By Erik Wemple – December 21
Two years ago, Jon Stewart, then host of “The Daily Show,” made a harried effort to extract a concession from Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that race played a “factor” in outcomes in U.S. society. “I want you to admit that there is such a thing as white privilege in America,” said Stewart. O’Reilly bridled at the suggestion, arguing that racial subjugation is history. “That was then; this is now,” said O’Reilly, who argued that individuals could simply get ahead via hard work.
Then Stewart asked O’Reilly if he’d benefited from his upbringing in Levittown, N.Y. Yes, said O’Reilly. Could black people live in Levittown? pressed Stewart. “Not at that time,” responded O’Reilly — an admission that forced O’Reilly to give a bit of ground on this divisive issue.
He forgot the lesson.
On last night’s edition of “The O’Reilly Factor,” the King of Cable News circled back to the issue as part of a “Talking Points Memo” addressing calls to fold the electoral college. It’s a newsworthy topic, considering that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 percent yet took a beating on the tally that matters. “The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin,” editorialized the New York Times on Monday. “When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.”
Arguing against any attempt to KO the electoral college, O’Reilly found insidious racial motives in the calls to do so. “White men have largely abandoned the Democrats, and the left believes it’s because of racism that they want to punish minorities, keep them down,” said O’Reilly. “So that’s what’s really going on when you hear about the electoral college and how unfair it allegedly is. Summing up, the left wants power taken away from the white establishment.”
The spokesman for this white establishment also scoffed at the historical work of the cabal. “The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with,” he said. “Therefore white working class voters must be marginalized, and what better way to do that than center the voting power in the cities? Very few commentators will tell you that the heart of liberalism in America today is based on race. It permeates almost every issue — that white men have set up a system of oppression.”
That’s a historical fact, actually — not an argument. Contrary to O’Reilly’s fantasies about a modern and color-blind United States, evidence continues to mount that the system of oppression remains open for business. Witness a New York Times investigation spotlighting a massive discrepancy in how black inmates in New York state are treated vis-a-vis their white peers. Witness a stunning USA Today investigation showing that, in the words of the headline, “Black people are three times likelier to be killed in police chases.” Chilling: “Deadly pursuits of black drivers were twice as likely to start over minor offenses or non-violent crimes that posed little danger to the public until a police officer decided to give chase,” according to the USA Today article. Should O’Reilly need more information on this topic, he could always pull up the Justice Department’s damning and endless March 2015 Ferguson report. One passage:
Ferguson’s law enforcement practices overwhelmingly impact African Americans. Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population. African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search. African Americans are more likely to be cited and arrested following a stop regardless of why the stop was initiated and are more likely to receive multiple citations during a single incident. From 2012 to 2014, FPD issued four or more citations to African Americans on 73 occasions, but issued four or more citations to non-African Americans only twice. FPD appears to bring certain offenses almost exclusively against African Americans. For example, from 2011 to 2013, African Americans accounted for 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges, and 94% of all Failure to Comply charges. Notably, with respect to speeding charges brought by FPD, the evidence shows not only that African Americans are represented at disproportionately high rates overall, but also that the disparate impact of FPD’s enforcement practices on African Americans is 48% larger when citations are issued not on the basis of radar or laser, but by some other method, such as the officer’s own visual assessment.
Such present-day realities of being black in the United States never seem to impress O’Reilly. There’s no great mystery as to why either. Just look at the 2016 presidential campaign, a stretch during which O’Reilly managed to boost Donald Trump’s campaign in part by papering over his racist and bigoted message. When Trump went wobbly over the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, O’Reilly vouched for him: “I’ve spoken with Trump hundreds of times, and I’ve never heard him run down anyone because of race. He doesn’t care about that.” And after Trump retweeted statistics that grossly exaggerated the rate at which African Americans kill white people, O’Reilly scolded him for the factual error, then coddled him: “You know I’m looking out for you. … Don’t do this, don’t put your name on stuff like this, ’cause it makes the other side — it gives them stuff to tell the ill-informed voter that you’re a racist.”
See? Trump’s racism and bigotry were problems of optics and strategy, not substance.
The upside is that O’Reilly is at least consistent on this broad and critical topic. When Jesse Watters promoted Asian stereotypes in a disastrous visit to New York City’s Chinatown, O’Reilly claimed to be a victim of the backlash. In a chat with candidate Trump, he asked how he’d help African American youth. “How are you going to get jobs for them? Many of them are ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads and I hate to be generalized about it but it’s true,” he asked. In August 2015, O’Reilly teed up a segment with this line, “The Black Lives Matter supporter enters the No Spin Zone. What do these folks really want? Why are they bothering us?” And don’t forget the time that O’Reilly told a black guest that he looked like a “cocaine dealer.”
So flacking for white America is a position for which O’Reilly has been preparing over the course of many years. There is no man better prepared for this job.
Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.