“No man is a hero to his valet,” goes the old proverb. In the case of Bill O’Reilly, no man’s a hero to his gardener.
O’Reilly’s high profile job loss reminded me of an incident that occurred during the first year of his Fox tenure. I was seeking a gardener to take care of my small property on the north shore of Long Island, and one candidate, “Jeff,” gave me a list of customers who could vouch for his expertise.
The names, each followed by a phone number, were something like this:
I did a double-take when I saw O’Reilly, as I knew he lived in Manhasset, not far from me. “Is this Bill O’Reilly from TV?” I asked. “Yeah,” Jeff replied. “He’s the guy at Fox.”
At the time, I was Geraldo Rivera’s senior producer for his nighttime news discussion program on CNBC, and the two hosts (and future Fox colleagues) were engaged in some kind of public feud so petty that I can’t recall the substance of it. But, I thought, this could be interesting.
“Let me ask you something, Jeff. Is Bill as tough on his gardener as he is on his guests?” Jeff had a quizzical look on his face. “His guests?” he repeated. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” I explained, “I was just wondering if he treats you with the same kind of pompous condescension and disrespect that I often see him show to the guests on his program.”
Jeff was even more confused. “What do you mean, his program? He has a show? He told me he worked at Fox, and I figured he was some kind of behind-the-scenes guy. I had no idea!”
This was too good to be true. I thanked Jeff and said I’d be in touch. It was a weekend afternoon, so the second he left, I picked up the phone and dialed O’Reilly’s home number. He answered himself and, after I identified myself as Rivera’s producer, immediately began defending some comment he’d recently made about my boss.
“No, no,” I interrupted, “this isn’t a business call, or about your dispute with Geraldo. I just met your gardener, Jeff, and he gave me your name as a reference.” O’Reilly was audibly relieved, and gave me a glowing review of Jeff’s handiwork.
I thanked him for the recommendation, and then, I couldn’t resist. “By the way, Bill,” I said, “you should know that Jeff doesn’t do a good job for you just because you’re on TV. In fact, he had no clue you’re an on air personality.”
“How is that possible?,” O’Reilly sputtered. “When I hired him I told him I worked at Fox!” “True,” I laughed, “but Jeff’s never seen your show. As far as he knew, you could be in charge of the Fox cafeteria.”
O’Reilly was stunned, and I was delighted at being able to take the bombastic Bill down a notch. I ended up hiring Jeff, who did such a fine job with my grass and shrubs that I often suspected he must have been using some of the overflow of fertilizer that one could surely find at the O’Reilly compound.