In a discussion on MSNBC's Morning Joe of Bill O'Reilly's response to criticism of his controversial statement about dining at a Harlem restaurant, host Joe Scarborough noted, "I don't think that we're mischaracterizing it at all to say O'Reilly was surprised that a restaurant run by people of color was almost just like a normal restaurant." Scarborough also observed that "Fox has been coming up with some pretty, pretty crazy banners" describing the controversy that suggest "Bill O'Reilly has nothing to do with this at all. He didn't cause this at all."
On the September 26 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough, co-anchor Mika Brzezinski, and MSNBC correspondent Willie Geist discussed Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's response to criticism of his recent statement, documented by Media Matters for America, that "I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant [in Harlem] 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." Scarborough noted that he had discussed O'Reilly's comments on the previous day's edition of Morning Joe and responded: "I don't think that we're mischaracterizing it at all to say O'Reilly was surprised that a restaurant run by people of color was almost just like a normal restaurant." Scarborough added that O'Reilly "didn't mean to be racist, it just shows that his worldview is so closed that, apparently, he has not been in ethnic neighborhoods in the past." Scarborough also noted Fox News' reaction to the criticism of O'Reilly, noting at one point that "Fox has been coming up with some pretty, pretty crazy banners" for on-screen text to describe the story and highlighted several of them, including one stating "CNN gets suckered by website." Scarborough added, "Of course, Bill O'Reilly has nothing to do with this at all. He didn't cause this at all."
Discussing O'Reilly's charge that he was taken out of context, Geist highlighted O'Reilly's comment during his discussion of Sylvia's on September 19 that "I went to the concert by Anita Baker at Radio City Music Hall, and the crowd was 50/50, black/white, and the blacks were well-dressed," Scarborough responded: "[W]e don't want to distort Bill O'Reilly's words at all, especially when you talk about racial issues, but I think, for instance, again, looking at the totality of it all ... why does Bill O'Reilly even feel the need to tell us that people at the Anita Baker concert that were people of color were well-dressed?"
Additionally, discussing Fox News' response to CNN and NBC's coverage of O'Reilly's comments, Scarborough noted that on-screen text during the September 26 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First read: "CNN suckered by leftist website," adding, "[T]he banners that Fox News is spitting out on this Bill O'Reilly thing is -- it's just great. It's like, 'CNN suckered by leftist website.' Of course, this is the network that reports and lets you decide."
Later in the show, Scarborough again discussed with show producer Chris Licht on-screen text that appeared during Fox & Friends First, saying "distorting the truth, O'Reilly taken out of context" and "BillOReilly.com for the real story." Commenting on these on-screen captions, Scarborough stated: "Of course, Bill O'Reilly has nothing to do with this at all. He didn't cause this at all."
From the September 26 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
SCARBOROUGH: Speaking of nuclear: Bill O'Reilly. Now, we played that unfortunate clip of Mr. O'Reilly yesterday, and apparently he has declared war now against CNN.
BRZEZINSKI: What? Against CNN?
GEIST: Yup. We listened to it twice. It sounded pretty indefensible, but Mr. O'Reilly went on the air defending himself. He called us smear merchants at MSNBC, but --
BRZEZINSKI: Smear merchants?
GEIST: Yeah, but his focus last night was with CNN and Rick Sanchez, who I guess a couple days ago took some time away from being Tasered to address this issue, and he -- he got a phone call yesterday from O'Reilly, who basically chewed him out for running the piece and for criticizing him about these comments that he made about his little trip up to Harlem to Sylvia's restaurant.
SCARBOROUGH: And in that trip, I don't think that we're mischaracterizing it at all to say O'Reilly was surprised that a restaurant run by people of color was almost just like a normal restaurant.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, he really was stunned, which, again, it's one of those revealing comments. He didn't mean to be racist, it just shows that his worldview is so closed that, apparently, he has not been in ethnic neighborhoods in the past --
BRZEZINSKI: I think it is never good when you don't know --
SCARBOROUGH: -- and has not had -- how can Bill O'Reilly at 55, 56, 57 not know that people of color can run restaurants in the same way that white people can run restaurants? And really, does Bill O'Reilly need to be offended at MSNBC and CNN, or does he just need to understand he made a terrible mistake?
GEIST: There was some talk there that it was taken out of criticism -- excuse me, out of context, and we sort of listened to it on the fly. So I went and listened to the whole interview -- he was talking with Juan Williams last night, and it gets worse if you listen to the whole thing. I mean, it's exactly what you think it is.
SCARBOROUGH: I'm going to continue with the show. So, Bill O'Reilly -- the banners that Fox News is spitting out on this Bill O'Reilly thing is -- it's just great. It's like, "CNN suckered by leftist website." Of course, this is the network that reports and lets you decide.
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. But I think he would like to make his own decision about this.
SCARBOROUGH: Who would like to make what?
BRZEZINSKI: Bill O'Reilly. He wants to make --
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. He wants to decide for the rest of us.
BRZEZINSKI: -- his own world for himself.
GEIST: He's -- I just read that he's going to have Sharpton on his radio show today.
SCARBOROUGH: I cannot wait to hear what Al Sharpton says about Bill O'Reilly being shocked that African-Americans can run restaurants the same way that white people can run restaurants after Al Sharpton's past with Don Imus.
BRZEZINSKI: You know, sometimes when you say something stupid, you should just say, "I said something stupid."
