President Barack Obama twice blamed Fox News Channel for misinforming the public on issues that have bedeviled his presidency in the past year during a pre-Super Bowl interview with the network’s Bill O’Reilly.
The two sat down in the White House on Sunday for a live pregame interview that started about 4:35 p.m. and aired for about 10 minutes.
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O’Reilly first noted that Obama’s detractors believe he did not initially say the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead was terrorism because it happened in the heat of an election.
Obama had just weeks earlier said al-Qaida was on the run after U.S. Navy SEALs assassinated its leader, Osama bin Laden.
“That’s what they believe,” O’Reilly said of Obama’s detractors.
“And they believe it because folks like you are telling them that,” Obama said in the often testy interview.
“No, I’m not telling them that. I’m asking you whether you were told it was a terror attack,” O’Reilly countered.
Obama said it was “inaccurate” to say that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told him the attack was terrorism when he first gave him the news. O’Reilly noted that Gen. Carter Ham, head of operations in Libya, has testified he immediately told Panetta the attack was terrorism, and not the result of a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim video.
“But it’s more than that because of Susan Rice,” O’Reilly said, noting that Rice, who was then U.N. ambassador, used the video explanation days later on the Sunday talk shows.
“Just as an American, I’m just confused,” he said.
“Bill, I’m trying to explain it to you if you want to listen,” Obama countered.
The president also turned on Fox News when questioned about the IRS scandal, in which conservative groups were scrutinized more heavily when seeking tax-exempt status.
“These kinds of things keep on surfacing, in part, because you and your TV station will promote them,” Obama said.
O’Reilly asked if Obama was saying there was no corruption in the IRS scandal.
“No,” Obama said.
“There was some boneheaded decisions out of a local office,” adding that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption.”
O’Reilly also asked why Obama didn’t fire Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the botched rollout of the Obamacare website in October.
Obama argued that while glitches had been anticipated, no one expected a complete failure of the site. He said everything had been fixed, and the site is now running as it should.
O’Reilly noted that only 8 percent of Americans agree with Obama, and again pressed about firing Sebelius.
“I’m sure that the intent is noble,” O’Reilly said, “But I’m a taxpayer, and I’m paying Kathleen Sebelius’ salary, and she screwed up. And you’re not holding her accountable.”
“Well, I promise you that we hold everybody up and down the line accountable,” Obama said. “But when we’re midstream, Bill, we want to make sure that our main focus is, how do we make this think work so that people are able to sign up, and that’s what we’ve done.”
O’Reilly asked if Obama considered the biggest mistake of his presidency telling “the nation over and over, if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance?”
“Oh, Bill, you’ve got a long list of my mistakes in my presidency,” Obama said.
But he did admit he regretted that the “grandfather clause” written into the Affordable Care Act didn’t cover everyone.
“That’s why we changed it,” he said.
“You gave your enemies a lot of fodder for it,” O’Reilly said.
The interview was scheduled to continue after the live broadcast. The recorded interview is set to air Monday night on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
“I know you think maybe we haven’t been fair,” O’Reilly noted near the end of the live interview, “but I think your heart is in the right place.”
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By Greg Richter