The morning after CNN and MSNBC began salivating over a potential “Imus moment” pushed by a far-left group to suppress Bill O'Reilly over a supposedly racist remark, CBS and NBC on Wednesday advanced the liberal group's cause with multi-part segments on the topic. But while NBC's Today at least provided some balance and proper labeling, CBS's Early Show, with “In Hot Water” and “O'Race Factor” on screen, aired a story which failed to identify the ideology of Media Matters and followed with Julie Chen pressing the only guest to agree O'Reilly's comment was racist and that he must issue an apology. Amazingly, neither show bothered to mention that Juan Williams, the black journalist who was on O'Reilly's radio show when the FNC host made the remarks in question, defended O'Reilly: “It had nothing to do with racist ranting by anybody except these idiots at CNN.”
Harry Smith teased Wednesday's Early Show: “Bill O'Reilly in hot water over race remarks. The controversy ahead, early this Wednesday morning, September 26th, 2007.” Chen hyped a “firestorm” over O'Reilly before reporter Bianca Solorzano innocuously described Media Matters as a “watchdog group.” Solorzano asked an employee at the Harlem restaurant O'Reilly talked about: “Do you feel Bill O'Reilly's comments about his meal here are racist?” The woman affirmed: “Definitely. One of the worst stereotypes ever of our customers, of our people.” Chen next interviewed Alex David of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. She pressed him: “You say ignorance, but do you think racist?” Chen also urged him to agree: “Does he need to apologize at this point, do you think?”
In contrast, Today co-host Matt Lauer properly tagged Media Matters and gave O'Reilly's point of view, teasing at the top of the show: “Bill O'Reilly is in the headlines again, this time for some comments he made about race in America. He says his comments were taken out of context and he's being targeted by a left-wing Web site. In fact he says he was complimenting African-Americans and speaking out against racism. We're gonna get into that debate.” Co-host Meredith Vieira considered the possibility that O'Reilly is the victim and not the perpetrator, “Still ahead: Bill O'Reilly catching some flack for comments he made about a Harlem restaurant, but is he the victim of a smear campaign?”
In the subsequent segment, following a set-up piece, Lauer interviewed Paul Waldman of Media Matters as well as Republican strategist Joe Watkins who defended O'Reilly. Lauer even challenged Waldman with the larger context of O'Reilly's remarks: “I looked at it, Paul and I, and I thought Bill O'Reilly was saying that we should not be surprised. That, in other words, it's only for the small group of people who look at the entertainment of somebody like a 50 Cent or a Ludacris and thinks that represents all of African-Americans, that those people, need to get out and live life a little bit. You didn't see it that way?”
For much more on Tuesday coverage, the context of O'Reilly's comments and more of what Juan Williams said Tuesday night on The O'Reilly Factor, see the September 26 MRC CyberAlert rundown: “CNN Sees 'Imus Moment' for O'Reilly, Williams Calls CNN 'Idiots.'” For Wednesday segments on CNN and MSNBC, check these NewsBusters postings by the MRC's Matthew Balan and Scott Whitlock.
The key quote from O'Reilly featured by CBS and NBC, from O'Reilly's recollection on his radio show last week about dinner at Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem with Al Sharpton: “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 exactly the same. Even though it's run by blacks. There wasn't one person in Silvia's who was screaming 'M-Fer I want more iced tea.'”
In “SMEAR 101: Hoping to Create the Next Imus, Enemies Clobber O'Reilly,” RadioEqualizer blogger Brian Maloney on Wednesday provided a media outlet by media outlet timeline of the spread of the impugning of O'Reilly. Maloney's posting includes links to audio of O'Reilly's remarks in full as well as examples of inaccurate attacks on O'Reilly by CNN and others. An excerpt from his conclusion:
Under scrutiny, none of the allegations against O'Reilly hold up. Where to begin?
First, placed in their proper context, his comments simply don't come across as inflammatory. O'Reilly's overall theme is that many whites have very little real experience with black people. As a result, their views of African- Americans are clouded by negative perceptions that come from mainstream media consumption.
Are all black people gangsta rappers or convicts? Of course not, but without a lot of personal interaction, many white people may not recognize that.
Does O'Reilly share some of that ignorance? Perhaps, especially when his words are improperly isolated.
Even if he does, so what? Obviously, this a common problem in our society. That should not seem newsworthy to CNN.
Another gaping hole in the Media Matters smear campaign is the fact that the comments in question were made during an interview with liberal African-American pundit Juan Williams. And if you listen to the audio, Williams agrees with O'Reilly on these very points!
In fact, Williams has actually come out swinging in order to defend O'Reilly....Williams makes it clear that their discussion has been turned on its head by O'Reilly's enemies....
