Sylvia's family spokesperson reportedly found O'Reilly comments "offensive to the black culture"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

According to reports by several media outlets, a family spokesperson for Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem said that comments made by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly on the September 19 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program were "[o]ne of the worst stereotypes ever of our customers, of our people," "extremely insensitive," and "outrageous." Describing dinner with the Rev. Al Sharpton at the restaurant, O'Reilly said: "I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. It was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship."

A September 25 Associated Press video included a clip of a member of the family that owns Sylvia's, Trenness Woods-Black, who said: "We know that Bill O'Reilly is very controversial, but that statement was not only offensive to the black culture, but it was extremely insensitive."

On the September 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN correspondent Mary Snow reported: "[A] member of the family that owns Sylvia's restaurant tells us she feels O'Reilly's comments were, in her words, 'extremely insensitive and insulting to our race.' "

Snow noted: "O'Reilly's words were first brought to the media's attention by the liberal-leaning media watchdog group Media Matters. It's the same group that first noticed the controversial remarks made by Don Imus that cost him his job."

CNN Screenshot

A September 26 New York Daily News article reported that Woods-Black said, "It is very insulting. ... O'Reilly's knowledge about the African-American community is limited and his statements are outrageous and unfortunate." The Daily News further reported that:

Media Matters spokesman Eric Burns said he expected O'Reilly to claim to have been victimized, describing it as "his automatic response to scrutiny of his ignorant comments." Sylvia's managers weren't too surprised, either.

"It's commonplace for O'Reilly. It's his position and overview of the world," said Kenneth Woods, Sylvia's grandson.

In an interview aired on the September 26 edition of CBS' The Early Show, CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano asked Woods-Black: "Do you feel that Bill O'Reilly's comments about his meal here are racist?" Woods-Black replied: "Definitely. One of the worst stereotypes ever of our customers, of our people."

From the September 25 Associated Press video:

WOODS-BLACK: We know that Bill O'Reilly is very controversial, but that statement was not only offensive to the black culture, but it was extremely insensitive.

From the 7 p.m. ET hour of the September 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

WOLF BLITZER (host): Fox's Bill O'Reilly is riling up people with a remark he made about his visit to a primarily African-American restaurant. Let's go right to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York following this controversy.

Mary, what's it all about?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, the Fox News host went for dinner in Harlem recently with the Reverend Al Sharpton. It's his comments about that dinner that are generating criticism.

[begin video clip]

SNOW: Here's what Bill O'Reilly had to say about his recent dinner at Sylvia's, a famous restaurant in Harlem.

O'REILLY [audio clip]: 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, primarily black patronship. It was the same, and that's really what this society's all about now here in the USA. There's no difference. There's no difference.

SNOW: Radio talk show host and CNN contributor Roland Martin says callers to his show see stereotypes in glaring neon lights.

MARTIN: What bothered me was when he says that he was surprised that there was no difference between Sylvia and someone else. Well, why would you be surprised? Have you not gone to a black restaurant before?

SNOW: CNN's Rick Sanchez reached O'Reilly by phone yesterday.

SANCHEZ: He said, look, to be fair now, this is what he says. He said, "This is totally -- it was a totally benign conversation. There was absolutely no racist intent. "

SNOW: O'Reilly also went on to talk about stereotypes of rappers, saying --

[begin audio clip]

O'REILLY: There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming "M-Fer, I want more iced tea."

JUAN WILLIAMS (NPR senior correspondent and Fox News contributor): Please.

O'REILLY: You know, I mean, everybody was -- 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. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all.

[end audio clip]

SNOW: O'Reilly's words were first brought to the media's attention by the liberal-leaning media watchdog group Media Matters. It's the same group that first noticed the controversial remarks made by Don Imus that cost him his job. Fox News' reaction, quote, "This is nothing more than left-wing outlets stirring up false racism accusation for ratings. It's sad."

[end video clip]

SNOW: Now, as for the restaurant that left such an impression on O'Reilly, a member of the family that owns Sylvia's restaurant tells us she feels O'Reilly's comments were, in her words, "extremely insensitive and insulting to our race." Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow watching this story for us in New York. Mary, thanks very much.

From the September 26 New York Daily News article:

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. It was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks [and has a] primarily black patronship," O'Reilly said. "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea!'"

"It was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people [who] were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all," he said.

O'Reilly was apparently trying to say that not all black people are into profane gangsta rap culture.

The comments, made in an hour-long show about race last Wednesday and then publicized by the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, prompted jeers, outrage and guffaws yesterday.

"It is very insulting," said restaurant manager Trenness Woods-Black, granddaughter of the famous Sylvia Woods.

"O'Reilly's knowledge about the African-American community is limited and his statements are outrageous and unfortunate."

The ever-obstinate O'Reilly insisted on "The O'Reilly Factor" last night his remarks were meant to show "there was no difference" between whites and blacks and "stereotypes are not true."

He branded CNN and Media Matters, which monitors "conservative misinformation in the U.S. media," as "smear merchants" for reporting the story.

CNN, he opined, is "out to destroy me and Fox News" to protect its ratings.

Bill Shine, Fox's senior vice president of programming, backed O'Reilly. "This is nothing more than left-wing outlets stirring up false racism accusations for ratings," Shine said.

Sharpton said he and O'Reilly have eaten together in Harlem before and he was surprised at the radio comments. "I understand he says he's been taken out of context. I'll be going on his show and I want to talk directly with him," Sharpton said.

During last Wednesday's show, O'Reilly decried rap music and hip-hop culture. He also said he'd been to a concert at Radio City Music Hall and noted that "the blacks were well-dressed."

"This is what white America doesn't know, particularly people who don't have a lot of interaction with black Americans. They think that the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg," he said.

Media Matters spokesman Eric Burns said he expected O'Reilly to claim to have been victimized, describing it as "his automatic response to scrutiny of his ignorant comments." Sylvia's managers weren't too surprised, either.

"It's commonplace for O'Reilly. It's his position and overview of the world," said Kenneth Woods, Sylvia's grandson.

From the September 26 edition of CBS' The Early Show:

SOLORZANO: Sylvia's has been in Trenness Blacks-Woods' [sic] family for 45 years.

SOLORZANO: Do you feel that Bill O'Reilly's comments about his meal here are racist?

WOODS-BLACK: Definitely. One of the worst stereotypes ever of our customers, of our people.

[...]

SOLORZANO: As far as Blacks-Woods [sic] sees it --

SOLORZANO: If O'Reilly walks in here tomorrow and asks to be served --

WOODS-BLACK: Welcome to Sylvia's.

SOLORZANO: Bianca Solorzano, CBS News, New York.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Bill O'Reilly
Show/Publication
The O'Reilly Factor
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