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Political power and late night

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," February 18, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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O'REILLY: In "Back of the Book" segment tonight, late night TV. Most Americans don't watch it. Well, most Americans don't watch TV news. However, the late night guys do have influence on the political discourse in this country.

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Last night, Jimmy Fallon made his Tonight Show debut on NBC with a variety of famous people running around. Fallon, as you may know, replaces Jay Leno.

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The question is, why should we care. One name, Sarah Palin. Late night guys absolutely destroyed her. With us now from Miami, purveyor of BernardGoldberg.com, Mr. Goldberg.

OK, so it's true that the ratings for late night, as with every other television program, are not what they used to be because of the intrusion from the Internet. But they can set a tone, these guys, can they not.

BERNIE GOLDBERG, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. As a matter of fact, Bill, there have been quite a few academic studies on this very question that you're asking, believe it or not, about the political influence of late night comedy on politics.

And here's my general take on this. If you're watching, or I'm watching, or somebody in this audience is watching, and a late night comedian slimes a political figure, it really doesn't have very much influence at all because we follow the news.

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But if the viewer is young, if the viewer doesn't follow the news and doesn't follow politics, then it could have, as you rightly say, a very negative effect.

I'll give you an example. You brought up Sarah Palin. A lot of young people think Sarah Palin is -- let's be kind and say foolish, although they would use a much stronger words -- because, --

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-- she supposedly said, "I could see Russia from my house." She never said that. Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin said that. But a lot of young people don't know the difference.

O'REILLY: They don't know. They don't know.

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GOLDBERG: No, they don't know. But let me give you the other side very briefly. The other side is that everybody who tunes in to a late night comedy show knows it's a late night comedy show.

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So, even if somebody is unfair to someone like Sarah Palin, and they do a nasty joke and they take something she said out of context, it's still not nearly as bad as somebody on cable TV sliming Sarah Palin because that's non-fiction.

O'REILLY: OK. But here's where -- there are two things in play --

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-- that I want to bring to your attention, all right, as the purveyor of BernardGoldberg.com. Number one, you get a mass approach.

So, the perception is this certain politician is a moron, all right. And then they all gang up.

And not only do they gang up on the politician, usually a conservative, but it goes out on all the Web sites now. And so, it isn't just the 3 million watching Jimmy Fallon, --

GOLDBERG: That's right.

O'REILLY: -- or Kimmel, --

GOLDBERG: That's right.

O'REILLY: -- or Letterman. It's all over the world, this person is a moron, and here are six people saying that person is a moron --

GOLDBERG: That's right.

O'REILLY: -- in a variety ways. The impact then --

GOLDBERG: That's absolutely correct.

O'REILLY: The impact then can destroy -- can destroy. Go ahead.

GOLDBERG: Well, I'm not -- let me take the destroy part second. There's no question that the slime can seep into the bloodstream of American culture. You're right about that.

I'm not sure it has the effect of destroying anybody. Sarah Palin is still around and kicking. And they went after her worse than they went after anybody --

O'REILLY: Have you seen her approval ratings.

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Have you seen her approval ratings, Bernie.

GOLDBERG: No, but you could -- but whatever they are, you can't attribute --

O'REILLY: They're not good.

GOLDBERG: -- entirely.

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No, I'm willing to accept that but you can't -- you can't attribute that entirely --

O'REILLY: Why. She did a good job as governor of Alaska. And she lost the, you know, the presidential campaign.

She did a good job as a governor, and her approval ratings are very, very low. Why. Because the media portrayed her a certain way. They destroyed her.

GOLDBERG: Not entirely. Sarah Palin also said some things that people thought were not, you know, --

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-- Aristotle-like and --

O'REILLY: So does Nancy Pelosi.

GOLDBERG: -- they nailed her for that.

O'REILLY: So does Nancy Pelosi --

GOLDBERG: Well, yes, yes, yes.

O'REILLY: So does Nancy Pelosi and a lot of other left wing politicians.

GOLDBERG: Well, yes. But the reason is, as you mentioned earlier, the late night shows have -- just like all of Hollywood and New York entertainment -- have a liberal --

O'REILLY: Yes.

GOLDBERG: -- overwhelming liberal slant to them. So, they'll go after it. That's a different argument.

Yes, they will go after Sarah Palin long before they'll go after Nancy Pelosi. That goes without saying.

But all I'm saying is, anybody who has a bad reputation, you could attribute some of that to the media. But, some of it, you have to chalk up to things that came out of their own mouth.

O'REILLY: But just remember, politicians don't have a nightly program like I have to fight back. And the perception becomes reality very, very quickly. And that's what we're seeing here in America.

Bernie Goldberg, everybody. By the way, your humble correspondent, that's me, will appear with Jimmy Kimmel tonight on ABC.

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O'Reilly Factor, hosted by Bill O'Reilly, airs on Weekdays at 8PM ET on Fox News Channel.