Culture

Bill O'Reilly Describes 'Well-Fed' Slaves, Outrage Follows

Michelle Obama prepares to speak at a meeting of the Corporation for National and Community Service at the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., May 20, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

Conservatives understand they’re held to a different standard when it comes to race relations. It’s not fair, but that’s life in America circa 2016.

Bill O’Reilly apparently forgot that this week.

Liberals can get away with racially charged comments with little to no punishment. Just ask Vice President Joe Biden. He once described rising star Sen. Barack Obama as “clean” and “articulate,” terms that sounded downright degrading.

His own party forgave him. So did the future president.

Conservatives aren’t given that kind of wiggle room. Their comments are routinely scoured for “dog whistles” and “coded language” meant to imply bigotry.

Which brings us to the Fox News personality. O’Reilly decided to fact check First Lady Michelle Obama’s DNC speech.

Mrs. Obama described the White House as a home “built by slaves” in a generally well-received speech. O’Reilly dug into that claim as part of his weekday opinion show “The O’Reilly Factor.” More journalists should do objective fact checking. Good for him.

Only he included the following passage as part of his report:

“Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802,” O’Reilly said. “However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well.”

“Well-fed”? “Decent lodging”?

Heck, it sounds like those slaves were lucky to be toiling away for free. At least that was the response from several Twitter users, including prolific TV show creator Shonda Rhimes.

The “Scandal” show runner wasn’t alone. Her high profile helped extend the story.

It’s certainly possible that the slaves who worked on the White House didn’t starve. Perhaps they also enjoyed quarters above and beyond what some of their peers received. The comments are still both tacky and out of context.

Frankly, a veteran like O’Reilly should know better.

Fox News has had a horrible year to date. Fox News CEO Roger Ailes just left after a crush of sexual abuse allegations flooded the news. Conservatives are outraged at how the news channel soft-pedals its coverage of Donald Trump. And the company’s ratings have taken a hit from rival CNN.

Now this.

Unforced errors routinely trip up right-leaning stars, from opinion hosts and politicians alike. Maybe O’Reilly was channeling Donald Trump and his ability to give his foes all the ammunition they could ever need.