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August 11, 2017

Terry Gross delivers a diss to Bill O'Reilly, 14 years later

Before we get to Terry Gross' recent diss of Bill O'Reilly, let's go back in time to 2003, when O'Reilly vs. Al Franken was a heavyweight bout.

Franken, now a U.S. senator but then a comedian famous for "Saturday Night Live," had pivoted into the political arena and penned the book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," a satirical work that took aim at conservative media, particularly O'Reilly, then a top-rated cable news commentator for Fox News.

(Fox would file an injunction to try and stop Franken for the use of the "Fair and Balanced" slogan, a case that was dismissed and called "wholly without merit, both factually and legally.")

O'Reilly lambasted the book as a smear job, and the two infamously met in what is likely C-SPAN 2's greatest moment, a heated debate that has since become something of YouTube lore. O'Reilly had published a book at the same time, too, called "Who's Looking Out for You?" which lamented the lack of personal responsibility in modern America. The feud between O'Reilly and Franken was elevated by both of their books coming out around the same time, as well as by Franken's allegations O'Reilly pushed Fox to sue the comedian (O'Reilly denied doing so).

Both went on Terry Gross' Philly-based and nationally syndicated "Fresh Air" to promote their books. In O'Reilly's interview, Gross was in usual form: tough and pointed questions, including some about Franken's book, but polite and allowing him to give complete answers.

It didn't end well. About 35 minutes in, Gross tried asking O'Reilly about a writer who had reviewed his book and later saw the Fox host criticizing him on his show, "The Factor." O'Reilly got irritated and eventually called the interview a "hatchet job," accused Gross of throwing "every kind of defamation" in his face and asked if she was as tough on Franken when she interviewed him a month earlier.

She admitted she wasn't, but before she was able to follow up, the notoriously temperamental O'Reilly cut the interview short with a rant and gave Gross this parting line: "If you think that's fair, Terry, then you need to get in another business."

Fast forward to 2017. "Fresh Air" has been airing on WHYY (and on NPR stations across the country) for more than 30 years, while O'Reilly, the former king of cable news, is set to make his first appearance on CNN after being fired over allegations of sexual harassment.

On Thursday night, in an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Gross delivered a counter punch 14 years in the making and noted that she still has a program, while O'Reilly — sans his new online show – does not:

If Gross is able to somehow get O'Reilly to agree to come back on "Fresh Air," it would be must-listen radio.