Bill O’Reilly’s war “memory” is worse than Brian Williams’s

Earlier this month, following reports that Brian Williams exaggerated stories about his time covering the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina, Bill O’Reilly went to town:

O’Reilly tied Williams’s misrememberings about Iraq and Katrina into a larger narrative about the decline and, of course, liberalization of American journalism, arguing that the national anchor’s embellishments should lead viewers to question the integrity of other journalists and media outlets that don’t start with an F and rhyme with “Rocks.”

But an investigation by Mother Jones’s David Corn and Daniel Schulman shows that O’Reilly has likely fabricated more than one story of his own, having recounted heroic efforts in war zones that he could not possibly have been in.

O’Reilly has repeatedly claimed that he has reported from active war zones, including the Falklands war between England and Argentina in 1982, including one dramatic episode in which he rescued his photographer from impending doom:

However, as Corn and Schulman report, no American reporters were allowed on the Falkland Islands themselves during that conflict, and no reporter from CBS, where O’Reilly worked at the time, made it there:

Given the remote location of the war zone—which included the British territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, more than 1,400 miles offshore—few reporters were able to witness and report on the combat that claimed the lives of about 900 Argentine and British troops. The government in London only allowed about 30 British journalists to accompany its military forces. As Caroline Wyatt, the BBC’s defense correspondent, recently noted…”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.”

American reporters were not on the ground in this distant war zone. “Nobody got to the war zone during the Falklands war,” Susan Zirinsky, a longtime CBS News producer who helped manage the network’s coverage of the war from Buenos Aires, tells Mother Jones. She does not remember what O’Reilly did during his time in Argentina. But she notes that the military junta kept US reporters from reaching the islands: “You weren’t allowed on by the Argentinians. No CBS person got there.”

That’s how Bob Schieffer, who was CBS News’s lead correspondent covering the Falklands war, recalls it: “Nobody from CBS got to the Falklands. I came close. We’d been trying to get somebody down there. It was impossible.”

Following the release of the Mother Jones story, O’Reilly told POLITICO that he “was not in the Falklands and never said I was. I was in Buenos Aires…In Buenos Aires we were in a combat situation after the Argentines surrendered.”

However, setting aside for the moment that his defense is patently false, even O’Reilly’s version of the events that transpired in Buenos Aires — he claimed that “a major riot ensued and many were killed. I was right in the middle of it and nearly died of a heart attack when a soldier, standing about ten feet away, pointed his automatic weapon directly at my head.” — doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Again, per Mother Jones:

O’Reilly’s account of the protest in Buenos Aires is at odds with news reports from the time—including the report from his own bureau. The CBS Evening News that night aired about a minute of video of the protest, apparently including some of the footage that O’Reilly and his camera team had obtained…The only act of violence in the spot was a man throwing a punch against the car of a Canadian news crew…The CBS report said nothing about people being killed. It does not match O’Reilly’s dramatic characterization of the event in his book; the video on the broadcast did not depict “major violence up close and personal.”

And in case you insist on giving O’Reilly the benefit of the doubt, and care to wonder if he could have legitimately mixed up Buenos Aires with the Falkland Islands because they’re both way south of the Equator, consider this:

The protest in Buenos Aires was not combat. Nor was it part of the Falklands war. It happened more than a thousand miles from the war—after the fighting was over. Yet O’Reilly has referred to his work in Argentina—and his rescue of his cameraman—as occurring in a “war zone.” And he once told a viewer who caught his show in Argentina, “Tell everybody down there I covered the Falklands war. They’ll remember.”

Mother Jones also called into question O’Reilly’s account of his time in El Salvador, which he wrote in his book, No-Spin Zone, that when he reported from the village of Meanguera:

The place was leveled to the ground and fires were still smoldering. But even though the carnage was obviously recent, we saw no one live or dead. There was absolutely nobody around who could tell us what happened. I quickly did a stand-up amid the rubble and we got the hell out of there.

As Corn and Schulman note, that doesn’t square with the footage O’Reilly himself filed with CBS. There were no fires and plenty of citizens walking around the town, who appeared in his footage and could have presumably told him “what happened.”

