Wash. Post's Robinson on O'Reilly remark: "There's certainly nothing at all funny or remotely appropriate about the use of a lynching reference"

››› ››› ANDREW IRONSIDE

On MSNBC's Countdown, while discussing Bill O'Reilly's recent statement that "I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels," The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson stated, "There's nothing funny about lynching. There's certainly nothing at all funny or remotely appropriate about the use of a lynching reference to talk about Michelle Obama. ... It's -- I'm almost speechless."

On the February 20 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann and Eugene Robinson, Washington Post associate editor and MSNBC political analyst, condemned comments made by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly about Michelle Obama during the February 19 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show. While discussing Obama's comments, O'Reilly stated: "I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that's how she really feels -- that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever -- then that's legit. We'll track it down." (Transcript and audio of O'Reilly's comments are here.)

On Countdown, Olbermann introduced the segment on O'Reilly's comments by referencing a speech in which President Bush discussed "the effect that references to nooses and lynching can still have," stating: "[I]n our number one story tonight, Mr. Bush's most prominent TV cheerleader did not merely ignore the president's plea for restraint on this exact issue, nor glean any guidance from [Golf Channel broadcaster] Kelly Tilghman. Bill O'Reilly spoke on national radio about metaphorically lynching a black person -- a black woman -- and not just any black woman." After airing a video clip of Bush's statement that "[l]ynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest," Olbermann showed a clip of O'Reilly's February 18 comments about Obama. Olbermann then asked Robinson: "Can you convey what Mr. Bush apparently failed to get through to everybody, some sense of the obscenity, the moral obscenity, involved in a national discussion of whether to launch a lynching party against the black woman married to the black man running for president?" Robinson replied:

ROBINSON: I think you've kind of said it, Keith. ... That's the offense. You know what lynching was. Lynching was a horrific practice of murder, torture, dismemberment, burning alive, hanging, and the only purpose of lynching was to perpetuate white supremacy in the Jim Crow South. It wasn't -- the idea of course wasn't to lynch all black people, but by lynching a few black people, not a few, by lynching some black people, to demonstrate to other African-Americans that this could happen to you -- that you have no power. That we have all the power and that we can take anything we want from you, including your life.

There's nothing funny about lynching. There's certainly nothing at all funny or remotely appropriate about the use of a lynching reference to talk about Michelle Obama, and the word "unless," followed by "[w]e'll track it down," is way beyond the pale. It's -- I'm almost speechless, but I have more to say, of course.

From the February 20 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

OLBERMANN: On February 12, celebrating Black History Month, President Bush said some Americans do not understand the effect that references to nooses and lynching can still have. A month earlier, Golf Channel sportscaster Kelly Tilghman said that in order to have any hopes of defeating him, the younger rivals of the game's greatest player might want to, quote, "lynch Tiger Woods in a back alley," unquote. She apologized. Woods said he took no offense and considered her a friend, and she accepted without protest a two-week suspension.

But in our number one story tonight, Mr. Bush's most prominent TV cheerleader did not merely ignore the president's plea for restraint on this exact issue, nor glean any guidance from Kelly Tilghman. Bill O'Reilly spoke on national radio about metaphorically lynching a black person -- a black woman -- and not just any black woman. First, Mr. Bush's remarks from just last Tuesday:

BUSH [video clip]: For generations of African-Americans, the noose was more than a tool of murder. It was a tool of intimidation that conveyed a sense of powerlessness to millions. The era of rampant lynching is a shameful chapter in American history. The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice. Displaying one is not a harmless prank. Lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest.

OLBERMANN: O'Reilly, yesterday, acting on his radio show as though he were defending Michelle Obama, shooting down a listener's claim that she is an angry woman by saying he must investigate first to decide that for himself, then claiming he has sympathy for her and other public figures such as Bill Clinton leading up to this clip, which we have not edited in any way. The operative word in this may not in fact be "lynching," it may be, quote, "unless."

