As Bill O'Reilly's televised reign of lies comes to an end, I cannot help but reflect upon the fact that, 14 years ago, he unwittingly set the stage for one of the greatest and Blackest moments in the history of cable news.
The Set Up
Cam’ron and Dame Dash were invited to be guests on The O’Reilly Factor to discuss the impact of hip-hop music on Black youth.
Cam and Dame were in the studio and appeared to be, simultaneously, unprepared and disinterested in what was about to happen. Bill positioned himself as a moderator while Salome Thomas-El, a Black elementary school principal, seemed ready to castigate the two for, what O’Reilly called, ‘vile and demeaning’ lyrics.
Introducing Cam’ron, O’Reilly said he was “a rapper who raps about pimping and bitches.” In doing this, Bill disregarded Cam’s business acumen and, I think, under appreciated lyrical abilities, and painted him as little more than a pimp.
“Pimpin’ and bitches?” asked Cam. “Yes, Pimping and bitches,” said the host. When that exchange took place, I knew that things were about to get interesting.
(Editor's note: To be fair, Cam and the rest of the Dipset definitely rapped about "pimping and bitches" more than the average rappers. They definitely regularly fulfilled and surpassed their allotted "pimping and bitches" quotas.)
The Black Face of White Supremacy
The exchange started in the usual O’Reilly, Fox News manner. He gave the first word to Tomas-El. For all of his talk of being fair and balanced, in exchanges like these, the first word usually went to the point of view that voiced Bill’s thoughts on the matter.
Tomas-El began by saying that he was a fan of the ROC, but that Cam needed to be more mindful of how his music was received by Black youth. As he brought the opening statement to an end, he used a word that caught me by surprised.
He said ‘conversate.’
All of a sudden I realized what was happening. This dude was a real nigga who cared about real Black kids; however, however, he was being used by Fox to put a Black face on White criticism.
Cam responded by saying that he was just like a news reporter, telling the truth about what happened in his neighborhood. I hear his point, but there are legitimate questions to be asked about which stories we tell and who we valorize in our retelling of these stories. The deep, troubling strain of mysogynoir in some of Hip-Hop music is worth discussing and deconstructing. Instead, Bill was interested in only painting Hip Hop with a broad, stereotypical brush. He asked Cam: “If an 11 year old heard your music, would you want him to imitate you?”
Cam was committed to being an asshole, and merely said: “yes.”
O’Reilly seemed pleased with himself. Like he had done his job to undermine the Hip-Hop community. Then Dame spoke…and Black history was made.
“If an eleven year old were to imitate Cam’ron, they would become the CEO of their own company,” said Dame with his usual rhythmic speech patter. “They would control their own destiny, and take a bad situation and make it good.”
“I have a clothing line and cologne,” agreed Cam.
Bill wasn’t ready for this.
He was on his heels. “You know what I mean,” he said flustered. “If you have a child that is unsupervised listening to your music…what would you say to him?”
After a brief exchange about The Terminator and how it glorifies violence, Cam and Dame stumbled on an important question. “Wait,” said Cam leaning back in his chair smugly. “Why are these kids unsupervised?”
A fundamental feature of the ethos of Fox News in general, and O’Reilly in particular, is the way they fail to address the systemic nature of racism. Instead of dealing with poverty and the evils of a criminal justice system that places Black boys and girls in situations wherein they are left unsupervised because one parent must work to put food on the table while another may be imprisoned due to racial profiling, O’Reilly and his crew would rather treat blackness as a pathology. As something that rappers can fix if only they discuss things White folks like him would deem appropriate. Topics like mayonnaise, New Balance shoes…and thrift store shopping.
O’Reilly thought he could ambush Cam and Dame by teaming up with a Black principal to verbally accosted them, but the former remained steadfast in his unapologetic assholeness while the latter poked holes in each and every accusation lobbed at them.
Eventually, the principal ended up agreeing with the two guests while Bill rushed to a commercial break. Cam, recognizing the nature of the moment, leaned back in his chair once more, smiled, pointed to Bill and said, “You Maaaaad.”
It was not a question. It was a prophetic statement. Bill was mad as hell.