Bill O’Reilly’s comments on his radio show about that time he dined at Sylvia’s with Al Sharpton, as noted by Media Matters, caused such a furor earlier this week that last night CNN was prompted to ask: “Is Bill O’Reilly Comment on Race an Imus Moment?” Today, the rage faded a little, not because of O’Reilly’s impassioned defense of himself but because it was so obvious from the tape that he was genuinely surprised by the fact that black people are just as civilized as white people. “Imus’ ‘nappy-headed hos’ remark was clear-cut, shocking racism with a hefty dash of sexism to chase,” wrote Rachel Sklar of Eat the Press. “O’Reilly’s comments were ignorant as hell and betrayed so preconceived notions, that’s for sure, but if you read his comments in full, they read like ‘clueless white guy’ rather than ‘deliberate racist.’” But is it something more than cluelessness?
“I am worried about O’Reilly,” Marvin Kitman, author of The Man Who Would Not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O’Reilly, wrote on the same site. “When I began studying him he was a semi-demented TV newsman but lately he seems to be losing it.” While the Daily News quoted Sylvia’s owners saying the comments were “outrageous” and “insulting,” the restaurant’s host, William Lessenberry, took it in stride. “He had his idea of what a soul food restaurant was like and now he’s got a different view,” he said. (The Times suggested he try Red Lobster the next time he wanted to have an “authentic” African-American experience.) Even Paul Waldman of Media Matters told Matt Lauer that the Sylvia’s experience seemed to have “opened [O’Reilly’s] eyes.” And in a weird way, O’Reilly seemed to have been trying to share his new appreciation for black culture with his audience: “This is what white America doesn’t know ” he’d said in his radio broadcast. “They think the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg.” So while he’s a racist, maybe he’s sort of, like, a well-meaning racist? That’s what one commenter on the Times blog the Lede thinks. “While Mr. O’Reilly clearly is a liar on almost every political subject,” wrote Juarez Traveller. “His attempts to reform his racist attitudes must be commended. His point in this discussion seems to be a genuine effort to bring people together over a regrettably still-divisive issue.” Maybe he has a point. When Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd were discussing the imbroglio on The View this morning, Elisabeth Hasselbeck looked like she was learning a thing or two.