it.[2] Because such a country is certain to value machismo over the nerdy qualities that actually win wars. A macho leader will counter a tank division with a cavalry charge—or promise, on the eve of battle, to drive his enemies into the sea. Such a leader will make some of the same mistakes as Hitler: he will overvalue physical courage; he will call on supernatural forces; he will consider even the smallest skirmish a "test of wills"; worst of all, he will answer the question "How will we win?" with the question "¿Quien es mas macho?"

I cut my beard on a Friday. I did what everyone who has ever cut a full beard does: I took it through every configuration. Like passing over the stages of man, or watching cultures rise and fall until the face of Hitler emerged. I went to the closet. What would the Führer wear on a sunny day? It does not matter, I decided. Because I am Hitler—whatever I wear, Hitler is wearing. A dozen Hitlers passed through my mind: Hitler in a sport coat; Hitler in a lab coat. Hitler in a Speedo; Hitler in a Camaro. I shook myself and said, "Get it together, Hitler—you're losing your mind!"

I went out. In the street, some people looked at me, but most looked away. A few people said things after I passed. One man gave me a kind of Heil, but it was lackadaisical, and I am fairly certain he was being ironic. (People can be so mean!) Even friends said nothing until I asked, or else acted embarrassed for me. A woman said, "I think you were more handsome without the mustache." I had been worried someone might try to hurt me. I imagined toughs from the Jewish Defense League attacking with throwing stars—Jewish throwing stars! But it turns out, when you shave like Hitler, you follow the same rule you follow with bees: They're more scared of you than you are of them. Because either you really are Hitler, or you're a nut. So people do with little Hitlers what people always do with lunatics in New York, the harmless or dangerous—they ignore, they avert, they move away. If you want to fly coach without being hassled, grow a Toothbrush mustache.

I wore the mustache for about a week. It preceded me into stores and hung in the air after I exited. It sat on my face as I slept. I was Hitler in my dreams. I went to the Jewish Museum. I went to Zabar's. I went to the Met. I went to the modern wing. I said, "All of this art is decadent." I stood on the corner of 82nd and Fifth. I stared into space. When you stare into space with a Toothbrush mustache, you are glowering. You can't help it. You're looking into crowds. You're looking at the names on the census that end in "-berg" and "-stein" while thinking, How do we get all these Juden onto trains? But in the end, my project, in its broader aims, was a failure. Because no matter how long, or how casually, or how sarcastically I wore the mustache, it still belonged to Hitler. You cannot claim it, or own it, or clean it as a drug lord cleans money. Because it's too dirty. Because it's soaked up too much history. It's his, and, as far as I'm concerned, he can keep it. When you wear the Toothbrush mustache, you are wearing the worst story in the world right under your nose.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Obama Did to Israel
The president has made negotiations all but impossible.
Charles Krauthammer

Every Arab-Israeli negotiation contains a fundamental asymmetry: Israel gives up land, which is tangible; the Arabs make promises, which are ephemeral. The longstanding American solution has been to nonetheless urge Israel to take risks for peace while America balances things by giving assurances of U.S. support for Israel’s security and diplomatic needs.

It’s on the basis of such solemn assurances that Israel undertook, for example, the Gaza withdrawal. In order to mitigate this risk, Pres. George W. Bush gave a written commitment that America supported Israel’s absorption of major settlement blocs in any peace agreement, opposed any return to the 1967 lines, and stood firm against the so-called Palestinian right of return to Israel.

For two and a half years, the Obama administration has refused to recognize and reaffirm these assurances. Then last week in his State Department speech, President Obama definitively trashed them. He declared that the Arab-Israeli conflict should indeed be resolved along “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”

Nothing new here, said Obama three days later. “By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different” from 1967.

It means nothing of the sort. “Mutually” means both parties have to agree. And if one side doesn’t? Then, by definition, you’re back to the 1967 lines.

Nor is this merely a theoretical proposition. Three times the Palestinians have been offered exactly that formula, 1967 plus swaps — at Camp David 2000, Taba 2001, and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas negotiations. Every time, the Palestinians said no and walked away.

And that remains their position today: The 1967 lines. Period. Indeed, in September the Palestinians are going to the U.N. to get the world to ratify precisely that: a Palestinian state on the ’67 lines. No swaps.