GEIST: And as you know, Sharpton is the guy who was out to dinner at Sylvia's with O'Reilly, so I'm sure O'Reilly is bringing him on to help him explain what he was talking about. But O'Reilly's spokesperson did release a short statement that said Sharpton was shocked that O'Reilly was shocked that black people know how to run a restaurant. So, might be --
SCARBOROUGH: A lot of shocking going on. But I wonder he's going to call for O'Reilly to be taken off the air like he did with Don Imus.
BRZEZINSKI; Yeah, interesting.
SCARBOROUGH: Maybe the takeaway here is that if Don Imus had said what he said while Al Sharpton was a guest, he'd still be on TV.
BRZEZINSKI: OK, yeah, I'm seeing that.
GEIST: And we'd be sleeping a lot later.
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, really.
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, a lot later. A lot later. Thank you, Al.
SCARBOROUGH: So, this O'Reilly thing, it's really -- it's getting ugly between CNN and Fox right now. And, Chris, I understand that Fox has been spending their time coming up with pretty -- pretty crazy banners.
LICHT: Yeah, well, you know, they're making their point -- "Distorting the truth," "O'Reilly taken out of context," "Bill O'Reilly.com, go there for the real story."
SCARBOROUGH: That's a good banner.
LICHT: And "Distorting the truth: CNN gets suckered by website."
SCARBOROUGH: "CNN gets suckered by website." Of course, Bill O'Reilly has nothing to do with this at all.
BRZEZINSKI: He didn't cause this.
SCARBOROUGH: He didn't cause this at all. I understand the restaurant owners at Sylvia's very upset and believe that it was inappropriate. Let's go, though -- and let's go to [NBC West Coast correspondent] John Larson. He has a report on the O'Reilly dustup, and he did this on the Today show, and let's run it now, talking a about a little bit of background on the story.
[begin video clip]
O'REILLY: This is dishonest and dangerous.
LARSON: he'd been silent about it for days, but Tuesday night on The O'Reilly Factor, the host spoke out.
O'REILLY: Media Matters distorted the entire conversation and implied I was racist for condemning racism.
LARSON: At issue: whether O'Reilly's radio comments last week about his visit to Sylvia's, a Harlem restaurant, were racist.
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. 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.
LARSON: The debate sparked when his comments were reported by mediamatters.org. O'Reilly went on:
O'REILLY [audio clip]: 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.
LARSON: Which was a bit odd, seeing as how Al Sharpton was O'Reilly's dinner guest that night at the Harlem restaurant.
SHARPTON: He and I have had dinner in Harlem before, and I've never heard these comments, which is why I don't understand what this is all about. He didn't say anything offensive that night.
LARSON: He says it's a hatchet job, that if you listen to his entire commentary, he was arguing against racism to his audience.
O'REILLY: It was the same. And that's really what this society is all about now here in the USA. There's no difference. It has nothing to do with the color of anybody's skin.
LARSON: Finally, at Sylvia's, where this began, patrons last night appreciated the barbecue, gumbo, and maybe some Sugar Hill beer -- but not O'Reilly's comments.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It wasn't appropriate.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Does he expect anything different from black folk than white folk?
LARSON: For Today, John Larson, NBC News, Los Angeles.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you, John Larson. And, after, of course, watching that, they all ran home and watched The Factor because O'Reilly said they're all big Factor fans.
GEIST: Yes, they all watch The Factor.
SCARBOROUGH: So, we're getting e-mails from people which say, "Joe, put this in perspective," which we are, and you've looked through the transcript --
GEIST: I've listened to it --
SCARBOROUGH: -- and you've listened, so put it in perspective after hearing the whole entire thing.
GEIST: Well, here's the argument, Joe. The argument is Bill O'Reilly is making a broader point about gangsta rap and hip-hop culture. And the point is he's against that, obviously. He points to people like Ludacris and Snoop Dogg -- he uses his name over and over. And he's using the people at Sylvia's as an example that most black Americans do not adhere to hip-hop gangsta rap culture. He's saying it's played by the media as mainstream black culture -- that is, gangsta rap hip-hop culture, but it's actually not. Most black people are like the people you find at Sylvia's and places like that. So, with -- that's the broader context. He's trying to make the point. But when he gives these specific examples, it gets worse and worse. So actually, the more context you hear, the worse it gets. He talks about going to an Anita Baker concert where the audience was 50-50, half white, half black, and he pointed out that the black people were, quote ,"well dressed." So, the more you hear, the worse it gets.
SCARBOROUGH: And, again, he said that Sylvia's restaurant was a good restaurant, quote, "even though" it was run by blacks.
BRZEZINSKI: The restaurant manager, who's Sylvia's granddaughter, says it was very insulting. And another one says it's commonplace for O'Reilly. It's his position -- an overview of the world."
SCARBOROUGH: Well -- the thing is, we don't want to distort Bill O'Reilly's words at all, especially when you talk about racial issues, but I think, for instance, again, looking at the totality of it all [inaudible] why does Bill O'Reilly even feel the need to tell us that people at the Anita Baker concert that were people of color were well-dressed?
SCARBOROUGH: As if that was breaking news.
GEIST: And the more defensive he is about it, the more -- you know, as he defends it more and more, you realize that he doesn't understand maybe exactly what he said and that perhaps his views are a little bit old-fashioned.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, that's a nice way to put it, and that makes it even more troubling.