On Wednesday, a MSNBC graphic flat-out accused Bill O’Reilly of being a racist. It read: "Anchor’s Racist Comments" and there was no accompanying question mark to at least add the benefit of the doubt. During the 11am hour of "MSNBC News Live," anchor Contessa Brewer discussed a liberal group’s attack over O’Reilly's comments about eating at a black restaurant. A second graphic, below the host, did offer some slight uncertainty. It asked, "Anchor’s Racist Comments? Bill O’Reilly Comes Under Fire For Description of Black Restaurant."
Brewer discussed the issue with Paul Waldman of Media Matters and Republican strategist Joe Watkins. At one point, Watkins noted that both he and the host had previously been attacked by the liberal organization. Brewer defensively replied, "And, by the way, I'm not a conservative." The host appeared to be sympathetic to the idea O’Reilly’s comments, which originated on the September 19 edition of his radio show, had some sort of negative intention. She opened the segment by asserting the Fox News host is "now at the center of a heated debate about racist language."
Someone at the cable network must have realized the declarative nature of the MSNBC graphic. About 20 minutes later, Brewer introduced another segment on the subject. The guests and conversation was largely the same, but the graphic behind Brewer now included a question mark. (The new graphic, complete with question mark, can be seen below.)
On Tuesday, NewsBusters noted that both MSNBC and CNN were piling on O’Reilly and discussing the issue of whether his comments were racist.
A transcript of the September 26 segment, which aired at 11:09am, follows:
[MSNBC graphic behind Contessa Brewer: "Anchor’s Racist Comments"]
[MSNBC graphic at bottom of screen: "Anchor’s Racist Comments? Bill O’Reilly Comes Under Fire For Description of Black Restaurant]
Contessa Brewer: "Well, in the battle over what’s okay to say, conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly now at the center of a heated debate about racist language. Here's what happened. O’Reilly told a story about eating lunch at Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem, in New York City on his radio show. He was making a point that there would be less racism in America if all white people could see what he saw at the restaurant."
Bill O’Reilly: "–Ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all."
Brewer: "Well, that raised some eyebrows. What really got some people's blood up was when he said this."
O’Reilly: "There wasn't one person in Slyvia’s who was screaming, ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea.’"
Brewer: "After a liberal media watchdog group brought attention to O’Reilly’s comments, O’Reilly hit back, saying his comments were against racism and claiming he's the target of a, quote, ‘liberal smear campaign.’ Paul Waldman is a senior fellow for Media Matters for America and Joe Watkins is a Republican strategist and MSNBC political analyst. I guess, Paul, let me talk with you. Why did you think this warranted extra criticism?"
Paul Waldman: "Well, let me explain what we do at Media Matters. You know, Bill O’Reilly says we're smearing him and that we're taking things out of context when he says something like this, we put it up on our website with the full audio since this was from his radio show of the entire segment, the transcript so people can judge for themselves. I think it's not too surprising that a lot of people were offended, and that's why it's getting so much attention."
Joe Watkins (Republican strategist): "That's not the full story, Contessa. The full story is that when they monitor not everybody in the media, they monitor people in the media who come from the right. And in this case they didn’t, they of course did include the full transcript of what he said, but the initial article and the initial statements that he made, that he made which were taken out of context were what they went with as a headline to try to make it appear as if Bill O’Reilly is a racist."
Brewer: "But are you saying to me, I mean, I get that Bill O’Reilly was trying to make a point here that if you walk a mile in other people's shoes maybe you'd have more understanding between people. But when he said he couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's, a black-run restaurants and other white-run restaurants, are you saying there's no reason there to feel, like, ‘Why would that surprise you?’"
Watkins: "Well, initially I was offended when I read those remarks out of context. When I read them by themselves, I said, ‘How is it that anybody in 2007 could suppose that any restaurant, whether it's white run or black run, would be successful if the people didn't do a good job of running it?’ And so I thought to myself, ‘How could Bill O’Reilly make a statement like that?’ But then I read the whole article. I read the whole interview and listened to it. I listened to what he said, and what– The point he was trying to make was, to his white, predominantly white audience was, ‘You know what? These are Americans, and Americans are the same without regard to color.’ That's a very, very good and positive statement to make to America."
Brewer: "Paul, what do you make of that? Do you think that in terms of perhaps his inelegant speech that, really, his whole point should be taken as a positive?"
Waldman: "If you go to our website, MediaMatters.org, you can read and see and hear the entire thing. I think, we're not giving people enough credit to say that just because he was trying to make a larger point about how we're all the same underneath our skin, that that means there is nothing, there’s no reason that anyone should be offended or have-- raise their eyebrows at that statement. But let’s look at what Bill O’Reilly did. As soon as this came out, he attacked Media Matters. He called us names. He attacked CNN. He attacked NBC. Basically, he attacks anyone who wants to criticize him or even put up statements that he did."
Brewer: "And is that– Is that fair? I mean, they are– Like he said, you can go to Media Matters. You can see the whole statement. You can hear it for yourself. Is that fair?
Watkins: "It's fair, I suppose, for people to respond. You've been attacked on Media Matters. I've been attacked on Media Matters before."
Brewer: "And– And, by the way, I'm not a conservative. So, there you go."
Watkins: "There we go. There we go. But Media Matters is, is, is, is free to do what they do and they do a good job of letting the public know what they think people have said. But the reality is that it's not fair to try to smear somebody as a racist when they've made comments that I think bring us together."
Brewer: "Well, Joe, Paul, it’s an interesting discussion. Thank you both for participating. I appreciate it."