Bill O'Reilly's "Lynching Party" Comment

I guess after teaching about lynching nearly every semester for the past 6 years I shouldn’t be surprised to know how ill informed people are about the practice of lynching. Ever since Clarence Thomas and his defenders claimed he was the victim of a “high tech lynching,” the term lynching has been misappropriated by politicians and other public figures. Thomas’s misappropriation of the term was a tremendous insult to the real victims of lynchings, who were tortured, beaten, castrated, burned, hung, and terrorized by huge mobs of whites. These mobs included white men, women, and children. Lynching was murder and torture as a public spectacle.

So when are people like Bill O’Reilly going to get this through their thick heads? On his radio show O’Reilly responded to a caller who alleged that Michelle Obama was a very angry and militant woman. Here’s the extended quote from Media Matters:

O’REILLY: You know, I have a lot of sympathy for Michelle Obama, for Bill Clinton, for all of these people. Bill Clinton, I have sympathy for him, because they’re thrown into a hopper where everybody is waiting for them to make a mistake, so that they can just go and bludgeon them. And, you know, Bill Clinton and I don’t agree on a lot of things, and I think I’ve made that clear over the years, but he’s trying to stick up for his wife, and every time the guy turns around, there’s another demagogue or another ideologue in his face trying to humiliate him because they’re rooting for Obama.

That’s wrong. And I don’t want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there’s evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that’s how she really feels — that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever — then that’s legit. We’ll track it down.

In the beginning it sounds like O’Reilly is defending both Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, but why did he have to add the lynching comment at the end? Either O’Reilly is a sick disgusting murderous bigot or he doesn’t have a clue what lynching is. I’d like to believe the latter. I’d like to believe that he hasn’t seen the pictures in the Without Sanctuary exhibit, and like most of my students he’s ill informed about what lynching is. Because if he isn’t ill informed, it would mean that he would want to be part of a group that tortures, kills, and mutilates, Michelle Obama, assuming he found “evidence” or “hard facts” that she was angry or militant.

It’s time to have a moratorium on people using the term lynching for anything short of killing and torturing people, whether or not it’s Clarence Thomas, Bill O’Reilly, or Golf Channel anchors. The misuse of the term lynching, whether intentional or unintentional, is a gross distortion of American history. Furthermore, the misuse and abuse of the term is an insult to the victims of lynching, as it understates how brutal, inhumane, depraved, and offensive this act is/was. Next time O’Reilly (and others) should educate himself (themselves), so he can find a less brutal and less racially loaded term.

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11 Responses to Bill O'Reilly's "Lynching Party" Comment

  1. 1
    Rosemary Grace says:

    I’m astonished that people do not know that lynching = murderous mob beats victim & hangs them in a public place!

    We were taught about the KKK, and lynchings, and the civil rights movement in the US as part of history education in Scotland! I’m pretty sure they taught us about lynchings so we’d understand what a big deal it was for people to stand up for the civil rights of people of colour. We also learned about the women’s suffrage movement, which I know not every history curriculum covers, but then I did go to a school with an unusually feminist approach.

  2. 2
    Silenced is Foo says:

    This is hardly rare. Notice how Christians have re-appropriated the term “bashing”? My understanding was that the origin of the “bashing” suffix was similar to “lynching” – gay-bashing originally meant beating up gay people.

  3. 3
    SamChevre says:


    I think people do know that. It’s just that lynching has become a figure of speech for an poorly-justified mob attack–like the Holocaust has become a figure of speech for genocide broadly defined. (For example, describing the US policies toward Native Americans in the 20th century as a “slow-motion Holocaust.”)

    Rachel is trying to argue that we shouldn’t do that. (I tend to agree, on a broad range of designators for unquestioned horrors.) Thus, we shouldn’t describe an unjustified verbal attack by an ignorant mob on Michelle Obama as a lynching.


