NEW YORK -- The news that the Rev. Jesse Jackson took a crude swipe at Sen. Barack Obama this week put renewed scrutiny on the relationship between the veteran civil rights activist and Democratic presidential contender.

But Jackson's vulgar criticism of Obama came close to going unreported.

Jackson made the comments to a guest before an interview on Sunday's "Fox & Friends," whispering that Obama was "talking down to black people" and that Jackson wanted to "cut his nuts off."

The comments went unnoticed in the control room, Bill Shine, Fox News' senior vice president for programming, said Thursday.

The scathing remarks first came to the attention of an employee working the overnight shift Sunday, who transcribed the tape as part of training for the network's ongoing digital conversion. Otherwise, "it potentially would have not been discovered," Shine said.

On Tuesday, a staff member in the digital department e-mailed Jackson's comments to a producer for "The O'Reilly Factor," who was vacationing in France. The producer alerted the show's staff back in New York later that day.

News executives immediately realized the import of the footage.

"I looked at it and thought, 'This is going to be news,' " Shine said. But the cable network did not put the material on the air right away.

"We cautiously and patiently went forward with the story," he said, adding that producers reached out to Jackson and Obama to let them know about the material.

Shine said the civil rights leader did not ask Fox News to hold back the tape. But before the network even aired his comments, Jackson went on CNN Wednesday afternoon to preemptively apologize.

Shortly afterward, Fox News teased the news of Jackson's remarks on "Special Report With Brit Hume." The network didn't air the more vulgar part of Jackson's comments for two more hours, when the clip ran on the top-rated show hosted by Bill O'Reilly.

"It was Bill's staff who had been working on it, and we felt it would be appropriate to put it there," Shine said.

O'Reilly told viewers that the network had decided to air only portions of what Jackson had said, saying there was "more damaging" material.

Shine declined to comment on what else Jackson said, adding that news executives were in discussions about whether to air more of the tape.

matea.gold@latimes.com