Fox News host Bill O' Reilly suggested President Obama is to blame for the decades-long high unemployment rate among African-Americans, ignoring other factors such as institutionalized racism, even while acknowledging his employers have used affirmative action programs.
In an interview with Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder Robert L. Johnson on the April 3 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly wondered why “93 percent of African-Americans voted for President Obama last November even though black employment is so high,” arguing that the president “had four years to improve the black unemployment rate and it's not improving.” Johnson explained to O'Reilly that the graph he displayed to show African-American unemployment - which does not show the white unemployment rate and starts in 1996 - only told a fraction of the story and obscured the fact that African-American unemployment has been consistently double that of whites for half a century. This was the chart displayed by O'Reilly:
But as prepared and explained by Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), who noted “for African Americans, the last 50 years have been marked by extremely high unemployment occasionally interrupted by periods of merely high unemployment. At no point can we say that blacks have experienced a low unemployment rate[,]” this is what the other three-quarters of the chart O'Reilly didn't display looks like:
In addition to immediately providing context for O'Reilly's partial presentation of African-American unemployment, Johnson also disagreed with the argument that this 50 year problem was driven by “out-of-wedlock” birth, as O'Reilly claimed. Although Johnson agreed this might be “one of the social factors that African-Americans face,” he noted it was hugely overshadowed as a “primary driver of African-American unemployment” by a “legacy of long-term institutionalized racism” that places barriers to employment in front of “millions of African-Americans who have the talent, the work ethic, the integrity, the ingenuity to be successful in jobs or in business.”
Although O'Reilly declined to take a position on whether or not “the question of race discrimination still lingers on,” he did acknowledge “every corporation that I have worked for in the past 37 years has actively recruited African-Americans. They want them. All right? Qualified African-Americans, they are looking for them.” This is, of course, a description of a common practice in corporate America. Seeking to improve business through improving diversity in their ranks and management, corporate America has long been proactively race-conscious in its hiring practices.
In other words, according to O'Reilly, Fox News utilizes an affirmative action program.
Support for affirmative action, accurately explained as an equal opportunity program for equally qualified applicants, is widespread. In addition to the modern Democratic Party and progressives, corporate America and the military - no bastions of wild-eyed activism - have consistently supported the constitutionality of affirmative action in support of institutional diversity. In fact, even then-Presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced his support for sex-based affirmative action in a nationally televised debate, and a surrogate for his campaign further told Fox News that Romney implemented a quota system as governor of Massachusetts.
Yet despite this broad support for affirmative action - the consideration of race in a holistic individualized review process in furtherance of diversity - conservative activists have managed to chip away at the continued vitality of this race-conscious effort and others. Indeed, in the as-of-yet undecided Fisher v. University of Texas, right-wing media is urging the conservative justices of the Supreme Court to strike down race-conscious consideration of qualified applicants in higher education entirely. As has happened in the past, an adverse decision in this area - affirmative action for qualified applicants in government programs - will inevitably restrict the affirmative action efforts of private programs.
O'Reilly's correct description of affirmative action is in marked contrast to the outright smear and lies usually spread by the right-wing media about what race-conscious policy actually involves. Conservative columnist George Will described diversity efforts as “nonsense,” “propaganda,” and “rotten,” a relatively mild swipe that paled in comparison to a wildly deceitful blog by a conservative legal advocacy group that is already spreading through right-wing media.
Based on an NPR description of an affirmative action program to increase lifeguards of color in Phoenix, Arizona, Fox Nation reproduced the blog verbatim under the headline "City Recruits Minority Lifeguards Even If They Can't Swim." The Blaze skipped the “black people can't swim” myth and went straight for the deadly "Phoenix Affirmative Action Program Could Actually Get Someone Killed." None of these posts mentioned the crucial fact in the original NPR article from which they cribbed that all applicants of any color must pass the same swimming test in order to become lifeguards. From the NPR report:
To help diversify its lifeguard ranks, the city raised about $15,000 over the past two years in scholarships to offset the cost of lifeguard-certification courses. Recruits who pass a swim test at the end can apply to be city lifeguards.
In light of the misinformation on this topic in the rest of the right-wing media, it is heartening to see a correct description of race-conscious review of qualified applicants on one of Fox News' flagship shows. Hopefully, Fox News will utilize this correct explanation of affirmative action when it reports on the Fisher decision. It was, after all, apparently a part of every stop of O'Reilly's successful career.