Fox's Bill O'Reilly Says His Stereotypes Taken Out of Context

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is under fire for comments on racial stereotypes he made last week recalling his recent trip to a Harlem restaurant.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is under fire for comments on racial stereotypes he made last week recalling his recent trip to a Harlem restaurant. (By Jeff Christensen -- Associated Press)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bill O'Reilly says he thought he was dispelling stereotypes when he told his radio audience last week about his recent trip to Harlem with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Instead, O'Reilly found himself yesterday fighting accusations of racial insensitivity.

During a 35-minute discussion about race relations last Wednesday on his syndicated "Radio Factor," the pugnacious host repeatedly decried "demeaning" portrayals of African Americans, particularly in hip-hop videos. To illustrate his contention that such images provide a false impression of black culture, he recalled having dinner with Sharpton at Sylvia's, a famous soul-food restaurant in Harlem:

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City," he said. "It was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks [and has a] primarily black patronship. It was the same. And that's really what this society is really all about now here in the U.S.A. There's no difference."

He later added: "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, '[Expletive], I want some more ice tea.' It was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there ordering and having fun and there wasn't any craziness at all."

On the same program last week, O'Reilly also described going to an Anita Baker concert at Radio City Music Hall at which "the blacks [patrons] were well dressed." He added, "This is what white America doesn't know. They think the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg."

The comments were picked up last Friday by the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America, and were broadcast for the first time Monday on CNN. That drew more attention to the comments Tuesday, prompting O'Reilly on his Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," to accuse CNN of seeking to boost its ratings at his expense.

O'Reilly was still simmering last night. "They're making it something that it isn't," he said in an interview by phone from New York. "Anyone who listens to the tape [of the radio show] and is fair-minded will tell you this was an intelligent conversation about race. . . . Aren't they supposed to be in the business of honesty over there" at CNN?

His point, he said, is that "some whites fear blacks based on irrational notions. They're afraid to go into Sylvia's, they're afraid to go to Harlem. But there's nothing different in Sylvia's than any other place in the U.S."

The flap -- which CNN's Rick Sanchez covered again in prime time last night -- has faint echoes of the controversy that drove TV and radio host Don Imus from the air in April. In that incident, the Washington-based Media Matters was the first to note Imus's comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team, and Sharpton was prominent in condemning those remarks.

Sharpton said last night on O'Reilly's Fox News program that he found reports of O'Reilly's comments "disturbing and surprising," adding: "The stuff about being surprised that blacks didn't act up -- you can understand why people are offended by that. I'd be offended." But Sharpton said he hadn't heard the entire program and would reserve further judgment until he had.

Karl Frisch, a spokesman for Media Matters, called O'Reilly's remarks "insensitive and racially charged" and rejected O'Reilly's contention that his comments were taken out of context.

Frisch said his organization has documented 765 instances since mid-2004 in which O'Reilly has misstated or misrepresented facts or made "insensitive" statements. "His knee-jerk reaction is always that he was taken out of context," he said. "If he was caught robbing a bank, he'd say his actions are being taken out of context."

CNN's Sanchez denied his network was attempting to score points against O'Reilly. "The O'Reilly Factor" on Tuesday drew more than three times as many viewers as the Sanchez-hosted "Out in the Open."

Sanchez, in a phone interview, said O'Reilly is perpetuating racism by using "the Mandingo argument" against black rappers. "The idea [is] that there's a big, bad African American out there that we all need protection from," he said. "It's a dangerous way of looking at racial relations. The African American community is extremely complex. The thinking that black culture is confined to guys sticking their underwear out is just wrong, and many African Americans resent it."

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