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As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The "Imus narrative" on Billo is forming

So almost a week ago, Bill O'Reilly went on his radio show and made the idiotic comment that he was "surprised" that diners at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem behaved just as normally as those do in "white" restaurants.

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."


The idea that anyone would express surprise that black people eat in a restaurant "normally" is an Imus-level statement. It's the latest in a long line of insensitive statements by Billo, a track record that rivals Imus. And indeed, it's now starting to get the broader media attention that Imus' statement did in the days following its broadcast.

CNN covered it, so did Imus' replacement on MSNBC, and WABC in New York. There's a narrative forming, and it's being pushed out on lower-profile shows like Morning Joe as almost a test to see how it plays. Read this exchange, it's almost like they're just seeing if this is sensational enough to work:

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, my God.

SCARBOROUGH: He could not --

BRZEZINSKI: Wow.

SCARBOROUGH: -- get over the fact that -- his words -- he could not get over the fact that there was no difference between that black restaurant and any other restaurant despite the fact -- his words -- despite the fact it was run by black people --

BREZEZINSKI: Hmm.

SCARBOROUGH: -- and the primary patrons --

BREZEZINSKI: That's attractive.

SCARBOROUGH: -- were black people.

GEIST: Sounds like Bill doesn't get up to Harlem a whole lot.

SCARBOROUGH: I don't think he does.

BRZEZINSKI: It sounds like a lot of things are going on there, that I, I, I --

GEIST: Also using the term 'blacks." I don't think anybody's said that since like 1973.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, that, you know, it's just -- it's very surprising that, that Bill O'Reilly would be stunned that you could go to a restaurant that is run by African Americans, and that it would be, his words again, "I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between a black restaurant and a white restaurant."

GEIST: What, what was he expecting? You walk in, and they throw the food in the middle of the room and everybody just -- it's a free for all. What did he think was going to happen?

SCARBOROUGH: I don't know, he also was surprised that they were quote "tremendously respectful."

BRZEZINSKI: Oh great, here we go.

GEIST: Wow

BRZEZINSKI: I believe, whatever, it seems a little bit --

SCARBOROUGH: That's just strange. That's all I'm gonna say. Listen, O'Reilly is the king of cable, he's been number one for six years. That is fascinating, by the way, and I'm sure we're going to be hearing more about that throughout the day.


They really sound like they don't want to touch this, yet they're compelled to. Similarly, on CNN, while Roland Martin had no problem calling this remark what it was, Rick "let's pretend to waterboard me" Sanchez sounds like someone who just had his brain wiped and is incapable of making a critical thought (though I do think that's what he always sounds like):

SANCHEZ: 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?


"What are you doing with your mouth, making sounds come out and stringing them together to make a sentence?"

Billo, by the way, is SCREAMING YELLOW BONKERS about this. More than calling the whole controversy a "hatchet job" by Media Matters (hatchet job now defined as reprinting a transcript), he claimed that CNN has now entered the dark side, and weirdly vowed to "answer" them.

I don't think the traditional media really wants to pick this fight. The rollout is very tentative. But we can absolutely make this snowball. O'Reilly is off-balance here, and a concerted effort by the progressive movement may be able to push it over the top and send cable news into 24-hour mode. The Congressional Black Caucus, last seen trying to partner with Fox News on a Democratic debate, may or may not be of help here, but certainly individual members may be interested in speaking out when confronted with the statements.

Considering that Billo has turned defaming Daily Kos and Media Matters into a personal crusade, this is well-deserved pushback. It's time to make a coordinated effort. That means calling advertisers, calling cable networks, etc., etc.

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