I've learned my lesson. I should have learned long ago, but now I get it. Bill O'Reilly is a coward. At first I thought he was just a bully, but now I know it's much more.
Last night I appeared on The O'Reilly Factor to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement. O'Reilly began the segment by playing a clip of barely visible protesters in a faraway New York street who were supposedly chanting that they wanted "dead cops." Then he asked why the Democratic Party should host a town hall meeting with, what he called, a radical racist hate group comparable to the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party.
I told O'Reilly that African-Americans are an important part of the Democratic coalition and it makes sense that the party would create a forum for its candidates to discuss issues of concern to that group. But O'Reilly insisted the Black Lives Matter group wanted "dead cops." OK, Bill, can you name one leader in the movement who has endorsed killing cops? Just one, I asked. He could not. Instead, he ordered his producers to cut off my microphone while I was on air.
Yes, I know what you're thinking. Why do you keep going on those conservative shows? The truth is I like debates. I'd prefer a healthy, spirited political argument than a conversation where everyone agrees. I learn a lot more, and learn how to explain and defend my own views better from people who think differently from me.
I blame my conservative, white middle-class high school classmates in Florida, who first led me to debate them years ago. It continued when I was a student at Dartmouth College, where I had weekly lunch debates with conservative friends. And from 2008 until this past summer, I worked as a contributor at the CNBC business network, where I was usually the only liberal on a panel with corporate Republican types.
But those debates felt, well, fair and balanced. Even at CNBC, Larry Kudlow, the host of the show on which I appeared most often, was always friendly with me, although we rarely agreed on anything. Never in my years on The Kudlow Report did anyone ever cut my mic. In fact, never in my 20 years on television has that ever happened to me. Until last night.
At the end of the Black Lives Matter segment last night, when O'Reilly finally turned my microphone back on, I asked him again to name one leader in the movement who supported killing cops. He could not. All he could do was point to an old video of a few anonymous people, who couldn't even be clearly seen, at a random street protest and claim "the group is judged by its behavior."
How convenient. Just last month when I appeared on the same show, O'Reilly argued the Republican Party should not be judged by the actions of a few racists in its midst.
It was just last month, when I listed a history of racist behavior by the GOP, that O'Reilly shot back: "But was that on the party platform? I don't believe it was." OK, if O'Reilly were fair and balanced, then the Black Lives Matter movement should not be judged by comments not on its platform either, the same way he judges Republicans.
And it was just last month, when I mentioned Jesse Helms's infamous 1990 racist campaign ad, O'Reilly shot back: "He wasn't running the Republican Party. He was a senator from North Carolina." Again, if O'Reilly were fair and balanced, then the Black Lives Matter movement should not be judged by anyone other than the people who actually lead the organization, the same way he judges the Republican Party.
But Bill O'Reilly is not fair and balanced, despite the Fox News motto that contradicts the truth about his show and much of the network's programming.
If O'Reilly wanted a serious debate on race issues, he should allow his guests to discuss the issues in a serious manner. And if he wanted to know if Black Lives Matter leaders endorse the killing of cops, he should have invited them onto his show to speak to him directly instead of implying their guilt by association on a segment where they were not represented.
But this is typical right-wing programming. It's not just Bill O'Reilly. It's Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and many other conservative talk show hosts who want to feed their audiences with fictionalized narratives instead of fact-based dialogue.
I get it. O'Reilly and Limbaugh and Hannity have all made millions of dollars off the formula of stoking racial fears and representing the interests of aggrieved white people. The big talk show hosts get to retire to their mansions at night with all the money they've made from convincing struggling middle-class whites that people of color are a bigger threat to them than the corporate interests that truly oppress them.
So expect to see more conservatives like O'Reilly vilifying Black Lives Matter or any movement that seeks to empower African-Americans or address structural racism. I get it, but at least have the courage to have a real debate.
(Photo: Fox News)