updated 9/25/2007 6:39:49 PM ET 2007-09-25T22:39:49

After eating dinner at a famed Harlem restaurant recently, Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly told a radio audience he “couldn’t get over the fact” that there was no difference between the black-run Sylvia’s and other restaurants.

“It was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun,” he said. “And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all.”

O’Reilly said his fellow patrons were tremendously respectful as he ate dinner with civil rights activist Al Sharpton.

The comments were made during O’Reilly’s nationally syndicated radio broadcast last week. The liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America called attention to them by distributing a transcript and audio clip on the Internet.

“This is nothing more than left-wing outlets stirring up false racism accusations for ratings,” said Bill Shine, senior vice president for programming at Fox News Channel. “It’s sad.”

O’Reilly spoke during a general discussion about racial relations with Fox News analyst Juan Williams. O’Reilly said he believed black Americans were “starting to think more and more for themselves” and backing away from a race-based culture encouraged by Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

He said he treated Sharpton to dinner to thank him for appearing on his Fox News Channel show.

Mark of racial progress?
O’Reilly pointed to the lack of difference between Sylvia’s and other restaurants as a marker of racial progress. He also noted that he went to an Anita Baker concert recently where the audience was evenly mixed between blacks and whites.

“The band was excellent, but they were dressed in tuxedoes, and this is what white America doesn’t know, particularly people who don’t have a lot of interaction with black Americans,” he said. “They think the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg.”

Williams concurred that too many people believe there’s little else in black culture beyond profane rap.

“That’s right,” O’Reilly said. “There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘M.F.-er, I want more iced tea.”

Sharpton said he was taken aback that anyone would be surprised at how blacks acted at Sylvia’s and will ask O’Reilly on “The O’Reilly Factor” Wednesday to explain what he meant. Nothing O’Reilly said at the dinner was offensive, said Sharpton spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger.

Karl Frisch, a spokesman for Media Matters, called O’Reilly’s comments “ignorant and racially charged.”

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