Fox News host Bill O’Reilly adores the term “race hustler.” He trotted it out liberally last summer, in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal of murder in the Trayvon Martin case. Civil rights leaders cited racial profiling as an explanation for the fate that had befallen Martin, and O’Reilly had his own take on that question: “It was wrong for Zimmerman to confront Martin based on his appearance,” argued O’Reilly in his July 22 broadcast. “But the culture that we have in this country does lead to criminal profiling because young black American men are so often involved in crime — the statistics overwhelming.”
The dialogue that stemmed from the Martin case, suggested the King of Cable News, wasn’t properly focused: “The sad truth is that, from the president on down, our leadership has no clue, no clue at all about how to solve problems within the black community. And many are frightened to even broach the issue. That’s because race hustlers and the grievance industry have intimidated the so-called conversation turning any valid criticism of African American culture into charges of racial bias.” Bold text added just because.
O’Reilly used the term again on Jan. 20, when he stated that President Obama has been cautious on the race issue, a fact that “has angered some on the far left and some race hustlers who want Mr. Obama to be more proactive in promoting African American policies.”
That is by no means an exhaustive look at his invocation of the term.
In recent days, “race hustler” has resurfaced on O’Reilly’s show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” courtesy of the tempest over Rep. Paul Ryan’s very controversial remarks this month about poverty in the United States, as reported by Think Progress: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is among those who have taken exception to how Ryan phrased the problem. “My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’ ”
On his program last night, O’Reilly hosted Ryan for a discussion on the matter. Ryan came off sounding like a politician and O’Reilly like a provocateur. Here’s some transcript:
O’REILLY: So I understand you had a phone call with Ms. Lee. How did that go?
RYAN: Well, I have known Barbara for many years. Look, there was nothing racial whatsoever in what I said. And if you listen to the full context of all of my remarks, it’s pretty clear.
So what I would like to do and I mentioned this is let’s get beyond throwing baseless charges at people. Let’s not impugn people’s motives or characters and let’s have a real conversation about what we really need to do is to truly fight poverty in America. If the status quo was working so well, then we wouldn’t have to do that. It’s not.
O’REILLY: All right —
RYAN: The highest poverty rates in a generation. So we should have a conversation about addressing these root causes of poverty and the problems that are facing poverty without throwing names at each other.
O’REILLY: Okay, did Congressman Lee apologize? Congresswoman Lee apologized?
RYAN: No, but look, Barbara and I have known each other for many years. And, look, I just want to clarify the point that I’ve been making —
O’REILLY: But wait — how did she reply to your clarification?
RYAN: Well, she does not believe — she does — she does not believe that I have these views. She knows me well.
So it went, a great “O’Reilly Factor” softball outing. The host, too, fell back on the RH term: “These race hustlers make a big living and they get voted into office by portraying their constituents as victims and it’s all our fault and it’s my fault. It’s the rich people’s fault,” said O’Reilly.
Lee today released a statement criticizing O’Reilly for using the term: “Unfortunately we’ve come to expect language like ‘welfare queens,’ ‘food stamp president’ and now ‘race hustlers’ from the right wing and Mr. O’Reilly. It is disgusting and divisive and should never be accepted in our national discourse.”
The Web delivers some differing takes on “hustler.” One is this, off a Google search: “an aggressively enterprising person; a go-getter.” Another is this, from the Urban Dictionary: “someone who knows how to get money from others. selling drugs, rolling dice, pimpin. your hustlin for that money.”
Presumably O’Reilly is relying on the latter definition.