PHILADELPHIA — If James Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch are looking for a moment in which to make a statement about their vision for Fox News, now is it. These two brothers — sons of mogul Rupert Murdoch and two-thirds of the triumvirate at Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox — are widely known to have resented the way that recently resigned Fox News chief Roger Ailes ran the network.
Well, it’s been a week since Ailes left, and his offensive style of broadcasting lives on. On Wednesday night, host Bill O’Reilly took to the network’s airwaves to attempt a defense of his comments of last night regarding first lady Michelle Obama’s Monday night speech here at the Democratic National Convention. She said, in part, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
Reviewing that moment, O’Reilly found that, yes, slaves did assist in the construction of the White House, alongside free black and white laborers. For some reason, he felt compelled to add that slaves were “well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.” For that, he got hammered by this blog, among many others.
Tonight he called these critics “smear merchants,” something of a promotion above the term “far left loons” that he deployed earlier in a tweet. “The rank tabloid New York Daily News wrote, quote, ‘O’Reilly defends use of White House slaves.’ That is a lie. I defended nothing. The publisher of the Daily News Mort Zuckerman allows that kind of stuff on a daily basis. It is despicable. USA Today did the same thing. ‘Bill O’Reilly defended the working conditions slaves faced while building the White House.’ Another lie.”
To do justice to O’Reilly’s defense, he says that the horror of slavery is a “given.” “As any honest historian knows in order to keep slaves and free laborers strong, the Washington administration provided meat, bread and other staples, also decent lodging on the grounds of the new presidential building,” said O’Reilly. “That is a fact. Not a justification, not a defense of slavery. Just a fact.”
As the Erik Wemple Blog pointed out this morning, Jesse J. Holland, who wrote the book on slaves and the White House, noted that the slaves were housed in a barn and were provided with food. Yet there’s a gap between that historical fact and what O’Reilly alleged, which, again, is that they were “well fed” and resided in “decent lodgings.” Those aren’t really facts; they’re judgments. Though Holland researched this matter extensively, he found limitations. “Writing about slavery is difficult because there is so little that we know for a fact because so little was written about their lives during their lives.” If it weren’t for the records of payments to slave owners, says Holland, historians might still be arguing about whether slaves actually worked on the White House. The author emails the Erik Wemple Blog these thoughts:
There is no doubt that slaves were provided food and shelter while they were working to build the White House. That is a fact. However, we don’t know the quality of either because there are no historical records that support that judgment. What is undeniable is that slaves were not given a choice on what they ate or where they lived. They were at the mercy of their masters, and dependent on the whims of people who considered them property, not human beings. But I am glad there is an ongoing dialogue about this issue, because it’s helping to bring attention to a long ignored portion of America’s past that proves all of our citizens have a historical stake in our government and our nation’s capital.
Information scarcity notwithstanding, O’Reilly stands by his conclusions about well-fed-decent-lodgings. At this point, it’s incumbent on him to substantiate these judgments or concede that he’s making them without supporting documentation — a common malaise on certain Fox News programs. A smaller point pertains to O’Reilly’s sudden and complete faith in the ability of government to provide sustenance and accommodations for its people. Why does this guy, a small government proponent, all of a sudden think that the public sector can perform such programs with such efficiency?
“He does not understand the nature of servitude,” said Ralph Dawson, a 67-year-old delegate for Hillary Clinton, on the convention floor on Wednesday. Duni Hebron, a Clinton delegate from Houston, said of O’Reilly’s comments: “It hurts deep down.”
After asserting his rightness, he invited Fox Newsers Geraldo Rivera and Eric Bolling to discuss his rightness. Citing a run-in on the floor of the Democratic convention, O’Reilly told Bolling, “Our reporters can’t go out on the floor? Jesse Watters goes on the floor of the Democratic Convention, and some photographer comes up and starts swearing at him and cursing at him right in his face? This is provocation. These people are doing this. They want me dead, Bolling, literally dead.”
We have asked Fox News whether there’s any evidence that anyone wants O’Reilly dead. We are awaiting an answer.
Further evidence that O’Reilly has reached new extremes emerged in this comment: “I think the time has come now where this whole network is going to have to band together — all of us — and we are going to have to call out the people who are actively trying to destroy this network by using lies and deception and propaganda. We’re going to have to start to call them out by name because that’s how bad it’s become.” What O’Reilly failed to mention is that the sexual harassment scandal of his former boss — Ailes — is doing far more to destroy Fox News than could any outside critic.