Bill O'Reilly Spins His 2007 Comments About Sylvia's To Defend Limbaugh From Media Matters

Bill O'Reilly complained extensively about “the vicious Media Matters outfit” on his March 22 show, alleging that we are “in business to demonize anyone with whom [we] disagree” and that we “are dishonest to the core.” O'Reilly was expressing outrage over our recently announced advertising campaign to “educate advertisers about the damage their financial support of [Rush] Limbaugh's program can do to their brands.”

O'Reilly concluded: “There is something very fascist about all this. Shut down your opposition. Don't let them speak. Punish people who support them. In every totalitarian state in the world, that is tactic number one: silence the opposition.”

But in his rush to show that we have “no integrity whatsoever,” O'Reilly again accused us of deceptively editing a clip of him in a post highlighting Fox's coverage of the increase in gas prices. He claimed Media Matters “cut out the part where I criticize Republicans, trying to persuade folks that I'm being unfair to President Obama.” In fact, as we noted the first time he brought this up, O'Reilly missed our point. He likewise failed to demonstrate how we edited the clip in a deceptive manner.

In a later segment with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, O'Reilly continued his attacks on Media Matters and argued that when he made racially insensitive remarks in 2007 on his radio show, we took them out of context in order to try to get him fired.

In fact, nothing is further from the truth.

Discussing a dinner with Rev. Al Sharpton at Harlem restaurant Sylvia's in September 2007, O'Reilly stated 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. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship.” O'Reilly added: “There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.' ”

But while defending Limbaugh on the Factor Thursday, O'Reilly stated that he was talking about his grandmother “and how fearful she was of African-Americans 'cause she'd never met one.” O'Reilly said he wished he could have taken her to a place like Sylvia's -- “a top-flight restaurant that's no different from any other restaurant, my grandmother might have been swayed and not have these very narrow opinions.” He continued:

O'REILLY: I was trying to do a good thing and then Media Matters absolutely took it out of context, twisted it around, and then tried to get me fired -- tried, tried to get the black community -- and thank God they didn't rally -- but tried to get me off the air because of that.

Here is what O'Reilly actually said on his radio show on September 19, 2007:

O'REILLY: Now, how do we get to this point? Black people in this country understand that they've had a very, very tough go of it, and some of them can get past that, and some of them cannot. I don't think there's a black American who hasn't had a personal insult that they've had to deal with because of the color of their skin. I don't think there's one in the country. So you've got to accept that as being the truth. People deal with that stuff in a variety of ways. Some get bitter. Some say, [unintelligible] “You call me that, I'm gonna be more successful.” OK, it depends on the personality.

So it's there. It's there, and I think it's getting better. I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. And they're getting away from the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the people trying to lead them into a race-based culture. They're just trying to figure it out: “Look, I can make it. If I work hard and get educated, I can make it.”

You know, I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy. And he comes on The Factor a lot, and then I treated him to dinner, because he's made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice.

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 U.S.A. There's no difference. There's no difference. There may be a cultural entertainment -- people may gravitate toward different cultural entertainment, but you go down to Little Italy, and you're gonna have that. It has nothing to do with the color of anybody's skin.

Media Matters provided the full context of O'Reilly's remarks at the time, including posting an audio clip and an extensive transcript, which can be read in its entirety here. But after his remarks went public, O'Reilly quickly accused Media Matters of taking his commentary “out of context,” saying we had “distorted the entire conversation.”

O'Reilly's comments were widely criticized, including by Rev. Jesse Jackson, who suggested O'Reilly had “underestimate[d] the civility of blacks,” which “was insulting to many people.”

On his Fox News show, O'Reilly insisted: “I just want to show you that this isn't -- this is about me, it's about you, it's about Rush Limbaugh, it's about everybody.”

However, as Media Matters founder David Brock wrote recently:

There is a myth that advertiser actions, like those now targeted at Limbaugh, impinge on his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. The truth is just the opposite: They are a demonstration of the power of the First Amendment.

We are not a government entity attempting to stifle Limbaugh's speech. Instead, we are using our right of free assembly to join together and raise our voices against Limbaugh. We are, in fact, engaging in the marketplace of ideas, one in which people, examining all of the facts, can choose whether it is in their financial interest to support hate radio.