So a white guy walks into a restaurant in Harlem...
Reported by Chrish - September 26, 2007 -
Now it might shock you to learn that I don't think Bill O'Reilly meant any harm or intended to be racist in his comments on The Radio Factor about his dining experience with Al Sharpton at Sylvia's, a restaurant owned and operated and largely patronized by African-Americans in Harlem. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
O'Reilly was probably trying, as he claimed, to inform his audience that the rap and hip-hop cultures he excoriates are not representative of all black people, and used his own experience to make the point. But the way he said it revealed his deep-seated prejudices, whether he wants to admit it or not:
"You know, I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy, and he comes on The Factor a lot, and I treated him to dinner because he's made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time. And all the people up there are tremendously respectful, they all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was, like, big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice. And I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean it was -- it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship; it was the same. And that's really what this society is all about, now...
[...] There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.' You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all."
In his Talking Points Memo last night 9/25/07 O'Reilly was of course attacking the messenger(s) who made his condescending comments known: vile left-wing smear merchants Media Matters (who are allegedly associated with the "now notorious MoveOn.org"), for posting the transcript; CNN for refering to it and discussing it; "elements at NBC" who read the transcript on the air; and a local ABC affiliate who covered the story and reactions from Sylvia's patrons. He somehow segued that into a nah-nah-nah-nah-nah taunt over ratings (the be-all and end-all if you're an advertising exec or a media whore, or a media whore's defender) and seemed to think that justified his racist comments.
Breaking the cardinal rule of journalism, O'Reilly made this his Top Story. Guest Juan Williams was on to defend O'Reilly, as he was a guest on The Radio Factor discussing his book "Enough" when the slips occurred.
Williams is incensed because he sees the reports on CNN and in MM as trying to shut up Bill O'Reilly because he was trying to have an open discussion of racism and the negative effects of the hip-hop and gangsta cultures on young black people forging their identities. O'Reilly was relating that his own grandmother was afraid of black people, though she didn't know any, and he tried to tell her that the stereotypes she had seen on TV were wrong, and segued into his tale of dining with Al Sharpton. He intended to use his personal example as proof, to his audience, that the scary vulgar thugs are not the norm.
As I said, I don't think O'Reilly intended to offend, but this is subtle racism of low expectations, much like the ill-advised remarks George Bush and Joe Biden made about Barack Obama being "articulate." It reflects on his upbringing, which was typical of the time and place, and shows a lack of evolution and sensitivity. You don't compliment someone by telling them how much better behaved they are than you expected (unless you are positively reinforcing a child).
Media Matters has compiled a number of other documented instances when O'Reilly has said something with racist overtones. The mere fact that he felt he had to share with his listeners that there are indeed civilized black people right there in NYC speaks to the make-up of his audience, and his defense that he didn't receive a single complaint from listeners was meaningless. Can you imagine Randi Rhodes or Ed Schultz trying to impress on their audiences that there wasn't filth and anarchy at a soul food restaurant - quel surprise?!?
No, O'Reilly stepped in it this time and no matter the goodness in his heart (blech), what came out of his mouth was offensive and he should apologize. If he refuses to recognize it, and refuses to humble himself, then all those fans at Sylvia's ought to turn off his programs.
Expect further attacks on Media Matters and a new offensive on CNN (who have lost all cred with O'Reilly; how convenient as the Iran offensive heats up to dismiss out of hand the most trusted name in news). The MoveOn ad has been milked for all it's worth, and now that MoveOn has paid the New York Times the $77,000 difference in ad rates and the Giuliani campaign is refusing to do the same, that issue has outlived its usefulness at FOX and in fact, needs to be buried.
(We don't want to get too distracted by this, though. We really all ought to be reading every thing we can about the warmongering going on - who's doing it and why.)