Fox News host Bill O'Reilly responded to first lady Michelle Obama's speech Monday at the Democratic National Convention, in which she described what it was like to wake up every morning in a White House built by slaves, with a reply that could be generously described as missing the point.
According to progressive group Media Matters, Tuesday's edition of the O'Reilly Factor concluded with the eponymous host issuing his "Factor Tip of the Day." O'Reilly opened his monologue by acknowledging Obama raised a "fascinating" point about history.
"Slaves did participate in the construction of the White House," O'Reilly said. "Records show about 400 payments made to slave masters between 1795 and 1801. In addition, free blacks, whites and immigrants also worked on the massive building. There were no illegal immigrants at that time. If you could make it here, you could stay here."
Mentioning construction on the White House continued into the 19th century, O'Reilly then segued into a point minimizing the number of slaves required to work on the structure — and anyway, the ones who did had it pretty good for the times, right?
"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. Got it all? There will be a quiz."
Yeah. So, to recap, Obama does, in fact, wake up every day in a house built by slaves, but before you feel too bad for them remember: These slaves had probably had great benefits. Like food.
Decades later, of course, the Civil War resulted in the ultimate repudiation of the idea the morality of slave ownership is dependent on who owns said slaves or how they were kept.
Some other conservatives have also critiqued Obama's point, such as right-wing commentator Michelle Malkin, who argued that since the building underwent extensive renovations from 1949 to 1951, the history of the building somehow ends at that point and begins anew.