Wash. Post's Robinson on O'Reilly: "[I]t was, at best, a casually racist remark"

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During the September 26 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, discussing Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's controversial September 19 remarks about his visit to Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said of O'Reilly's comment: "[I]t was, at best, a casually racist remark." Robinson also said: "[W]hat really ticks me off is that when you say that, when you point that out, you know, immediately you get charged by O'Reilly and cohorts with, you know, you're the thought police, you're the thought Gestapo, you're the word Nazis, you're interfering with free speech, and somehow cutting off an honest debate about race. Well, tell me what in the year 2007 is debatable about whether or not black people can use a knife and fork. I don't think that's debatable at this point."

In addition, Robinson stated that O'Reilly "is a professional communicator who speaks to a couple of million people every night. You would think, you know, he's aware of what's coming out of his mouth and how it sounds." Robinson described O'Reilly's claim that CNN had "now entered the dark side" as "really tone-deaf" and added, "[I]f you're going to have an honest debate about race, maybe you ought to educate yourself a little bit and think about it a little bit before you start mouthing off."

From the September 26 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

OLBERMANN: So much for the exculpatory context. Let's turn now to Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist at The Washington Post, also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. Gene, good evening.

ROBINSON: Hi, Keith, and let me warn you upfront, I'm -- even though I'm black, I'm going to speak standard English tonight. So I don't want you to be surprised or shocked, and I'm actually going to think for myself too, which -- I know you'll be stunned. But -- I mean, this is -- this is incredible, but this is O'Reilly, this is the guy.

OLBERMANN: And it's textbook prejudice. I mean, he expected something because of the color of people's skin. Doesn't matter if he was pleasantly surprised or had his prejudice reinforced. Is this the most insidious part of this that he doesn't know that that is racism, by definition?

ROBINSON: Well, you know I'm not going to go inside of Bill O'Reilly's head -- you know, is he racist, what does he know? You know, all I know is that it was, at best, a casually racist remark. But you know, what really ticks me off is that when you say that, when you point that out, you know, immediately you get charged by O'Reilly and cohorts with, you know, you're the thought police, you're the thought Gestapo, you're the word Nazis, you're interfering with free speech, and somehow cutting off an honest debate about race. Well, tell me what in the year 2007 is debatable about whether or not black people can use a knife and fork. I don't think that's debatable at this point.

OLBERMANN: Well, as for the attack part, he also defended NBC and the Today show in the broadcast this evening and attacked CBS and ABC. So this is all a very fluid situation from his point of view. Any port in the storm, apparently. Let me play devil's advocate on one part of this. I keep thinking of Al Campanis, the baseball general manager who 20 years ago on Jackie Robinson day said that black baseball figures did not have, in his terms, the neccessities to be team managers or executives, and he helpfully pointed out, just as they could not swim. Campanis grew up in this xenophobic immigrant community in New York, and he grew way past it. He was Jackie Robinson's first double play partner in the minor leagues, his first friend. He went into management, he hired the first black talent scouts and minor league coaches in the '50s. He was an advocate, but he had hit a wall that he didn't realize was there. I mean, are there similarities between him and the kind of O'Reilly prejudice where you may not mean something racist but you're doing it anyway?

ROBINSON: Well, I think, you know, one key thing you just said was 20 years ago --

OLBERMANN: Yeah.

ROBINSON: -- this was 1987. Look, Al Campanis, you could have sympathy for. He was in many ways a very sympathetic figure.Yeah, he hit a wall, but he genuinely didn't know it was there. He had grown up in a time where that sort of, you know, casual racism was accepted, you know, in polite society, and he was a baseball guy.

Bill O'Reilly is a professional communicator who speaks to a couple of million people every night. You would think, you know, he's aware of what's coming out of his mouth and how it sounds. And, again, it's the year 2007. You know, we should have been -- we should have gotten beyond this point, but apparently, in that thicket that is Bill O'Reilly's mind, we're still there somehow, trying to figure out, you know, black people: boy, they're starting to think for themselves now.

OLBERMANN: Yes. Would this have been tamped down with one of those phony "if anyone took offense, I apologize" apologies, or was this, like, a tipping point waiting to happen like the career of Don Imus?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, this isn't the first time that O'Reilly has, you know, has walked this line. But he's not a really apologetic guy --

OLBERMANN: No, right.

ROBINSON: -- that's not my impression, and I think that would not be true to who he is. So what would you expect him to do other than to kind of, you know, with his characteristic bluster tough it out and say everybody else is wrong, I'm right, and I'm the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy, which I guess you and I are participants at the moment. But there you have it.

OLBERMANN: Well, maybe not, because I'm with NBC, and we're on the good list today. But I've got to ask you this last thing: if you're trying to kill the messenger, is there something -- is it tone deaf, is it Freudian, or is it just unintentional comic relief when O'Reilly says of the critics, particularly the one at CNN who accused him of racism, that they have "now entered the dark side"? I mean, what the hell is that?

ROBINSON: That's really tone-deaf. And that was the headline on the website item as well. You know, again, you know, at the very least, really, really clueless. And if you're going to have an honest debate about race, maybe you ought to educate yourself a little bit and think about it a little bit before you start mouthing off.

OLBERMANN: Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor with The Washington Post. Even under these circumstances, always a pleasure, sir. Thank you.

ROBINSON: You too, Keith.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity
Person
Bill O'Reilly
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