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Bill O’Reilly’s Epic Discussion With Tavis Smiley And Cornel West About Race, Poverty And Herman Cain

Reported by Ellen - October 12, 2011 -

Last night, Bill O’Reilly attempted to defend Herman Cain’s comments about the Occupy Wall Street protesters, “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” by suggesting that most poverty is due to substance abuse. He also went on to complain about uncivil and disrespectful attacks on Cain – shortly before calling Cain critic Harry Belafonte “a zombie.” Unfortunately for O’Reilly, but fortunately for the rest of us, he chose as debate partners Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. I was quite critical of Smiley a few weeks ago when he appeared on Hannity but he completely redeemed himself and more in this appearance. It’s a must see.

O’Reilly began by citing figures that 15% of Americans are poor but 9% have some kind of substance depenence. “So let’s do the math,” O’Reilly said. “15% poor, 9% addicted. Maybe poverty is not exclusively an economic problem.”

Of course, there are plenty of addicts who are not poor: Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, John Belushi, Judy Garland, Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Cash and Betty Ford are just some names that come to mind.

West and Smiley saw right through what O’Reilly was really getting at – that the poor are a bunch of shiftless winos or crack heads who have mostly themselves to blame for the fix they’re in – and they good-naturedly but firmly refused to allow O’Reilly to go there unchallenged. They pointed out the oligarchic behavior of American corporations, refuted accusations of socialism and contested the suggestion that people are looking for handouts.

O’Reilly was obviously feeling vulnerable and defensive, perhaps because he knew he had been bested. When Smiley agreed with O'Reilly on a point and said, “You’re right," O’Reilly almost jumped out of his seat with anger. “What do you mean I lied about it! Wait a minute, Tavis. Don’t call me a liar… What did I lie about?” Smiley explained what he had actually said and O’Reilly’s feathers were unruffled. But Smiley did not get a chance to finish his answer.

Later, in Part 2, O’Reilly discussed African American criticism toward Herman Cain. O’Reilly obviously hoped to paint Smiley and West as some kind of racial ideologues – the way he tried to do with Jehmu Greene recently – but he flubbed it with his own hypocrisy.

“Here’s what I don’t get,” O’Reilly began. “If you disagree with Herman Cain… why do you have to personally attack him? …Why can’t you disagree respectfully?” O'Reilly would probably have been on stronger footing if he hadn't tried to attack Cain's African American critics by referring to them as, “(Harry) Belafonte and the other zombies…”

West interrupted, “Belafonte is not a zombie, brother.”

O’Reilly, rather than admit a misstep, doubled down. “He’s an intellectual zombie and you know it!”

Smiley jumped in. “Bill, one minute you’re calling for civility, then the next minute you’re engaging in name calling.”

“I’m describing his mindset,” O’Reilly insisted.

Then Smiley really nailed it. He asked O’Reilly if he’s so concerned with civility and respect, “Did you check Herman Cain” when he “insulted black folk and said they were brainwashed, when he said to poor people, if you’re not rich and you don’t have a job, blame yourself, did you check Herman Cain the way you want to check Belafonte now?”

I can answer that question and the answer is no.

O’Reilly got mad, probably because he knew Smiley had him. “Hold it! I disagree with Herman Cain on a lot of things but on this one, I’m giving him a pass.” Referring to Cain’s “brainwashed African Americans” statement, O'Reilly said, “That is a point worth discussing. I’m not running the man down for that!”

In other words, O’Reilly was now suggesting it was “worth discussing” whether African Americans are mindless sheep about their voting decisions. But it was also interesting that O'Reilly suggested he'd be "running down" Cain if he disagreed.

What I loved about this discussion was that Smiley and West knew exactly what O’Reilly was up to, they didn’t cede one centimeter to O'Reilly's agenda and yet they remained friendly and affable about their differences. In fact, at the end, Smiley said, “We love you anyway.” West waved his arms up and down as if he were at church and said, “We’re praying for you.” There was lots of balance and no vitriol.

O’Reilly may not have seen it that way. He said, “I’m glad you love me and you’re praying for me because I’d hate to see if you hated me.”

Update: I wrote to the show and asked them to have West and Smiley on again. I even made up a little poem about it (which Factor viewers know O'Reilly favors). Tonight, O'Reilly made a few snide comments about the guys (at one point referring to them as "the brothers") but my wish may not be in vain. O'Reilly said he liked them despite thinking they hated him. You're wrong about that, Bill!

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