During a debate on marijuana legalization, Fox‘s Bill O’Reilly claimed that in “certain ghetto neighborhoods” rampant marijuana use is “part of the culture– nine-year old boys and girls are smoking it” (O’Reilly Factor, 7/28/14).
Unfortunately, this kind of stereotyping and demonization of black youth is nothing new (Extra!, 9/13).
Last month O’Reilly and others on Fox News defended racist remarks about black communities when they supported local New Jersey reporter Sean Bergin, who was suspended after editorializing that “broken families” were the cause of the “sick, perverse” anger toward police that has “contaminated America’s inner cities.”
Bergin’s comments came after interviewing the widow of an African-American man killed by police after fatally shooting a Jersey City police officer. The widow, Angelique Campbell, told Bergin that her husband “should have took more with him” (Breitbart, 7/15/14). (Campbell later apologized–AP, 7/16/14.)
After some viewers complained about the airing of Campbell’s views (The Blaze, 7/14/14) Bergin responded on air with his theories about the source of the “anti-cop mentality” he attributed to “inner cities”:
We were besieged, flooded with calls from police officers furious that we would give media coverage to the wife of a cop killer. It’s understandable. We decided to air it because it’s important to shine a light on this anti-cop mentality that has so contaminated America’s inner cities. This same, sick, perverse line of thinking is evident from Jersey City to Newark and Patterson to Trenton.
It has made the police officer’s job impossible and it has got to stop. The underlying cause of all of this, of course: young black men growing up without fathers. Unfortunately, no one in the news media has the courage to touch that subject.
After his suspension, Bergin told Breitbart (7/15/14) that “replacing husbands and fathers with government checks created this mess, and that’s why liberal media refuse to look at it.”
On the O’Reilly program (7/16/14) fellow Fox host Howard Kurtz supported him, saying that Bergin “knew he was breaking the rules, but he did a courageous thing by speaking out on a very incendiary subject.”
Similarly, O’Reilly declared the punishment was excessive, and posed at least one question that hinted towards his support for Bergin,
Part of the report was the blowback from police officers angry that News 12 put a woman on the air, the mother of the murderer who condemned the police force. That’s part of the story. So isn’t Mr. Bergin explaining why that is happening and how dangerous it is? Isn’t that a legitimate explanation?
But journalists aren’t just supposed to ‘speak out,’ and supporting a racist theory about black men is far from a “legitimate explanation.” The problem is that neither Bergin nor his Fox supporters offered any evidence linking how New Jersey’s black communities feel about the police to any particular family situation. Major cities, especially Patterson and Newark, have tremendous histories of police brutality and racial profiling against black and brown youth–which provide legitimate reasons for distrusting police. To borrow a phrase, Bergin and O’Reilly may not have “the courage to touch that subject.” And to what would Bergin attribute the actions of those who kill unarmed black males–who are often police officers? Did they, too, grow up fatherless?
Bergin was promoting what Melissa Harris-Perry calls the myth of the “magical black father,” the incorrect assumption that a present father –rather than the elimination of racism, police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline — is the solution to the black community’s problems.
Bergin’s analysis relied on damaging stereotypes of broken black families rather than evidence.
What if things had played out differently, and Bergin had linked decades of police brutality to “anti-cop” attitudes? Would any of these Fox hosts been so quick to defend him? Given the outlet’s history, the answer is likely no.
Jordana Jarrett is a FAIR intern.