The ostensible purpose for Bill O’Reilly’s appearance last night on “The Daily Show” was to peddle his book, “Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General.” Yet rarely has a guest’s book received such dismissive treatment, even from a cable host. Stewart lifted the book, showed it to his audience and said, “The book is called Bill O’Reilly, ‘Killing Patton,’ it’s like what — the eighth. We’re just going to call this series ‘Killing Trees.’ They sell like crazy.” He then slapped the book on the counter and freely admitted to O’Reilly that he hadn’t read it.
Formalities completed, Stewart drove right at his one mission — to get O’Reilly to admit that there is such a thing as white privilege. “I just want you to say ‘I’m terribly, terribly wrong on this,'” Stewart told O’Reilly.
The topic emerged in the aftermath of the fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo., of an unarmed 18-year-old black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer. That tragedy occasioned another chapter in the long-running debate on race in this country, with O’Reilly among the louder voices on the topic. He lashed out at people who’d argued that whites live a privileged existence in this country and don’t have to suffer what happened to Brown and other black people. On one of his “Talking Points Memos,” O’Reilly said, “Talking Points does not, does not believe in white privilege. However, there is no question that African-Americans have a much harder time succeeding in our society than whites do.”
When Stewart insisted that white privilege is a mainstay of American society in 2014, O’Reilly countered: “Maybe you haven’t figured out that there is no more slavery, no more Jim Crow. The most powerful man in the world is a black American and the most powerful woman in the world, Oprah Winfrey, is black.”
Back and forth they went, until Stewart cornered O’Reilly. He asked whether O’Reilly’s upbringing in Levittown, N.Y., left a “mark” on him. Yes, of course, O’Reilly replied. The Fox News host has written at great length about his wonderful childhood years spent playing ball with kids on the block and getting into all manner of trouble.
Then Stewart asked whether black people could live in Levittown. “Not at that time,” responded O’Reilly. “So that, my friend, is what we call in the business ‘white privilege,” Stewart replied.
O’Reilly protested that they were talking about the 1950s. So Stewart asked whether blacks could live there in the 1960s. O’Reilly said he didn’t know. Stewart said definitively that they could not. “How do you know?” asked O’Reilly. “Because I read up on it,” Stewart replied.
That was pretty much a slam dunk.
At the end of the session, Stewart ended up getting O’Reilly to concede that race has been a “factor” in outcomes, a riff off of the title of O’Reilly’s Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor.” “I’ll give you the factor,” said O’Reilly.
Stunning that it took an eight-minute segment to extract such a concession from O’Reilly.