O'Reilly told CNN that Harlem restaurant comments were "hatchet job by Media Matters"

››› ››› ANDREW IRONSIDE

On CNN's Out in the Open, Rick Sanchez and CNN contributor Roland Martin discussed Bill O'Reilly's statement that he was surprised there was "no difference" between Sylvia's restaurant in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan and other New York restaurants, even though Sylvia's is "run by blacks." Sanchez reported that during an "animated" phone conversation, O'Reilly denied any "racial intent" in his comments and described the story as "a hatchet job by Media Matters."

During the September 24 edition of CNN's Out in the Open, host Rick Sanchez and CNN contributor Roland Martin discussed Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's statement during the September 19 edition of his radio program -- which Media Matters for America documented -- that he was surprised there was "no difference" between Sylvia's restaurant in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan and other New York restaurants, even though Sylvia's is "run by blacks." Sanchez reported that during an "animated" phone conversation, O'Reilly denied any "racial intent" in his comments and described the story as "a hatchet job by Media Matters."

After airing an audio clip, during which the Media Matters webpage was displayed on-screen, Sanchez read several of O'Reilly's comments, including his statement that "[t]here wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.' " He noted: "Now, O'Reilly's critics are saying that it's not the first time that he's made some questionable remarks publicly." Sanchez later reported: "Let me tell you what [O'Reilly] said. I was on the phone with him just a little while ago, and he was animated in this conversation. He said to me, 'Rick,' he said, 'there was no racial intent in what I said. It was a benign program. We didn't receive one single complaint on any of our radio stations,' and he says this is a hatchet job by Media Matters."

Sanchez concluded: "And by the way, to be fair, one more time, Mr. O'Reilly's point of view, no racial intent, benign program. Not one single complaint. Hatchet job by Media Matters. Media Matters is one of those websites that talks about what we do in this business. They've criticized me plenty, by the way, as well. And I'm sure you [Martin] too."

Additionally, during the September 24 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann highlighted O'Reilly's comments in his "goofballs and good guys" segment:

OLBERMANN: Number three, best meal: Bill-O. Says he took Al Sharpton to dinner in Harlem at the famous restaurant Sylvia's. And Orally actually says on the air, "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. There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming 'M-Fer -- I want more iced tea.' " Oh, my God.

From the September 24 edition of CNN's Out in the Open:

SANCHEZ: Next, look who's giving some advice on race to African-Americans: Bill O'Reilly. So, how do you think that's playing?

[...]

SANCHEZ: Tonight, a comment that Bill O'Reilly made on his radio show that's gotten many African-Americans to respond. It's controversial. But just how big a deal is this?

Well, I want to let you hear a part of what he says. Here's the set up. He goes to a restaurant in Harlem with the Reverend Al Sharpton, and then he makes some comments. Here he goes.

O'REILLY [audio clip]: 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.

SANCHEZ: O'Reilly goes on to say -- and I'm going to quote him here, because we want to make sure that we've got these things down accurately. Here we go. "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer,' " I think you know what that probably means, " 'I want more iced tea.' 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."

Here's some more, here's another direct quote. See if we can get that one up there if we're done with the first one. Ready? O'Reilly says, "I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. 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."

Now, O'Reilly's critics are saying that it's not the first time that he's made some questionable remarks publicly. Now, in fairness, he has a radio show and a television show. He's on the air for an awful long time. I want to find out, though, what our CNN contributor Roland Martin has to say about this after hearing some of this.

I guess, let me just, you know, go right to it, here.

MARTIN: Sure.

SANCHEZ: What's wrong with a white guy making social commentary about other people's race, which is what he seems to be doing here?

MARTIN: The issue is not social commentary, the issue is how stupid can you be? The point about the restaurant is offensive because here's what he says: "I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference." Why couldn't you? It's a restaurant. People sit down, they eat. What's the big deal about that?

SANCHEZ: So, what are you saying? You're saying the fact that he was shocked by the fact that African-Americans --

MARTIN: Right. Right. They --

SANCHEZ: -- were no different than white people shows what? What are you trying to say?

MARTIN: Well, it shows that he probably lives in a very isolated world. I mean, "I couldn't get over the difference," over the fact that somehow they're sitting there, eating. No one's cursing, saying, "Bring me my tea." What does that say? Now, does that mean that his opinion of African-American restaurants has been formed by someone else? He did say, "There is no difference." Yeah, we get that. But why couldn't you get over that fact? What's the big deal?