O'REILLY [audio clip]: [T]hey're thrown into a hopper where everybody is waiting for them to make a mistake, so that they can just go and bludgeon them. And, you know, Bill Clinton and I don't agree on a lot of things, and I think I've made that clear over the years, but he's trying to stick up for his wife, and every time the guy turns around, there's another demagogue or another ideologue in his face trying to humiliate him because they're rooting for Obama. That's wrong. And I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that's how she really feels -- that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever -- then that's legit. We'll track it down.

OLBERMANN: Let's go now to Eugene Robinson, political analyst for MSNBC and both columnist and associate editor at The Washington Post. Thanks for staying with us, Gene.

ROBINSON: Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN: I'm sorry it's under these circumstances.

ROBINSON: As am I. As am I.

OLBERMANN: Can you convey what Mr. Bush apparently failed to get through to everybody, some sense of the obscenity, the moral obscenity, involved in a national discussion of whether to launch a lynching party against the black woman married to the black man running for president?

ROBINSON: I think you've kind of said it, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Yeah.

ROBINSON: That's the offense. You know what lynching was. Lynching was a horrific practice of murder, torture, dismemberment, burning alive, hanging, and the only purpose of lynching was to perpetuate white supremacy in the Jim Crow South.

It wasn't -- the idea of course wasn't to lynch all black people, but by lynching a few black people, not a few, by lynching some black people, to demonstrate to other African-Americans that this could happen to you -- that you have no power. That we have all the power and that we can take anything we want from you, including your life.

There's nothing funny about lynching. There's certainly nothing at all funny or remotely appropriate about the use of a lynching reference to talk about Michelle Obama, and the word "unless," followed by "[w]e'll track it down," is way beyond the pale. It's -- I'm almost speechless, but I have more to say, of course.

OLBERMANN: As we both do. And you're right, this is about disenfranchising people. It wasn't just about killing people. The rest were disenfranchised, and people were essentially told black people will not take office. There will not be people in government. There will not be --

ROBINSON: Of course not.

OLBERMANN: -- there will not be dog catchers.

ROBINSON: You will not vote. You will not --

OLBERMANN: Right.

ROBINSON: You will not own property that we don't want you to own.

OLBERMANN: You will not do anything. How many incidents like this does it take? And the Sylvia's restaurant story and "more iced tea, m-fer" now seems to lose all but one of its interpretations. How many of these stories does it take before a fair observer concludes this man is not color blind, he is not reckless with language, he has that insidious kind of low-grade prejudice that we see in ordinary American society still, low-grade prejudice against black people?

ROBINSON: Well, this is enough for me, now. But here's what's going to happen. You know, by tomorrow morning, some defender will come out and say, "I know Bill O'Reilly and he's no racist." And my response is: I don't care. How can anyone know what's in his heart, what's in his soul? That is irrelevant to me. All you can go by is his words and his actions. And he keeps saying these things that sound pretty darn racist to me.

OLBERMANN: He's not going to apologize. He's not going to stop because the moment he would do that, he'd have to admit that he was wrong, there was a reason for him to stop. I mean, do people have to then start never mind talking to him, but to talk to people who are keeping him on the air? Call Westwood One, the radio proprietors of his show, or his boss at Fox News, Roger Ailes, or the advertisers and say, you know, get rid of the guy, suspend him, whatever, or give up being accepted in 21st century American society where this is not tolerated anymore?

ROBINSON: Well, I think that's what happens. I think frankly that's basically what happened to Don Imus. And the reason he lost his job at MSNBC and at CBS, although he's now back on the radio. You know, I think television is a bit different from radio. I don't know that this will create a huge splash. Radio is a more kind of -- it's a medium where people can kind of be alone with their prejudices, and so it might just slip by.

OLBERMANN: I hope not. Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and MSNBC. Especially under the circumstances, thanks, Gene.

ROBINSON: Good to be here, Keith. See you tomorrow night.

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