Watching Bill O'Reilly get pushy at an Obama rallly.

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Jan. 5 2008 3:22 PM

The O'Reilly Rumble

Watching reality television at an Obama rally.

You know when a celebrity television personality like Bill O'Reilly arrives at a political event because they always have a retinue and because people turn their cameras and camera phones from the candidate to capture the famous face. When the popular Fox News entertainer arrived at the Obama event in Nashua, N.H., people turned to him but not always approvingly. "Hey O'Reilly," yelled a man. When O'Reilly turned, he got a single-finger salute. A few people approached Bill to shake his hand, but the overwhelming sentiment was unfavorable. "O'Reilly hatemonger," yelled a woman. A few other people gave him the bird. "I hate you Bill," yelled a man. "You can't stop us Bill," yelled another. I thought someone might brain him with one of those Obama "Hope" signs.

A number of people shouted falafel, the word O'Reilly used in a racy set of telephone conversations with a young woman he was trying to seduce as he described a shower they might take together. He meant loofa, which is not a Middle Eastern delicacy but a bath item.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

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The retinue that followed O'Reilly included men in suits, perhaps accountants under whose jackets rested tiny little cash registers ringing up the profits that come from O'Reilly's ability to stir just this kind of anger.

O'Reilly took up a position along the narrow column by the doorway created for Obama's departure. The press really isn't supposed to line up against the steel barriers that protect the candidate from the crush of the crowd but it's not an ironclad rule. We all break it from time to time covering the news. With his camera crew behind him and the sound boom overhead, O'Reilly waited to grab the senator on his way out the door. I had been watching him since his arrival (his group had bumped into me at one of the two press platforms), and I followed him to watch the spectacle it was certain he would create.

At first, the railing where O'Reilly stood wasn't very populated. Then, as the Obama team saw who was lying in wait, they started to huddle. Staffers started to arrive at the scene. Three policemen showed up, too. One of them stood in front of O'Reilly until O'Reilly asked him to move. One of Obama's staffers, Marvin Nicholson, took up the same post, standing in front of the Fox camera as Obama neared the door.

"You're blocking our shot," yelled O'Reilly.

"Oh, am I?" asked the Obama staffer, not entirely sincerely, and not moving.

This is not a new trick. When staffers block you because you're being too aggressive, the standard thing to do is give them a little business and then move to another spot. O'Reilly didn't do this. He shoved the Obama aide. There was an exchange and a little more shoving. I didn't fully capture it because as I looked at O'Reilly in his black leather Fox jacket, which resembled the kind we wore during football season in high school, I swore I could hear him challenge the staffer to a rumble out by the drive-in.

"That's really low class, pal," said O'Reilly.

When Obama passed, he looked like he was headed for the door but stopped to talk to the Fox host. The conversation was short. O'Reilly did not seem to be causing the commotion in the national interest—I heard no questions about marginal tax rates—but instead he made a personal appeal to Obama to get him on his show. (I can't be sure; I heard only part of the conversation.) Obama appeared to say that he would come on sometime.

I have a confession. During the shoving, I found myself yelling at O'Reilly to grow up, which was thoroughly unprofessional, except that I have little kids and I think it's important to discipline misbehavior immediately. If I don't dare to discipline, they'll grow up to be like, well, Bill O'Reilly.

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