Between O'Reilly and Imus, there's no comparison. While the latter was guilty of uttering some outrageous slurs, Bill O'Reilly was doing nothing more than attempting to carry on an intelligent discussion about race relations in America. CNN, CBS and the New York Times are guilty of perpetuating this Soros-funded smear campaign and should truly be ashamed of themselves.
The MRC's Kyle Drennen provided this transcript of the September 27 Early Show focus:
JULIE CHEN: TV talk giant, Bill O'Reilly, is in his own controversy this morning, after comments he made after dinner with Al Sharpton at a famous restaurant in Harlem. Cable competitor CNN was first to stoke the fire, playing O'Reilly's controversial remarks in heavy rotation. And the firestorm continues. Here's CBS News Correspondent, Bianca Solorzano.
BILL O'REILLY ON HIS SHOW: Media Matters, which acts in concert with the now notorious MoveOn, has labeled me anti-black, anti-Hispanic-
BIANCA SOLORZANO, WITH “O'RACE FACTOR” ON SCREEN: Fox News host Bill O'Reilly blasted back against the watchdog group Media Matters and its claims that his recent radio comments were racially charged. A few weeks ago, O'Reilly came here to Sylvias, one of Harlem's most famous soul food restaurants. His dinner guest, the Reverend Al Sharpton. But when O'Reilly talked about that meal on his radio show last week, he cooked up a lot more than Silvia's famous southern fried chicken and barbecue ribs.
BILL O'REILLY, ON HIS RADIO SHOW LAST WEEK: 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 exactly the same. Even though it's run by blacks. There wasn't one person in Silvia's who was screaming "M-Fer I want more iced tea.”
SOLORZANO: Sylvia's has been in the Treness Blacks-Woods family for 45 years. Do you feel Bill O'Reilly's comments about his meal here are racist?
TRENESS BLACKS-WOODS: Definitely. One of the worst stereotypes ever of our customers, of our people.
DON IMUS: I apologize.
SOLORZANO: Don Imus' radio comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team were racially charged, so strong he lost his job. But has that case made us overly sensitive. Is there a fine line between racism and ignorance? Senator Joe Biden said this about Delaware's growing Indian population.
JOE BIDEN, IN 2006 C-SPAN VIDEO: You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.
SOLORZANO: As far as Blacks-Woods sees it -- If O'Reilly walks in here tomorrow and asks to be served-
BLACKS-WOODS: Welcome to Sylvia's.
SOLORZANO: Bianca Solorzano, CBS News, New York.
JULIE CHEN: Alex David is with the National Black Chamber of Commerce, good morning, sir.
ALEX David: Good morning, thank you Julie.
CHEN: What do you make of Bill O'Reilly's comments.
DAVID: When I first heard the comments I didn't think they were malicious and overt, but I thought they were quite reprehensible. He's been a commentator for quite some time and it was sheer ignorance. He's simply uninformed that's the first thing I thought.
CHEN: You say ignorance, but do you think racist?
DAVID: I don't think racist because, again, his comments did -- they were couched in a compliment, which, everyone, I think, would love. However, if you really look into the comments that he mentioned, it was, obviously he's not informed about what's going on in the black community and black restaurants. It's not as if I've gone to any restaurant, perhaps you haven't either, and black folks are ordering using expletives to get things done in service.
CHEN: So do you think he needs to apologize for what he's done? Even though the intent, you don't believe, was malicious? What do you think his intent was?
DAVID: I think his intent was just having conversation with Dr. Sharpton, or Reverend Sharpton, and he was just kind of mentioning some of things, how he, how surprised he was. But it's almost as if I came to New York, or you had some friends that came to New York, and they were surprised to find tourists or, you know, residents of New York not toting guns and not robbing them. I think any New Yorker would find that quite offensive. That's how the African-American community feels about Bill O'Reilly's comments.
CHEN: He tried to explain what he was getting at, he tried to explain that he wasn't trying to be insulting. Does he need to apologize at this point, do you think?
DAVID: I believe he needs to do two things. First he needs to concede that these remarks were out of line and quite offensive. Not only to African-Americans but all the patrons who've gone there, but also a public apology is absolutely appropriate.
CHEN: We reached out to his producer, who asked us to please consider the entire context of the tape, does that make a difference?
DAVID: Well let's think about it. The context of the tape was, he was talking to an African-American about an African-American restaurant about African-American, what he thought was, normal behaviors of African-Americans. I think the entire context is racially-based.
CHEN: So you think he needs to apologize, bottom line.
CHEN: Alex David, thank you so much for joining us.
DAVID: Thank you so much Julie.
CHEN: You're welcome.
The MRC's Geoffrey Dickens relayed this transcript of the take on NBC's Today:
MATT LAUER, 7AM: Also ahead Bill O'Reilly is in the headlines again, this time for some comments he made about race in America. He says his comments were taken out of context and he's being targeted by a left-wing Web site. In fact he says he was complimenting African-Americans and speaking out against racism. We're gonna get into that debate.
