-- Bill O'Reilly tonight defended his controversial declaration that slaves who built the White House were "well-fed and had decent lodgings," claiming he is being unfairly attacked by "smear merchants."
The host of Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" made the comments Tuesday night in reference to first lady Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Monday, during which she said, "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters —- two beautiful, intelligent, black young women —- playing with their dogs on the White House lawn."
O'Reilly, 66, said Tuesday on his show, "Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government."
He added that the White House stopped hiring slave labor in 1802 but “did not forbid subcontractors” from using them.
“So Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House," he concluded. "But there were others working as well."
Critics slammed his comments, painting them as incorrect and insensitive.
So tonight, O'Reilly addressed the controversy on his show, saying, "that commentary was 100 percent accurate providing context to Mrs. Obama's remarks and explaining how the administration of George Washington conducted itself in the construction of the executive mansion. Is that not important to know? Come on. For doing that I was immediately attacked by smear merchants."
He continued, "It is a given that slavery is an abomination. Reporting the story behind Mrs. Obama's very valid points does not diminish the horror of enslavement as these dishonest critics allege."
A conservative who has written books about U.S. history, including "Killing Kennedy," O'Reilly said, "As any honest historian knows, in order to keep slaves and free laborers strong, the Washington administration provided meat, bread and other staples, also decent lodging on the grounds of the new presidential building. That is a fact. Not a justification, not a defense of slavery. Just a fact. Anyone who implies a soft-on-slavery message is beneath contempt."
Fox News' top-rated host also took issue with celebrities who criticized him. "Some celebrities like Steven King, Bryan Cranston, Broadway star Audra McDonald immediately sought to exploit the situation on Twitter by buying in to the defamation. We have invited all of them on the 'Factor.' Place your bets on whether they will show up."