Debra J. Saunders

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has been known to show some fairly racy video clips of young women in various stages of undress. O'Reilly explains that while some viewers criticize him for showing salacious images as he denounces the decline of American culture, he has an obligation to show his audience the tawdry reality that prompted his righteous rant.

Not so when it came to Jesse Jackson, who was caught criticizing Barack Obama for "talking down to black people" on a hot microphone off air at Fox Studios on July 6. "The O'Reilly Factor" then aired some of Jackson's comments, but dubbed over a word when Jackson said, "I want to cut his n- off."

What was the deleted expletive? The Chronicle hasn't used the word either when reporting on the story, so here's a hint: On hearing the phrase, men have been known to squirm in their chairs, cross their legs, or at least put their arms forward defensively.

When the story broke, Jackson issued this statement: "For any harm or hurt that this hot mike private conversation may have caused, I apologize. My support for Sen. Obama's campaign is wide, deep and unequivocal."

Nice try, but the damage was done -- not to Obama, but Jackson himself, who came across as a petty man who let envy get the better of him. His biting of the lip and yanking of his right arm made it clear that Jackson had given serious thought to a certain surgical procedure.

I, too, have been known to bemoan the decline of our culture. Proofs abound. But if network news shows -- and Fox News was not alone here -- can hint broadly at what Christie Brinkley's estranged husband, Peter Cook, did online, if they can cut to photos of baseball players and strippers and repeatedly air footage of scantily clad starlets in their cups, surely they don't need to shield their delicate viewers from the word Jackson used in expressing his desire to pare another man's legumes.

I can only assume that male TV news biggies bleeped the word because they've finally found a part of the human anatomy about which they are highly sensitive.

And it's below the belt.

It turns out O'Reilly withheld half of the story. Someone on Fox News released a transcript that revealed Jackson used another n-word. Specifically, he complained about Obama "telling n- how to behave." And I can understand why networks might bleep this n-word. It is racist and vile.

So why did O'Reilly withhold mention of the more offensive n-word?

O'Reilly told viewers that Jackson had uttered other ugly words, but that he would not air them because they "did not advance the story in one way, shape or form."

Later he said, "I'm not in the business of hurting Jesse Jackson -- because it does hurt Jesse Jackson -- and I'm not in the business of creating some kind of controversy that's not relevant to the general subject: one civil rights leader disparaging another over policy. So we held it back. Some weasel leaked it to the Internet."

Some readers might consider Jackson's remarks off-limits as they represented pre-show chitchat not intended for public consumption. But Jackson is hardly the first public figure to get caught in this snare. He knew he had a microphone on his lapel, that people might hear him, and that what he was saying was in poor taste.

He simply could not help himself.

Granted, whether it should be or not, it is different when a black person, as opposed to a white person, uses the two-syllable n-word.

But when a civil rights leader disparages the very people whom he is supposed to champion -- that's news. And when the black person who uses the n-word word is a civil rights leader who challenged the entertainment industry not to use the word and called for a boycott of "Seinfeld" DVDs after one of the series' stars, Michael Richards, used the slur as a standup comic -- that's big news.

It is news that buries whatever credibility Jackson retained.

Which makes O'Reilly's decision not to broadcast the racist n-word incomprehensible. O'Reilly was giving a pass to Jackson -- something he would not do for an 18-year-old girl who posted a sexual photo on the Internet.

And for that, he should squirm in his seat.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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