    You’ve taught classes that covered lynching–I have a begging request. Do you have any good figures for numbers of lynchings? I have heard many different figures and would like a reasonably reliable source to quote when “someone is wrong on the internet”.

  4. 4
    jd says:

    huh. O’Reilly doesn’t see a difference between viewing the U.S. as a flawed nation and as a bad one. why am I not surprised.

    (not the topic of the post, I know, but I think that’s also very telling about the way he thinks, and also why he sticks his head in the sand about historical realities like lynching)

  5. 5
    Eliza says:

    It’s becoming typical, this sort of co-optation and misappropriation of words. These are the same people who will claim that an overly zealous editor “raped” their book.

  6. 6
    standgale says:

    Although I don’t think that the word “lynching” should be used casually, my dictionary lists as one of the definitions (I looked it up a couple of weeks ago but don’t remember the exact words) something along the lines of”non-official people taking into their own hands the judging and punishment of people due to a perceived crime”. In that case, it doesn’t have to involve torturing and killing, although even with that definition strictly applied, the majority of cases probably would be extreme as mobs taking things into their own hands tend not to be restrained and orderly. The other definition was, specifically, hanging, also as an unofficial meting out of “punishment”.
    It is probably still a misappropriation in these cases as no punishment was actually given to these politicians, etc.
    It also might not have this alternative meaning in the USA, although I think the dictionary said the word did originate there?

  7. 7
    Les says:

    I think O’Reilly is a racist ass who doesn’t care about historical black people getting tortured to death. This is the same guy who was shocked when he went to a restuarant in Harlem and the black folks acted like normal restaurant patrons, never once shouting “motherfucker” loudly.

    To respond to commenters: I don’t see a problem with using the term Holocaust to refer to a genocide. As long as it’s a genocide and not something far less.

    Dictionaries are not neutral. If powerful people have been using the term “lynching” in a casual way, the dictionary will reflect that. It’s job is to reflect usage, especially usage by powerful people. People like O’Reilly and Thomas and other prominent pro-racist political figures who want to water down and obfuscate the meaning of the term. Miriam Webster is not a reason to ignore the meaning and reference of the term.

  8. 8
    Sailorman says:

    I’m especially disturbed for some reason by the word “party.” Some words don’t belong together, and “lynching” and “party” are two of them.

    Rachel, did this really only start in a big way with Thomas? I feel like I’ve heard lynching used generally for longer than that, though my memory may be way off. What did you find in the history books?

  9. 9
    Rachel S. says:

    As far as lynching numbers….I’m not sure that we really know exactly how many lynchings there were, but the general estimates I have heard range from 3,000 to 8,000.

    There is a good discussion at this site,, which relates some of the problems with counting lynching and the general misconceptions. I looked up the Tuskegee numbers, which are discussed in the bottom of this Wikipedia entry and the number they give is 4,733 between 1882 and 1959. Apparently that number is a conservative estimate, relative to the NAACP number.

  10. 10
    SamChevre says:

    Thank you Rachel.

  11. 11
    Hugh says:

    People like O’ Reilly and and Imis are contributing factors as to why this country will never be a great one; and also why people of this nation will truly never come together. Their statements releted to black people ( especially towards balck women ) are divisive and destructive. It’s amazing how people will bring up the past to teach some people about the practices the United States once employed and enjoyed. Hate fosters Hate!! Behavior is learned. Who are the real terriost in the world? This should be the message we really need to point out. Why don’t the media pick this as a subject for discussion? Too obvious. As said earlier behavior is learned and it makes me sick to continue seeing a media that employs people like Imas and O ‘Reilly. This election will continue to be a racial and racism issue.
    O’ Reilly is a racist. He has the ability to infulence people – is in a controling position and has power. He should apologize and also refrain from justifying his statements. It’s unacceptable. I would be fired from my job if during my presentation I made comments like this to my audience. Perhaps someone in the media should update their list of offensive words or phrases that are absoutly off limts. Censorship is really needed in the media industry. HP