Note how Obama has undermined Israel’s negotiating position. He is demanding that Israel go into peace talks having already forfeited its claim to the territory won in the ’67 war — its only bargaining chip. Remember: That ’67 line runs right through Jerusalem. Thus the starting point of negotiations would be that the Western Wall and even Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter are Palestinian — alien territory for which Israel must now bargain.

The very idea that Judaism’s holiest shrine is alien or that Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter is rightfully, historically, or demographically Arab is an absurdity. And the idea that, in order to retain them, Israel has to give up parts of itself is a travesty.

Obama also moved the goal posts on the so-called right of return. Flooding Israel with millions of Arabs would destroy the world’s only Jewish state while creating a 23rd Arab state and a second Palestinian state — not exactly what we mean when we speak of a “two-state solution.” That’s why it has been the policy of the U.S. to adamantly oppose this “right.”

Yet in his State Department speech, Obama refused to simply restate this position — and refused again in a supposedly corrective speech three days later. Instead, he told Israel it must negotiate the right of return with the Palestinians after having given every inch of territory. Bargaining with what, pray tell?

No matter. “The status quo is unsustainable,” declared Obama, “and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.”

Israel too? Exactly what bold steps for peace have the Palestinians taken? Israel made three radically conciliatory offers to establish a Palestinian state, withdrew from Gaza, and has been trying to renew negotiations for more than two years. Meanwhile, the Gaza Palestinians have been firing rockets at Israeli towns and villages. And on the West Bank, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas turned down the Olmert offer, walked out of negotiations with Binyamin Netanyahu, and now defies the United States by seeking not peace talks but instant statehood — without peace, without recognizing Israel — at the U.N. And to make unmistakable this spurning of any peace process, Abbas agrees to join the openly genocidal Hamas in a unity government, which even Obama acknowledges makes negotiations impossible.

Obama’s response to this relentless Palestinian intransigence? To reward it — by abandoning the Bush assurances, legitimizing the ’67 borders, and refusing to reaffirm America’s rejection of the right of return.

The only remaining question is whether this perverse and ultimately self-defeating policy is born of genuine antipathy toward Israel or of the arrogance of a blundering amateur who refuses to see that he is undermining not just peace but the very possibility of negotiations.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bill O'Reilly's Civil War

Bill O'Reilly, Andrew Hetherington for Newsweek

The Fox News host thinks America is in dire straits—and what it needs is a history lesson. In this week's Newsweek, he tells Peter J. Boyer about his new book and why he likes Obama.

When Bill O'Reilly went to Fox News looking for work in 1996, Roger Ailes, chief of the startup cable network, asked him whether he could avoid getting into fistfights in the hallway. O'Reilly was known in the business as a born broadcaster but one whose career had been defined by pique. As an anchor at a Boston station, he’d once grabbed a disagreeable management consultant by the necktie and dragged him across the newsroom.

At Fox, O'Reilly channeled his rage into the self-designated role of national sentry, with the nightly mission, as he puts it, of "protecting the people" against an assortment of malefactors (who tend to be representatives of the bicoastal "liberal elite").

Fifteen years into the role, O'Reilly’s success—his primetime cable competitors don't come close to his ratings—has brought wealth and, as he is happy to assert, the power of influence. "I have more power than anybody other than the president, in the sense that I can get things changed, quickly," he says. "I don't have to go through the legislative process; I don’t have to do any of that. I can just bring it to the people, and say, look, this has gotta be dealt with."

Even so, O’Reilly lately found the nation in such dire straits (“It is chaos ... chaos”) that he believed something more was required of him: he would write a book of history.

He already had a string of books to his credit, mostly derived from his broadcast, The O’Reilly Factor. The most recent, the memoir A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity, made it to the top of the national bestseller lists. These books, typical of the genre, intend to tax neither author nor reader; if you watch the show, you’ve pretty much read the book.

But his new book, Killing Lincoln, co-written by the historian Martin Dugard, marks a bold, even fresh, literary turn, signified principally by the fact that Bill O’Reilly is not in it. “In this time when we’re struggling for leadership—and whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you know that we are struggling with leadership in America—we need to go back to a guy like Abraham Lincoln and understand what made him great,” O’Reilly says.

