Bill O’Reilly’s lying problem: Does it even matter, at Fox?
As NBC News’ Brian Williams serves his six-month unpaid suspension over fabricating his experiences in the Iraq War, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly is facing similar accusations of “misremembering.”
Williams ‘fessed up to exaggerating what happened in 2003 while covering the Iraq War. It turns out he hadn’t been in a helicopter that was hit by RPG fire after all. O’Reilly, on the other hand, is adamant in insisting that he is exactly right about his claims that he was in the middle of “combat” during the 1982 Falklands War, all evidence to the contrary be damned. So what’s the difference? He’s on Fox “News.”
Mother Jones published a story calling out O’Reilly for his falsehoods about his work covering the Falklands War during the conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina when he was at CBS News. He has repeatedly told audiences that he experienced “combat” while covering the war.
“He has often invoked this experience to emphasize that he understands war as only someone who has witnessed it could,” the story says. “As he once put it, ‘I’ve been there. That’s really what separates me from most of these other bloviators. I bloviate, but I bloviate about stuff I’ve seen. They bloviate about stuff that they haven’t.’ ”
According to multiple journalists who covered that war, O’Reilly was nowhere near the action, the Mother Jones story says. “Robert Fox, one of the embedded British reporters, recalled, ‘We were, in all, a party of about 32-34 accredited journalists, photographers, television crew members. We were all white, male, and British. There was no embedded reporter from Europe, the Commonwealth or the US (though they tried hard enough), let alone from Latin America.’ ”
So — no O’Reilly, although he loves to claim that he’s been “in combat” and in “a war zone.” The closest he came was in a street protest in Buenos Aires, 1,000 miles away, where he exaggerated the amount of danger: He claimed there were fatalities (there weren’t) and that he saved an injured cameraman (no one else verifies that claim). On his 2005 radio show, he said, “I’ve been in combat. I’ve seen it. I’ve been close to it.” Um, actually, no.
Ah, but O’Reilly points out that he never actually said he was in the Falkland Islands. He just uses the “in combat” line and allows listeners and viewers to draw their own conclusions. Funny, but when I hear someone say he has been “in combat,” I think he’s saying he served in the military. O’Reilly’s loose language serves to his advantage, giving a false impression that he can walk back. If he ever thought it was important to do so. In a sense, O’Reilly is using a classic ploy from the Republican playbook: Never admit you’re wrong, and never apologize.
The Mother Jones piece gives numerous examples of O’Reilly’s false claims, claims that also have been disproved by other witnesses. Yet O’Reilly sits in his Fox chair every night, and his Fox bosses continue to say he has their “full support.”
A piece in Politico gives some answers on why O’Reilly is skating while Williams fell through the ice. Williams was a respected news anchor while O’Reilly is a blowhard partisan pundit from whom everyone expects exaggerations. Williams did the honorable thing and said he was wrong, while O’Reilly digs in deeper, instead attacking the messengers. Mother Jones is a liberal magazine, and the two writers, David Corn and Daniel Schulman, are liberal reporters. How could they possibly be trusted, O’Reilly asks anyone who will listen.
The Politico story also suggests that the Mother Jones piece used a subhead it couldn’t deliver: “The Fox News host has said he was in a ‘war zone’ that apparently no American correspondent reached.”
“Corn and Schulman picked the wrong battle,” Politico said. “They chose to highlight claims that could be argued away on semantics, instead of focusing on matters that could be fact-checked.”
O’Reilly has decided to stick to his counter-attack. He has started issuing insults and threats to others reporting on this story. O’Reilly said David Corn should be put “in the kill zone — where he deserves to be.”
Several of O’Reilly’s colleagues from his time at CBS disputed his version of the facts. CBS’ Bob Schieffer said that “nobody from CBS got to the Falklands. For us, you were a thousand miles from where the fighting was. So we had some great meals.” O’Reilly responded by calling him a plagiarist.
A similar story calling O’Reilly’s statements into question and the growing controversy the entire matter has generated ran in The New York Times. O’Reilly’s response to a Times reporter: “I’m coming after you with everything I have. You can take that as a threat.” On his own show, O’Reilly said he wanted to move past the dispute and that “I want to stop this now.”
So I guess if you build your brand on yelling, interrupting your guests, thumping your chest, and out-shouting everyone else, it doesn’t matter if what you say is true, half-true, or an outright lie. As long as it fits into your network’s and your listeners’ world view, all will be well in your world. As long as your bosses and your listeners never demand actual accountability, and your show has high ratings, there’s no problem. Even though a 2014 report by Punditfact, an arm of Politifact, showed that Fox was telling the truth only 18 percent of the time.
Still. Even Fox News viewers must know at some level that they’re being lied to — right?