When Bill O'Reilly met Maureen Dowd at the recent IrishCentral.com media awards, many who witnessed the meeting expected fireworks. After all here were the two titans of the media world, on opposite sides on most issues.

In fact, there was nothing of the sort. O'Reilly was perfectly pleasant; Dowd later confessed she actually liked O'Reilly because he reminded her of her suburban-raised brothers.

O'Reilly joked that he hoped their picture would appear together in The New York Times.

When Maureen Dowd says nice words it may be time for Bill O'Reilly to be worried.

Not a bit of it

The kinder, gentler Bill O'Reilly has given many pause to wonder if the new Bill has really lost the hard edge that propelled him to the top.

The ratings say no. He is still Fox Television's biggest money machine. His 3.7 million viewers a night put him well ahead of Glenn Beck, who is about a million behind.

And he does it without Beck's nastiness and plain downright venom for those whose views he opposes.

O'Reilly commits sacrilege for the Beck brigade when he says he does not believe Obama is a socialist. He recently urged a national conservative conference to refrain from personal attacks on President Obama.

What is it with this Irish guy form Long Island? "You've become in some ways the voice of sanity here, which as I said, is like being the thinnest kid at fat camp," comedian Jon Stewart said during an appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor" last month. Jon Stewart praising Bill O'Reilly?

O'Reilly told the Los Angeles Times recently that he has a responsibility to be fair and balanced – and not just the Fox sense of the word.

"I have a responsibility to be a little more cautious, be a little more circumspect when I go after somebody to make sure we have everything covered. Because I can destroy lives. And I'm not going to do that."

O'Reilly has even had it out with Rush Limbaugh who jeered at him when he said Obama was not a socialist. "Name-calling gets us nowhere," said O'Reilly

His Fox news colleague Brit Hume thinks O'Reilly has mellowed.  "Other channels have thrown everything they could at him, and there he is," Hume said. "At this point, Bill is kind of supreme."

His audience of 3.7 million is up eight per cent over last year’s figure. His competitors are way behind, with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann pulling 984,000 viewers on average and CNN's Campbell Brown drawing 635,000.

Even his praise for Glenn Beck in the Los Angles Times could be read in a double-edged way.

O'Reilly said he doesn't begrudge Beck the attention. "More power to him, man. It takes the heat off me. I tell him, 'Be as crazy as you want.'

"I like Beck; I understand exactly what he's doing," he added. "He genuinely feels the country is in bad shape. I think guys like that deserve a voice."

Beck's 5 p.m. EDT show has averaged 2.8 million viewers this year, beating Sean Hannity. 

But O'Reilly said he's not worried. "What am I supposed to do, hate Glenn Beck because he's successful?" he asked. "That's what they do in Hollywood. I'm a New Yorker."

That's the new Bill, confident, assured and secure at last. It will take more than Glenn Beck to topple him.