July 28, 2016 9:11 AM EDT

Bill O’Reilly responded Wednesday night to a slew of criticism about how he said the slaves, who Michelle Obama had said built the White House, “were well-fed and had decent lodgings” during his Tuesday show.

After people took to social media to rip into O’Reilly for what was perceived as downplaying the horror of slavery, the O’Reilly Factor host called it “a given that slavery is an abomination.” During his show and online, O’Reilly said the blowback mischaracterized the nature of his comments.

“As any honest historian knows, in order to keep slaves and free laborers strong, the Washington administration provided meat, bread and other staples, also decent lodging on the grounds of the new presidential building,” O’Reilly continued. “That is a fact. Not a justification, not a defense of slavery.”

O’Reilly wasn’t the first to point out the conditions for slaves who built the White House — being “well-fed” has long been used as a rationalization for the government’s use of slave labor.


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Write to Julia Zorthian at julia.zorthian@time.com.

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