MEREDITH VIEIRA, 7:21AM: Still ahead. Bill O'Reilly catching some flack for comments he made about a Harlem restaurant but is he the victim of a smear campaign?
MEREDITH VIEIRA, 7:31AM: Coming up in just a moment Fox News channel's Bill O'Reilly, Fox News channel's Bill O'Reilly. He is used to being in the hot seat. Now some people are taking him to task for saying, on his radio show, that he was surprised that a well-known restaurant was like any other New York City restaurant, even though it was run by black people. O'Reilly claims that those comments were taken out of context, that the whole thing is a hatchet job. We're gonna have much on that, straight ahead.
MATT LAUER: But we begin the half-hour with Bill O'Reilly. Did he make racist comments on his radio show or is he getting a bad rap? Here's NBC's John
BILL O'REILLY: Anyway, this is dishonest and dangerous.
[On screen headline: "Race And O'Reilly, Did Harlem Comments Cross The Line?"]
JOHN LARSON: He had been silent about it for days but Tuesday night, on the O'Reilly Factor, the host spoke out.
O'REILLY: Media Matters distorted the, the entire conversation and implied I was racist for condemning racism.
LARSON: At issue, whether O'Reilly's radio comments last week, about his visit to Sylvia's, a Harlem restaurant, were racist.
O'REILLY, ON HIS RADIO SHOW: 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 by black patronship. It was the same. 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.
LARSON: The debate sparked when his comments were reported by MediaMatters.org. O'Reilly went on.
O'REILLY: I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. They're getting away from the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the, and the people trying to lead them into a race-based culture.
LARSON: Which was a bit odd, seeing as how Al Sharpton was O'Reilly's dinner guest that night at the Harlem restaurant.
AL SHARPTON: He and I have had dinner in Harlem before and I've never heard these comments, which is why I don't understand what this was all about. He didn't say anything offensive that night.
LARSON: O'Reilly says the controversy is a hatchet job. That if you listen to his entire commentary he was arguing against racism to his audience.
O'REILLY: It was the same, and that's really what this society's all about now here in the U.S.A. There's no difference. Had nothing to do with the color of anybody's skin.
LARSON: Finally at Sylvia's, where this began, patrons, last night, appreciated the barbecue gumbo and maybe some Sugar Hill Beer but not O'Reilly's comments.
WOMAN: It wasn't appropriate.
MAN: Does he expect anything different from black, black folk than white folk?
LARSON: "For Today, John Larson, NBC News, Los Angeles."
LAUER: Paul Waldman is with Media Matters for America, the liberal watchdog group that first drew attention to Mr. O'Reilly's comments and Joe Watkins is an MSNBC political analyst and Republican strategist. Guys, good morning to both of you.
LAUER: Joe let me start with you. When you first heard these comments, what was your reaction and has your reaction changed after time has impacted them a little bit?
LAUER: So, so in your opinion is, is this a case of a couple of, maybe ham-fisted comments in the midst of an overall positive argument, have gotten him headlines, because the negative sells?
LAUER: Alright, Paul let me go to you. As I said, it was your organization that put these things out there on the Web site. As you know, Bill O'Reilly has said that his comments were taken out of context. When you heard these comments, what set alarms off in your mind?
LAUER: But Paul, let me ask you this. You, you've heard the entire radio broadcast. You've read the entire transcript. When you look at his comments, in their entirety, do you think he is making racist statements?
LAUER: Go ahead, Joe.
LAUER: You, you see I looked at it, Paul and I, and I thought Bill O'Reilly was saying that we should not be surprised. That, in other words, it's only for the small group of people who look at the entertainment of somebody like a 50 Cent or a Ludacris and thinks that represents all of African-Americans, that those people, need to get out and live life a little bit. You didn't see it that way?
LAUER: But wait a second, are you criticizing now for his reaction to the controversy? Shouldn't we stick to the controversy, in the first place?"
LAUER: Joe, I mean, when, when you look at this, I mean, have we gotten into a situation in this country where it's the gotcha mentality?
LAUER: Where, where basically we don't look, we look at every little thing and we look for the negatives because the negatives make headlines. Even if we don't think that, in the bigger picture, Bill O'Reilly is, at all, a racist, we like these little negative comments just because they make headlines.
LAUER: Paul I'm gonna give you the last word on that. Joe says you've done this to him.
LAUER: I will say, real quickly, that I do think if Bill, if Bill O'Reilly were asked if he'd like a do-over in terms of the way he phrased a couple of those paragraphs and, and would he like to be a little bit more articulate on this, I think he probably would take a do-over. But again, the debate will remain, as far as what his, the intent of those comments was. Paul, thanks very much. Joe, thank you. Appreciate it.