O'Reilly Said Media Reaction 'Fabricated Racial Controversy'

O'Reilly's "flattering" of Harlem restaurant shows ignorance, say blacks.

ByABC News
September 25, 2007, 5:15 PM

Sept. 26, 2007 — -- Radio and TV commentator Bill O'Reilly said Wednesday that reaction to his comments he made about a black-owned Harlem restaurant are part of a smear campagn that has "fabricated a racial controversy where none exists."

O'Reilly told The Associated Press, "If you listened to the full hour, it was a criticism of racism on the part of white Americans who are ignorant of the fact that there is no difference between white and black anymore."

"Circumstances may be different in their lives, but we're all Americans," he said. "Anyone who would be offended by that conversation would have to be looking to be offended."

This wasn't the first time a comment by Bill O'Reilly attracted a firestorm.

The talk show host's seemingly flattering comments about a famous black-run restaurant in Harlem illustrate his ignorance of black culture, some black leaders and scholars say.

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City," said O'Reilly on the Sept. 19 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show.

"There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who [was] screaming,'M-Fer was, I want more iced tea," he told National Public Radio's Juan Williams. "[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."

Sylvia's has been serving soul food in Harlem since 1962. Its founders, Sylvia and Herbert Woods, are fixtures in the black community. For decades, the restaurant has been a regular campaign stop for presidential candidates.

The last time a radio talk show host uttered racially charged comments, he was fired.

CBS took shock jock Don Imus off the air after an uproar in the spring when he called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who had shared that dinner in Harlem with O'Reilly, said at the time of Imus' firing, "We cannot afford a precedent established that the airways can commercialize and mainstream sexism and racism."

Sharpton said on his own radio show today that O'Reilly's remarks were "disturbing and surprising," but not as important as a public discussion on the Jena 6," a reference to the charges against six Louisiana teens who are charged with beating a white student.

"I'm not defending him," said Sharpton, "but I'm not going to OD on O'Reilly."

Fox News Channel's Bill Shine told Newsday the flap is " nothing more then left-wing outlets stirring up false racism accusations for ratings."

O'Reilly is not necessarily a racist, according to law professor Anita L. Allen, of the University of Pennsylvania, who has studied and written on race relations. Rather, she told ABC News, he is ignorant, the product of a still-segregated country where black and whites seldom socialize.

Allen, who is black, said O'Reilly "doesn't realize dinner can be a civilized affair and we do use table napkins."

"It's 50 years later and we're still overcoming the days when blacks couldn't sit at a lunch counter at Woolworth's," said Allen. "More of us live in the white world, but many white people still avoid contact with black people in the ordinary habits of swimming, eating, dancing and listening to music."

Allen said she is always surprised when she invites students to her home and learns that it's the first time they have ever dined with a black person. "We are not all screaming and singing rap music," she said. "It really is sort of pathetic."