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Maxine Waters swings back at Bill O’Reilly: ‘I’m a strong black woman and I cannot be intimidated’

Two separate incidents involving a black congresswoman and a black White House reporter sparked outrage on social media, leading to #BlackWomenAtWork. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)
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Fox News host Bill O'Reilly disparaged a senior African American congresswoman because of the lawmaker's appearance — comparing her hair on Tuesday morning to a “James Brown wig.”

Hours later, O'Reilly apologized for his “jest” about Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), calling his comments “dumb.”

On Tuesday night, the congresswoman dismissed O'Reilly's remarks.

“Let me just say this: I'm a strong black woman and I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O'Reilly or anybody,” Waters said on MSNBC's “All In with Chris Hayes.”

“And I'd like to say to women out there everywhere: Don't allow these right-wing talking heads, these dishonorable people, to intimidate you or scare you. Be who you are. Do what you do. And let us get on with discussing the real issues of this country.”

In a “Fox & Friends” segment Tuesday morning, O'Reilly replayed a speech Waters had delivered on the House floor the night before. In it, Waters defended those who were critical of President Trump, saying that that criticism arose from a love of country.

“We have suffered discrimination. We have suffered isolation and undermining,” Waters said. “But we stand up for America, often times when others who think they are more patriotic, who say they are more patriotic, do not.”

A speech by Rep. Maxine Waters generated backlash for host Bill O'Reilly when he said he was too distracted by "the James Brown wig" to listen to what she said (Video: C-SPAN)

Throughout her speech, O'Reilly's face appeared in a smaller window on the screen, where he was shown smiling, pumping his fist and mouthing silent responses to Waters.

“When we fight against this president and we point out how dangerous he is for this society and for this country, we're fighting for the democracy. We're fighting for America,” Waters continued. “We're saying to those who say they're patriotic, but they turned a blind eye to the destruction he's about to cause this country: ‘You're not nearly as patriotic as we are.’ ”

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After watching the clip, O'Reilly's colleagues asked him what he made of Waters's speech.

“I — I didn't hear a word she said,” O'Reilly told them. “I was looking at the James Brown wig.”

One of the co-hosts laughed loudly.

“It's the same one,” co-host Brian Kilmeade replied, before referring to the late soul singer, who died in 2006. “And he's not using it anymore. They just — they finally buried him.”

Co-host Ainsley Earhardt tried to defend Waters, but it only caused O'Reilly to double down on his remarks.

“No. Okay, I've got to defend her on that. I have to defend her on that,” Earhardt said. “You can't go after a woman's looks. I think she's very attractive.”

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“I didn't say she wasn't attractive,” O'Reilly said.

“Her hair is pretty,” Earhardt insisted.

“I love James Brown, but it's the same hair, James Brown — all right, the godfather of soul — had,” O'Reilly replied.

“So he had girl hair,” Earhardt said.

“Whatever it is,” O'Reilly said, “I just couldn't get by it.”

Waters, 78, was first elected to Congress in 1991. The ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee has become one of the harshest and most unapologetic critics of Trump, openly calling for his impeachment.

As the clip made the rounds online Tuesday, people decried O'Reilly's comments as “sexist, and uncalled for” and “openly racist.”

“Go straight to hell,” CNN commentator Angela Rye tweeted to O'Reilly.

It was far from the first time O'Reilly has been called out for offensive remarks against women and minorities. Among recent examples, he last year defended former Fox News boss Roger Ailes, who was ousted from the network after former host Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment.

And in an interview with Trump last April, O'Reilly questioned how the then-presidential-candidate could help black people in America if elected.

“But how are you going to get jobs for them?” O'Reilly said then. “Many of them are ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads, and I hate to be generalized about it, but it's true. If you look at all the educational statistics, how are you going to get jobs for people who aren't qualified for jobs?”

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It also wasn't the first time Waters has been belittled on the network. In 2012, Fox News host Eric Bolling drew outrage after suggesting Waters must be on drugs to be criticizing the GOP the way she had been.

“Congresswoman, you saw what happened to Whitney Houston,” Bolling said. “Step away from the crack pipe, step away from the Xanax, step away from the Lorazepam because it’s going to get you in trouble.”

After the commercial break, Bolling walked back his comments, saying he was “kidding about the crack pipe.”

On Tuesday, O'Reilly wrapped up his appearance on “Fox and Friends” by inviting Waters to appear on his show, the “O'Reilly Factor.”

“She's a sincere individual. Whatever she says, she believes. She's not a phony, all right? And that's old school,” O'Reilly said. “So we're giving Maxine a break here. I love you, Maxine. I want to see you on 'the Factor' and, when hell freezes over, I'm sure that'll happen.”

In a statement Fox News emailed to The Washington Post on Tuesday afternoon, O'Reilly apologized for his comments.

“As I have said many times, I respect Congresswoman Maxine Waters for being sincere in her beliefs,” O'Reilly said in the statement. “I said that again today on Fox & Friends calling her 'old school.' Unfortunately, I also made a jest about her hair which was dumb. I apologize.”

This post has been updated. An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the quote, "It's the same one," to Fox News co-host Steve Doocy, citing a transcript by Media Matters for America. According to Fox News spokeswoman, that quote was said by co-host Brian Kilmeade.

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