MADDOW 2, O’REILLY 0…. A couple of weeks ago, there was an interesting dustup between Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. While these kinds of disputes can often become petty and tiresome, the area of disagreement in this case is actually pretty interesting, and so I’m glad it’s continuing.

To briefly recap for those just joining us, as the Shirley Sherrod matter was unfolding, Rachel noted O’Reilly’s misguided role in pushing nonsense, and tied it to Fox News’ role in pushing racial divisions. O’Reilly responded by boasting about his ratings, leading Rachel to note that the truth matters more than the size of one’s audience.

O’Reilly followed up in his syndicated column, calling Rachel a “loon,” and calling the notion that Fox News is trying to scare white voters “preposterous.” He labeled Rachel’s comments “paranoid dishonest rants,” lacking even “a shred of evidence.” O’Reilly added that Fox News has great ratings.

This week, Rachel responded that the argument is so “stupid,” it “doesn’t even get dressed up in Latin phrasing.” She added that Fox News “consistently runs stories it says are news, but that nobody else really covers. Stories that are ginned up, exaggerated, caricatured, in some cases flat-out made-up scare stories designed to make white people feel afraid of black people. Designed to make it seem like black people — or in some cases immigrants — are threatening white people and taking what is rightfully theirs. You may not like that diagnosis of what Fox has been up to, but to say there’s no evidence — not ‘a shred of evidence,’ as he said — that’s bullpucky.”

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After highlighting a wide variety of examples to bolster her case, Rachel concluded, “[R]emember, Mr. O’Reilly says there is not a shred of evidence that Fox News hypes stories about scary black people taking white people’s stuff.

“I am not interested in playing cable news insult ping-pong with Mr. O’Reilly, but as much as he keeps insisting that I’m no one worth arguing with, that I’m an ‘uber-leftist’ — he called me that in his column — and a loon twice now, and a slightly larger percentage of 1% of the population watches his show than the proportion of 1% of the population that watches my show, for all he complains about how unimportant I am, my criticism that Fox News scares white people on purpose to politically benefit conservatives — damn the consequences for the country — that criticism appears to have struck a nerve over at Fox. It appears to have gotten under Mr. O’Reilly’s skin.


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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.