After the taping of his broadcast one recent evening, O’Reilly opined on the current uses of historical narrative. His large corner office on the 17th floor of the News Corp. building in New York, with a broad Sixth Avenue view, is itself a kind of history lesson, its walls filled with rare, signed presidential letters, photographs, and lithographs, hung alongside a homemade Viet Cong banner and the last flag of the Republic of South Vietnam to fly at the American Embassy in Saigon.

O’Reilly, now 62, says Americans are ill equipped to make wise decisions (“History in the public-school system now? Forget it”) in choosing their leaders, and that a dose of Lincoln—“the gold standard of leadership”—may help. But he has not gone suddenly egghead. Killing Lincoln is not a work of original scholarship or of breakthrough insight; it is meant to be a page-turner, modeled after the thrillers of John Grisham. “That’s the kind of books I like,” he says.

He mostly succeeds in that regard, in the sense that if Grisham wrote a novel about April 1865—a tiny span densely packed with history, from Appomattox to the Lincoln assassination and the hunting down of John Wilkes Booth—it might well read like Killing Lincoln. O’Reilly and Dugard collaborated on the project via email and telephone and wrote it in six months. If it sells, O’Reilly says, he plans a series of such books.

“I have one of the best presidential collections, but I don’t like to give it a lot of publicity,” he said. “I don’t want people breaking into my house.” Security is of grave concern to O’Reilly, who told me that he has 24-hour protection “because people want to kill me.” As we left the News Corp. building and stepped onto Sixth Avenue, a large, genial fellow fell in a few paces behind, escorting us to a small Italian restaurant a couple of blocks away.

Our conversation turned to The Factor over dinner. (“I’d like the linguine with white clam sauce,” O’Reilly told the waiter, adding, “Take the clams out of the shell, though. The shell frightens me.”) He had spent part of the day on the telephone with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, trying to talk him into coming on the show. O’Reilly didn’t want a quick satellite hit with Perry, but the full, in-studio O’Reilly experience.

Even from the distance of a remote locale, the O’Reilly experience can be an ordeal, as White House spokesman Jay Carney learned when he volunteered to appear on The Factor after the president’s recent jobs speech. After lecturing Carney on the futility of Obama’s plan (“Why continue to build the American Jobs Act around higher taxes that the Republicans aren’t going to vote for?”), O’Reilly turned to a recurring theme—the villainy of General Electric chairman Jeffrey Immelt, who first attracted O’Reilly’s ire as the corporate chief of Fox rival MSNBC and is now the president’s jobs czar:

O’REILLY: Who was sitting—who was sitting with the first lady tonight? Do you know who was sitting with her?

CARNEY: Well, there were a variety of folks.

O’REILLY: Jeffrey Immelt, GE CEO. Jeffrey—you know Jeff, right? He’s a big, tall guy. Jeffrey Immelt?


O’REILLY: Guess who moved his airline division to China and his med-tech division from Wisconsin to China? That’s Jeffrey Immelt. “Made in America,” Jay? Why—you, Jay, you should walk and throw him out of that box.

‘Killing Lincoln’ by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. 336 p. Henry Holt. $28.

Why would Perry, or any guest, subject himself to that line of inquiry? “Because if they do well, they get huge, huge currency,” O’Reilly says. “I mean, the upside is just enormous.”

A guest whom he dearly covets is former vice president Dick Cheney; he tried, and failed, to book Cheney every week during the eight years he was in office, and is trying still. It seems strange that Cheney would avoid O’Reilly, given that Cheney is promoting his memoir and has appeared all over the airwaves, including on Fox.

“There is a fear factor,” O’Reilly explains. “I’ve watched four or five of his interviews—I mean, it’s all cupcakes, you know? I ask ’em questions, all right? Obama. I mean, when Obama sits with me, he doesn’t know what the hell’s coming, and it’s exciting. It’s exciting.”

Obama is one of O’Reilly’s favorite guests, having appeared (after much aggressive pursuit, on air and off) on The Factor both as a candidate and as president. “A guy like Obama, he’s got reason to be afraid, and he’s not,” he says. “He’s composed; he likes to joust. There are personalities that do, and there are personalities that don’t.”

