[Be sure to see this update (2/22/15) with O’Reilly’s interview on Fox’s MediaBuzz]
Two weeks ago News Corpse reported that Bill O’Reilly had committed substantially the same sins of historical “embellishment” that got NBC’s Brian Williams a six month suspension. He said on numerous occasions that he had been personally involved in combat situations where his life was at risk. None of it was true.
This week David Corn of Mother Jones did a more in-depth article that documented additional instances of O’Reilly misrepresenting his war reporting. Corn’s piece was a fair investigation into O’Reilly’s own accounts of his past that significantly differ from reality. It’s a must read to understand the full measure of O’Reilly’s dishonesty.
Not surprisingly, Fox News and O’Reilly himself are hitting back hard to dispute Corn’s well researched article. O’Reilly has resorted to the most childish sort of response by calling Corn names such as “guttersnipe, irresponsible, liar,” and that old O’Reilly stand-by, “far left zealot.” What he never does is refute a single charge made in the article with any facts. The whole of O’Reilly’s defense is his insistence that “Everything I’ve reported about my journalistic career is true.” If that’s so, then why doesn’t he prove it?
The Fox Nation posted an advance transcript of O’Reilly’s Talking Points Memo that he delivers at the start of every broadcast. This is possibly the first time that has ever been done, which speaks to the gravity of this problem and how seriously O’Reilly considers the potential fallout. In the transcript O’Reilly repeats the insults aimed at Corn that he previously gave to reporters and adds more invective directed to his publisher, saying “Mother Jones … which has low circulation … considered by many the bottom rung of journalism in America.”
The “many” to which O’Reilly refers is likely his family and the dimwits who watch his program. In the real world Mother Jones is a respected publication that has distinguished itself by winning numerous journalism awards including honors from the National Press Club, The PEN American Center, American Society of Magazine Editors, Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, and a 2012 George Polk Award for Corn’s investigation of the now famous 47% speech by Mitt Romney. The Polk Award may have provided the harshest sting because it is one that O’Reilly was caught lying about having received himself. It was now-Sen. Al Franken who exposed that O’Reilly fib.
Rushing to O’Reilly’s aid is Fox’s media analyst and host of MediaBuzz, Howard Kurtz. In an article posted to the Fox News website, Kurtz whitewashes O’Reilly’s self-mythologizing by asserting that “the Mother Jones piece appears to turn on semantics.” Then Kurtz posts some of O’Reilly’s false statements that are not remotely semantic in nature. For instance:
–In a 2001 book, O’Reilly said: “I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands.”
–In a Washington panel discussion, O’Reilly said: “I’ve covered wars, okay? I’ve been there. The Falklands, Northern Ireland, the Middle East. I’ve almost been killed three times, okay.”
–In a 2004 column, O’Reilly wrote: “Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash.”
Kurtz writes that in these statements “the dispute comes down to O’Reilly’s shorthand use of the Falklands and the term “war zone.” Huh? What on Earth does that mean? Is Kurtz excusing outright lies with the explanation that O’Reilly was using the lies as shorthand for the truth, and therefore it’s OK?
It’s clear from the statements that Kurtz himself referenced that O’Reilly had put himself “on the ground in active war zones,” and said that he was “there…in the Falklands,” and that he “survived a combat situation in Argentina.” Since there was no combat anywhere in Argentina other than on the Falkland Islands, O’Reilly is implying that that’s where he was. Which he wasn’t. He also was not in Argentina “during the Falklands war,” but arrived after it was over.
Kurtz ignored all of these obviously mis-factual statements in order to absolve O’Reilly of any guilt. Later Kurtz writes that “Corn’s own piece largely backs up O’Reilly’s account of the dangerous situation.” No, actually, it does not. Corn did point out that some of the statements O’Reilly made were corroborated by other accounts, but he never came close to dismissing the multiple assertions by O’Reilly (like those above) that were blatantly false.
In the end Kurtz attempted an awkward exoneration of O’Reilly by claiming that Corn’s reporting was “a far cry from a bogus claim of having been shot down in a helicopter.” How so? By any fair standard O’Reilly’s remarks that placed him in harm’s way on a battlefield (“almost been killed three times”) are at least three times worse than Williams’ mis-remembering of a single event.
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O’Reilly’s lies are a repulsive attempt to exalt himself and his faux bravado. He has repeated these lies for decades in books, on television, and in personal appearances, and now, even after being caught, he refuses to apologize. If anyone deserves to be suspended for an extended period of time, it’s O’Reilly. But he has nothing to worry about on that score. Fox News has never acquitted itself in a respectable manner, particularly when it comes to journalistic integrity. They aren’t about to start now.
However, the stain O’Reilly leaves has now spread to Howard Kurtz, whose groveling and desperate defense is deceitful, unethical, and embarrassing. He should be suspended as well for aiding and abetting O’Reilly’s fraudulent fabrications. Of course, Kurtz will also escape accountability. It’s a perk that comes with working for Fox News. Unscrupulous dishonesty will never be a cause for punishment. At Fox News it is more likely to earn a promotion.
UPDATE: The festering ego we know as Bill O’Reilly came to his own rescue last night by devoting a chunk of his program to piling on more lies about his war reporting. He recruited his pals Bernie Goldberg and Geraldo Rivera as his character witnesses. Meanwhile, actual war correspondents are coming forward to criticize O’Reilly and veterans groups are calling for Fox News to take O’Reilly off the air:
VoteVets: “NBC acted completely appropriately in taking Brian Williams off the air and looking into claims he’s made over the years. Fox News has to do the same thing. […] Men and women have fought, died, been wounded, and scarred by war. There are many journalists who actually were in the crossfire, who died, trying to bring the story to the American people. What Bill O’Reilly has done is steal their valor, and it is wrong.”