At the Tea Party protest on Capitol Hill the weekend that health care reform passed the House, reports surfaced of angry Tea Partiers yelling racist and homophobic epithets at Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), and other House Democrats. In the days that followed, a series of vandalism incidents and death threats aimed at lawmakers became public, which were seen by many as a possible manifestation of the tea party’s anger over the passage of health care reform.
Conservatives have responded with outrage, complaining about double standards and hypothesizing that the racial slurs reported on Saturday were fabricated by the African-American lawmakers. In an interview with Laura Ingraham today, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly claimed that connecting the threats and bigoted language to the tea party as a whole was a “grossly unfair” effort to “brand the entire movement” as “a bunch of racists”:
O’REILLY: But the press showed no restraint at all in covering that story and immediately took that and branded the tea parties a bunch of racists. Now, that’s the strategy. This is why it’s a big story. Why I’m leading with it tonight on the Factor. And I got Al Sharpton in the seat. Because I can’t get the others and that tells me something too. I can’t John Lewis and I can’t get Emanuel Cleaver. These are the guys who made the accusations. They won’t come on. That shows, that tells me something. But anyway, the strategy is on the left because the Tea Party movement is a danger to them to brand everybody in it as a racist.
INGRAHAM: Isn’t that a sure sign of a scoundrel’s refuge, though? I mean, you always go to the racist charge.
O’REILLY: Sure. Of course it’s scoundrels. Of course, the left-wing media, you don’t get more scoundrel than those people. And but that’s what they’re doing. You can see it. You can see it that any nut — and there are some nuts, Laura, in the Tea Party movement — any nut and anything will be used to brand the entire movement.
“What is true is that the extreme far left is not often used to brand” the Democratic Party,” observed O’Reilly. “But the extreme right has been used to brand the Republican Party. And that, that’s what’s going on.” Listen here:
Of course, O’Reilly is correct that incidents of bigotry at Tea Party events do not mean that everybody in the Tea Party movement is racist. O’Reilly’s effort to make a nuanced distinction is surprising, however, considering his past efforts to use cherry-picked user comments to label the netroots as “hatemongerers” like “the Ku Klux Klan” and “the Nazi Party.” In 2007, when JetBlue sponsored the YearlyKos convention, O’Reilly attacked the company, saying that “if the company was sponsoring a David Duke convention, we’d do the same story. Hate is hate, no matter where it comes from.” The two or three comments picked out from a forum in which hundreds of thousands of people participate were not representative of the site as a whole.
When Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) appeared on O’Reilly’s show to defend YearlyKos, which he was attending, he argued that “the fact that there are objectionable people who show up here on this site doesn’t discredit everyone else who participates in this in a wonderful way to share their views on a variety of subjects.” “Your description of that site is so opposite from what it is,” responded O’Reilly. “You are so dead wrong on this.” A year later, when former Vice President Al Gore spoke at the convention (which had been re-named Netroots Nation), O’Reilly declared that “the fact that he went to this thing is the same as if he stepped into the Klan gathering. It’s the same. No difference.”