Lincoln Scholar Tells O'Reilly: Lincoln Would Have Gone On Comedy Show “In A Second”

Bill O'Reilly is being ridiculed for comments last night suggesting that unlike President Obama, President Lincoln would never have appeared on a web comedy show. In addition to the inherent silliness of the comparison, according to a prominent Lincoln scholar, O'Reilly is also dead wrong. 

Yesterday, comedy website Funny or Die released an episode of its Zach Galifianakis-hosted web series “Between Two Ferns” featuring President Obama, during which the president traded insults with the actor before encouraging people to visit the health care reform website.

Predictably, conservatives freaked out about the appearance, culminating in O'Reilly telling viewers that Lincoln would never have appeared on such a show. (O'Reilly co-authored a 2011 book on the Lincoln assassination.) 

But historian Harold Holzer, whose Lincoln scholarship has been recognized by presidents of both parties, tells Media Matters that the former president had a great sense of humor and used a wide variety of methods to spread his message.

“I will tell you Abraham Lincoln would go on 'Between Two Ferns' in a second,” said Holzer. “He went in the reeds, he played whatever was the most modern, the most cunning, the most unthinkable, unprecedented way to get his message across in a day when there were no press conferences, no culture for press conferences.”

Holzer has authored, coauthored, or edited 46 books on Lincoln and the Civil War over 40 years of scholarship and has a new one, Lincoln and the Power of the Press, scheduled to be published by Simon and Schuster in October. He has also written more than 500 articles and chapters of more than 50 books on the topic.

Holzer is chairman of the Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, after being appointed to the leadership of its predecessor organization by President Clinton in 2000. In 2008, President Bush awarded him the National Humanities Medal for bringing “new understanding of the many facets of Abraham Lincoln and his era.”

According to Holzer, Obama's actions are in keeping with Lincoln's press tactics.

“How could you be angry with President Obama for taking his message to the widest audience, this is absolutely in the Lincoln tradition,” said Holzer. “He used humor very well and was very tough, very manipulative with the press.”

In a piece at Huffington Post responding to O'Reilly's claims, reporter Michael Calderone notes, “Lincoln was also a man who enjoyed telling off-color jokes, and his bawdy sense of humor attracted its share of press criticism."