SANCHEZ: Let me tell you what he said. I was on the phone with him just a little while ago, and he was animated in this conversation. He said to me, "Rick," he said, "there was no racial intent in what I said. It was a benign program. We didn't receive one single complaint on any of our radio stations," and he says this is a hatchet job by Media Matters.

MARTIN: No, but here's the deal, though. Bill -- and look, I did Bill O'Reilly's show on many times prior to joining CNN.

SANCHEZ: Controversial guy.

MARTIN: Nice guy.

SANCHEZ: And he always has something interesting to say.

MARTIN: Yes, indeed. But again, you couldn't get over the fact that, oh, my God, people weren't shouting and cursing? But here's what also bothered me. When I read the comment in terms of, "Black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. They're getting away from the Sharptons and the Reverend Jacksons of the world and trying to lead them into a race-based culture."

And here's what bothered me out. "They're just trying to figure it out: 'Look, I can make it. If I work hard and get educated, I can make it.' " I'm reading Marcus Mabry's book Twice as Good on Condoleezza Rice. Condoleezza Rice's father, in 1954, was not an active participant in the civil-rights movement. You know why? Because he believed that we just focus on getting our kids educated, we'll do well. Black folks have always thought that. And so this notion that somehow, "Oh, we're all of a sudden, black people are now thinking today," it's just ridiculous.

SANCHEZ: Do you think -- I bet you if he could have that back, he wouldn't have used those words, "thinking more and more for themselves," because it's almost sounding like, you know, the guy up here talking down to those folks down there.

MARTIN: But the issues, there are a number of people who somehow believe that African-Americans are sitting there going, "OK, I need to get my cue from Reverend Jackson and Reverend Sharpton." There are people out there who are working their butts off every single day who are doing an amazing job. But the other piece, Rick, that jumps out is, is that I wonder what formed his opinion to think that's somehow the case. Who does he talk to?

SANCHEZ: Well do you think -- let's be honest about this. Do you think it has something to do with his audience? I mean, after all, he's talking to a specific audience.

MARTIN: Well, look, I have a mostly black audience at WVON in Chicago, so I get that.

SANCHEZ: The reason I ask you that is, well, what if an African-American said this on the radio to an African-American audience? Do you think --

MARTIN: And they would say, "Wow, you've just decided to go to a black restaurant? What's going on here?" I would say you're not informed. The whole point here is, how are you informed about various people? See, Bill O'Reilly might somehow believe that all black America is just waiting on two people to tell them where to go. That's not the case. The day of there being what I call the super-duper Negro is no longer here. You don't have just one leader. And also --

SANCHEZ: So what doesn't he get? I mean, if there's one thing, Roland, that you think maybe he doesn't get, in fairness, I mean, if he's watching this program right now, he says, "I'm going to watch this show, Rick, and see what you guys say."

MARTIN: Good.

SANCHEZ: What would you say to him?

MARTIN: I think he doesn't get that African-Americans are not monolithic. If he listens to my show, a show on WVON in Chicago, the home of Reverend Jackson, you don't get people sitting here saying, "I agree with everything that he says." You don't have people saying, "I agree everything with Al Sharpton says." And his show is also on my station. The point is, people have different views and not just one train of thought.

SANCHEZ: Well, what's interesting is, I just finished reading his book. And, Bill, let me look at the camera and offer an invitation to you. If you want to come on and talk about this and defend your point of view and disagree with Mr. Martin on what he has to say, we would love to have you. And by the way, to be fair, one more time, Mr. O'Reilly's point of view, no racial intent, benign program. Not one single complaint. Hatchet job by Media Matters. And Media Matters is one of those websites that talks about what we do in this business. They've criticized me plenty, by the way, as well. And I'm sure you too.

MARTIN: And Bill, guess what? I got a college degree. My parents did focus on education.

From the September 24 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

OLBERMANN: But first, time for our goofballs and good guys. Here are Countdown's three best persons in the world.

Number three, best meal: Bill-O. Says he took Al Sharpton to dinner in Harlem at the famous restaurant Sylvia's. And Orally actually says on the air, "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. There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming 'M-Fer -- I want more iced tea.' " Oh, my God.

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