On his program last night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly noted that the leaders of the New Haven Register had declined an invitation to appear on his program. That newspaper had published an editorial drawing a comparison between Fox News and the KKK. O’Reilly found that connection irresponsible, to say the least. After identifying the top three executives at the paper, the host riffed on air last night: “We asked those men to discuss that irresponsible editorial. They all declined because they are cowards and they know they cannot defend that vile, libelous piece of garbage.”

The Erik Wemple Blog today asked Matt DeRienzo, group editor of the New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Register Citizen, to respond to the “coward” charge. He responded, “He can play the game of if you don’t come on my show to get yelled at, you’re cowards.” To get a feel for how O’Reilly would have treated the newspaper executives, says DeRienzo, just have a look at how he’s been treating other guests on his show of late.

In a display of moxie congruent with his status as the ratings king of cable news, O’Reilly also warned that the New Haven Register “had better apologize in writing by the end of the week.”

It has. As detailed here, the New Haven Register has said it’s “sorry” for including Fox News and the KKK in a single breath. The apology, however, didn’t come in response to O’Reilly’s warning of last night; DeRienzo said that it had been written before the show’s air time. “He didn’t need to threaten us,” says DeRienzo. “We’ll own up to that.”

The apology from DeRienzo isn’t absolute and expresses misgivings about how Fox News treats the topic of race. Here’s how it articulates the network’s alleged culpability:

We stand by our criticism and call for Fox News to challenge and condemn the hatred and racism advocated by guests such as Ted Nugent and Ann Coulter instead of continuing to give them a platform.

It also says that Fox News gives “voice” to those “who are reading from their [the KKK’s] syllabus.” In our chat today, DeRienzo amplified: “Any time you have someone like a Nugent or a Coulter on your program and you don’t challenge or call them out for what they say — Nugent just called rap artists greasy black mongrels.”

A fact-check is in order here. To what degree has Fox News done just what DeRienzo is charging? Toward that end, the Erik Wemple Blog hopped into the network’s Nexis archives in search of references and guest appearances by Ted Nugent. (We’ll have to check on Coulter in another post). We were particularly interested in instances in which Fox News commented on Nugent’s racial views.

Such an instance arose just weeks ago. Following the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, Fox News media reporter Howard Kurtz did a roundup of folks that had reacted to the news in notable (read: extreme) fashion. In that crowd, Kurtz included Nugent: “Nor does it help when musician Ted Nugent writes online that Trayvon Martin was, quote, ‘A dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe.'”

Therewith an instance of Fox News doing precisely what DeRienzo counseled.

There are other occasions in which Nugent and Fox News have crossed paths. Back in February, for instance, O’Reilly ran some tape of Nugent shouting down a CNN host. After running the clip, O’Reilly editorialized: “Now, that kind of straight talk is what the Republican Party needs.” Was O’Reilly endorsing Nugent’s views on race? No, the issue related to gun control. In August 2012, O’Reilly also invoked Nugent, this time to highlight their disagreement on gun control. O’Reilly even noted that Nugent “hates me” because of his opinion.

When asked precisely what Fox News appearances bolster his contention on the networks’s racial connections to Nugent, DeRienzo couldn’t identify any. However, he did e-mail the video below, in which Fox Host Sean Hannity is asked to disavow Nugent following the rocker’s inflammatory 2007 remarks about Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. He refuses to do so.

Then there’s the May 2012 incident in which Laura Ingraham, on Fox’s air, endorsed a profane Nugent tirade in an interview with CBS News. There was no racial angle to the episode. In 2011, Nugent appeared on Fox’s “Huckabee” to chat about American exceptionalism.

To further plumb the Nugent-Fox nexus, the Erik Wemple Blog checked with Media Matters for America, which watches Fox News like the NSA. It found a smattering of references but noted that Nugent is far from a regular on the network. A Nexis search of Fox News archives — covering mainly primetime programming — reveals occasional guest appearances by Nugent in the 2000s, with a tapering-off in recent years.

Scarce evidence, in other words, that Fox News has served as a platform for the dissemination of Nugent’s views on race in America. Kurtz’s scorn, combined with the archival record, suggests that the network has made attempts to avoid doing so. Alleging that Fox News has conspired with Nugent on this front appears to reflect what a Fox News detractor might suppose the network is doing without actually watching it.

DeRienzo counters that trafficking any of Nugent’s opinions taints Fox News: “But the context is what O’Reilly and other Fox News hosts and guests are constantly saying about racial issues themselves. And come on, would you as a public figure/prominent TV anchor make blanket statements about ‘your good friend’ and ‘we need more of this’ in reference to a guy who is saying this stuff about race without saying, ‘except for all the crazy racist stuff he’s spouting, of course!’ I wouldn’t!”