August 28, 2014

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News ( Frank Micelotta/Associated Press)

There was never any need to refute Bill O’Reilly’s argument of the week. Amid a great deal of talk about racism and opportunity in America following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., O’Reilly, host of Fox News’s “O’Reilly Factor,” proclaimed that he “does not believe in white privilege.”

To advance his point, he cited the success of Asian-Americans in the United States. “Eighty-eight percent of Asian Americans graduate from high school compared to 86 for whites and just 69 percent for blacks,” argued the host. More: “Asian Americans also tend to keep their families intact. Just 13 percent of Asian children live in single parent homes compared to a whopping 55 percent for blacks and 21 percent for whites. So, there you go. That is why Asian Americans, who often have to overcome a language barrier, are succeeding far more than African-Americans and even more than white Americans. Their families are intact and education is paramount.”

Even before he finished his argument, O’Reilly undermined it. “One caveat: the Asian American experience historically has not been nearly as tough as the African-American experience. Slavery is unique and it has harmed black Americans to a degree that is still being felt today.”

Its facial absurdity notwithstanding, the Asian-American argument took a beating today from New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who pointed to an explanation for the high achievement of this demographic group. Citing experts on the topic, he wrote that immigration policy has brought to the United States a class of highly skilled and educated Asians.

By contrast, writes Blow: “Much of the African-American immigration policy came in the form of centuries of bondage, dehumanization and unimaginable savagery visited on their bodies. And that legacy is long and the scars deep.”

A powerful slapdown right there. Perhaps O’Reilly will bag the Asian-American argument in future editions of his famous “Talking Points Memo” segment. Don’t bet on it, however. Denial of white privilege is too central to the worldview that drives his monologues on race, social issues, America’s decline and beyond. Anyone who has read his memoir “A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity” or his biography (“The Man Who Would Not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O’Reilly“) or tuned into his cable-news-reigning program knows that O’Reilly is far too enamored of his own story to abandon what he believes are its lessons for all Americans: The beneficiary of a strict Catholic education, O’Reilly worked and worked and worked. Starting in his early teens, O’Reilly made cash mowing lawns and graduated to house-painting. He made a mad dash through local and big-time broadcast news before landing at Fox News. And in recent years, the guy has cranked out a series of bestselling books — “Killing Jesus” and other such titles, with the help of co-author Martin Dugard — while juggling the rigors of “The Factor.” His talent as a broadcaster is undeniable, as this segment on the end of summer showcases.

Admitting that his bootstrapping rise to King of Cable News happened to take place in a society of white privilege, however, is apparently too much to ask.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.