When O’Reilly visited the White House for a Super Bowl interview with Obama last winter, the president, knowing O’Reilly’s interest, brought his guest to the Lincoln Bedroom to show him a copy of the Gettysburg Address written in Lincoln’s hand. “I agree with the 70 percent of Americans who like him,” O’Reilly says. “I like him.”

That is not to say he sympathizes with the president. He states flatly that Obama will lose his reelection bid next year, and deservedly so. “I think he tried, but it’s not working,” he says. “And he doesn’t seem to be nimble enough to make that pivot to ‘OK, this didn’t work.’?”

O’Reilly’s liberal critics tend to cast him as the biggest bogeyman of the Fox News–Republican conspiracy, but he insistently disclaims ideology—asserting an independence that, in a relative sense, has some merit. Where Sean Hannity’s positions on a given partisan issue can be reliably predicted (“He has a Republican show,” O’Reilly says, “and Republicans should have a show”), O’Reilly is not strictly doctrinaire except for a slavish adherence to what might be called the Ideology of Bill: a set of certainties derived from his Roman Catholic upbringing in a working-class home in Levittown, on Long Island, where the values of the 1950s and early ’60s were indelibly imprinted upon him. “Truth be told, I liked my country better pre-Vietnam,” he wrote in his memoir. “It was more fun. The Aquarius deal was too confusing.”

While a firmly fixed Catholic (of the Baltimore Catechism, fish-on-Fridays school), O’Reilly steers clear of the faith-based conservatism that animates his friend, and former Fox colleague, Glenn Beck. When the two men toured together, O’Reilly says, he’d have to warn Beck to avoid evangelizing. “I think he’s a sincere, good guy. I would say to him, ‘Don’t be Elmer Gantry; don’t do that’—because sometimes he would. He really believes that it’s his mission to spread a certain point of view on spirituality. My mission isn’t to convert you, or even to convince you of anything. It’s to protect you.”

The O’Reilly certainty occasionally galls some in the Fox News base, as when he supported TARP and the Obama stimulus plan (“I understood that for the government to basically watch the economy slide down the drain is irresponsible”), and when he recently chided the Tea Party faction of Congress for resisting compromise. “Some people got mad and canceled their membership,” he says. “But I can’t be taking that into consideration. I mean, what we ask the viewer is very easy. We don’t ask you to agree with us. We just ask you to listen, and consider. And if you think we’re wrong, we want you to email us, or whatever. I don’t want you to think the way I do. I want you to think the way you do. But just keep an open mind. Blind ideology gets nowhere. And we don’t do that. I think it’s boring.”

O’Reilly now intends to get the Republican presidential candidates on the record, whether they are willing or not. He has formed a political unit, featuring his star producer-reporter, Jesse Waters, famous for his ambush interviews. (Waters once chased down Al Gore, a Factor avoider, at a speech venue, shouting, “Do you stand to make any money from cap-and-trade?”)

“If they won’t come to us, we’ll go to them,” O’Reilly says, with a slightly sinister smile. “They’re not gonna hide from us. Everybody’s gonna be asked questions. The easy way is, come in, good lighting, we’ll give you a doughnut, we’ll have a nice conversation. The hard way is, Waters is standing in your driveway at 7 in the morning. You know? It’s your choice.”

Some would call that journalistic thuggery. “I don’t care; I couldn’t care less,” O’Reilly says. “My job is to bring information to the people. If they wanna think I’m a thug—they’re probably right.”

O’Reilly remains intensely driven by ratings, and he pores over the numbers when they arrive each day at 4. The debut of Beck’s premium Internet enterprise, GBTV—a daily two-hour webcast—provides a new data point, with about 250,000 subscribers so far. By comparison, O’Reilly’s show after the president’s speech—which was rebroadcast, as always, later in the night—reached 5 million viewers.

Still, O’Reilly says that he can imagine the end. He does not fancy the slow fade of the man he displaced in primetime cable, CNN’s Larry King, and vows to leave television when the audience begins to leave him.

"I'm interested in history," he says. "There are projects that, if Killing Lincoln is successful, we’ll go into. I’m not addicted to the tube."