In 2007, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly came under heavy criticism after attending Harlem soul food restaurant Sylvia’s with the Rev. Al Sharpton. O’Reilly said that he “couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s Restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City…even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patronship.” He later observed, “There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea.’” O’Reilly defended his comments by saying that he was trying to show “white America” that they didn’t have to “fear” blacks.
Last night on his Fox News show, O’Reilly hosted the Weekly Standard’s Mary Katharine Ham and NPR’s Juan Williams, who stood up for O’Reilly during the Sylvia’s controversy. O’Reilly said that he — and other “white journalists” — have stopped highlighting the “problems” of African-Americans because he doesn’t want to be “taken out of context” by “sleazeoids” like Media Matters:
O’REILLY: Now, Juan, in a serious vein, and we talked about this with the infamous Sylvia deal a couple of ago, a few years ago, I, and many other white journalists, now don’t do nearly as many reports on African-Americans or their problems, because we don’t want to be put in a situation where our opinion is taken out of context, rammed down our throat as Media Matters and all these other sleazeoids do. So unless it’s a big thing, if it’s an optional thing where I used to do it, I’m not doing it anymore. If I go to Sylvia’s restaurant, a primarily black restaurant, very fine in Harlem, I’m not going to say anything about it anymore, which is not good for Sylvia’s because she got a lot of good publicity from that.
It may surprise O’Reilly, but it is possible for “white journalists” to offer insightful coverage on issues in communities of color. The reason O’Reilly faces criticism is not because he’s taken out of context, but because his analysis is often condescending and demeaning. In July, for example, he tried to tell African-Americans whom they can and cannot hold up as icons. In January, he lamented that he can’t make fun of Arabs anymore because it’s considered politically incorrect. O’Reilly has been trying to make himself and other “white Americans” into victims for years. In February 2007, he said that African-Americans should “feel sorry for us white folks here, because I’m telling you now I’m afraid to say anything. … White Americans are terrified.”