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Will Fox News Do Anything About Bill O'Reilly's Racist Revisionist History Lesson? 

Will Fox News Do Anything About Bill O'Reilly's Racist Revisionist History Lesson? 

Bill O'Reilly

Bill O'Reilly put his foot in his mouth again while blasting Michelle Obama's convention speech, causing some to say he's defending slavery. 

Although Roger Ailes is no longer behind the scenes at Fox News, it appears to be business as usual at the conservative network -- at least if prime-time host Bill O'Reilly is any indication.

The often-controversial anchor found himself cleaning up an on-air mess he made this week after attempting to fact-check First Lady Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention, where she powerfully reminded America that the White House was built by slaves.

"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 on Tuesday's episode of The O'Reilly Factor. "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."

Even if O'Reilly wasn't cheerleading for servitude, there is copious documentation that his claim that that slaves were "well-fed and had decent lodgings" is unsubstantiated at best. As Smithsonian magazine and other outlets reported in the wake of O'Reilly's comments, the White House and several other prominent buildings in the Washington, D.C., area used slave labor for various tasks.

O'Reilly, who was a history teacher and has authored several books including a series called Legends and Lies, attempted to clarify his comments Wednesday night. In a blog post at Talking Points Memo, O'Reilly aimed his ire at his critics, saying publications that fact-checked his claim erroneously reported that he was defending or advocating for slavery. Calling those critics "smear merchants" and "left-wing loons," O'Reilly lamented that "propaganda and hate now dominate the media landscape."

The question now, as The Washington Post's Erik Wemple pointed out, is whether the new guard at Fox News will continue the network's legacy of "fair and balanced" reporting for which Fox has become infamous. It remains to be seen if the men replacing Ailes, News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch's sons -- James and Lachlan Murdoch -- will issue any kind of sanction against O'Reilly for twisting the truth for ratings.

This isn't the first time O'Reilly has offered this kind of historical revisionist snapshot, and Fox News in general is no stranger to allegations of white-washing the nation's dark history.

Meanwhile, the rise of Donald Trump -- with his unapologetically racist, sexist, xenophobic rhetoric and policy proposals -- has highlighted the frighteningly uninformed roots of the modern Republican party. Just last week, Iowa Rep. Steve King, a staunch Republican, found it difficult to identify any contributions made to society by nonwhite people. His much-derided comments came just a few months after he attempted to block efforts to honor Harriet Tubman by placing her on the new $20 bill, which itself was followed by a local news interview where King proudly displayed a Confederate flag on his desk.

But the struggle to come to terms with this country's ongoing race problem isn't limited to the GOP. The pattern of minimizing the horrors of American slavery has grown over time, several media outlets have noted. Last year, Slate compiled a comprehensive collection of the most pervasive myths and inaccuracies about the reality of slavery.

An educational publisher came under fire in 2015 for captions in a Texas world geography textbook that described slaves as "immigrant workers," in addition to other language that critics say downplayed the brutality of slavery. The backlash came on the heels of the Texas Board of Education's guidelines for social studies, drafted in 2010 and approved in 2014, which downplayed the elements of U.S. history deemed controversial or negative.

Similarly, changes in 2014 to the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum prompted one Colorado school board member and several middle and high school students to walk out of their classrooms in protest. The dispute stemmed from a Jefferson County School Board directive to review educational materials and ensure that they promoted the respect of "authority, patriotism and essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system," while avoiding topics that could "condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard [for] the law." After the College Board, which administers the A.P. curriculum, heeded some requests for a more accurate historical depiction, the school board canceled its planned textbook review.

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