Hillary Clinton sat down with Bill O'Reilly for an interview set to air tonight on Fox News. While much space has been taken up commenting on Senator Clinton's willingness to kiss the rings of various right-wing hacks, the particular history of Clinton and O'Reilly is interesting. A decade ago, O'Reilly was weirdly obsessed with the then-First Lady. He would often refer to her as a socialist, and profiles of the host were sure to mention that he had a Hillary Clinton doormat under his desk. Her senate run in 2000 was constantly mocked on O'Reilly's show, and there were even rumors that O'Reilly himself would challenge her for a senate seat in New York.

But then something changed. O'Reilly started to speak respectfully towards the senator, and although he was never particularly complimentary, there was no denying the change in tone. I can think of two reasons for this, neither of which has anything to do with Rupert Murdoch's brief courting (or perhaps it was the other way around) of the Clintons.

First, Clinton became a serious candidate for the presidency. You might assume that this would make Clinton an even larger target for O'Reilly, but for whatever reason he is obsessed with putting on a facade of even-handedness when elections roll around. So while he clearly favors Republicans, he knew he couldn't continue bashing Clinton and hope to appear neutral.

Second--and this also has to do with his solipsism--O'Reilly seemed to develop a weird empathy for Senator Clinton. As O'Reilly has become more famous over the past 5 or 6 years, he has become a target of ridicule in the liberal media, and he has begun to develop a bit of a persecution complex (this might be the time to mention that it's easier to get good press if you don't harass your female employees). So, rather than mocking her, he would instead rant about the ways in which she was picked on by the media. 

Finally, all of this has dovetailed nicely with a Fox News Channel that over the past month has become increasingly pro-Hillary. One of the network's favorite "debates" tends to feature Sean Hannity blasting Barack Obama for five minutes followed by...Alan Colmes angrily asking why people want Clinton to drop out. Fair and balanced indeed! Anyway, this O'Reilly interview makes more sense for a whole bunch of reasons right now than it would have a few years ago.

--Isaac Chotiner