So it’s pretty obvious that Bill O’Reilly’s stories about his time as a war correspondent are exaggerated at best, and deviate as far if not farther from the truth than Brian Williams did with this tales about Iraq and Katrina. After all, Williams was at least present for the events he added drama to. Of course — and O’Reilly said this himself in his original criticism of Brian Williams — what separates him from Williams is that Williams is on NBC Nightly News and O’Reilly is on Fox, which is why it’s highly unlikely that O’Reilly will face punishment similar to Williams’s six month suspension.

For O’Reilly, the generous way to read that distinction is that it somehow makes his fabrications less bad. He’s got a smaller audience and, in his own words, he’s just a commentator with an opinion; Williams is a national news anchor who isn’t supposed to have real thoughts or feelings.

But another way to read it is that Fox and their viewers set a lower bar for O’Reilly and other talking heads on the network when it comes to the basic standard of repeating stories that actually happened, and not repeating stories that didn’t. NBC suspended Brian Williams — and suffered a sizable ratings hit without him behind the desk — because they were worried that keeping him on would damage their credibility and cost them more viewers in the long run.

What Fox does in response to this report will tell us a lot about their internal calculus and even more about their viewers. If Fox fails to suspend O’Reilly, who has fashioned a career by claiming to be an Independent while repeating Republican talking points, it will prove (again) that they have no credibility left to lose, and that O’Reilly’s viewers aren’t going to change the channel just because the guy on screen is a proven liar.

They don’t care if we find out that Bill O’Reilly made his war stories up because, hey, what else is new?

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Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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20 Responses to “Bill O’Reilly’s war “memory” is worse than Brian Williams’s”

  1. sane37 says:

    The noise is real. If only it were faux, truly.

  2. HeartlandLiberal says:

    Absolutely nothing will happen to O’Reilly. Other than he will be given more time and exposure and prominence to recite the gospel of right wing news and talking points that are served up to the talking heads on Faux Noise Nutwork by the right wing noise machine and the Koch Brothers Inc every hour of every day. This will be portrayed as just another unjustified attack against the dear leaders of Faux Noise by the Commie / Socialist liberal media and the Libtards of the Democrat (sic) Party.

    Faux Noise is not a news network. Faux Noise is the equivalent of Pravda in Communist Russia. It is a bought and paid for and fully owned and operated propaganda outlet. I am assuming the talking heads on Faux Noise know this, because no thinking, rational person could not understand it, but that they just choose to take the money and turn off the switch that controls any remnants of conscience or morality they might otherwise possess.

  3. FatRat says:
    Harlem restaurant Sylvia’s, Bill O’Reilly reported that he “couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patronship.” O’Reilly added: “There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea.’ ”

    (If we can’t trust Papa Bear about being in a war zone, how can we trust him about the tea?)

  4. The_Fixer says:

    I thought he confused a loofah with a falafel.

    Regardless, yeah, he’s a real piece of work.

  5. Naja pallida says:

    Yeah, but you know they’ll immediately jump to the excuse that O’Reilly isn’t a news anchor, nor a reporter. He’s an opinion bloviator. Nobody should be expecting him to be stating reality, that’s never been his job at least as long as he’s worked at Fox Noise… and he’s never made any special effort to be factual or truthful.

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    It should. Fox News and MSNBC share one trait in common – bigotry.

    MSNBC either exercised self censorship to keep the franchise for the Sochi Olympics or simply bowed to the demands of the bigot Putin. NBC was fully aware of the progress of the Russian bigot law as early as 2006: “Human Rights
    Watch (HRW) notes that before Sochi was chosen for the 2014 games, the
    International Olympic Committee (IOC) and their stakeholders, including American multinational sponsors of the Winter Olympics, as well as NBC Universal, which has the broadcast contract, carefully tracked the path of the legislation… .”
    via JMG

    They continues to have a cozy relationship with Putin. “Openly gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts will host the 2013 Miss Universe competition in Russia, replacing Bravo star Andy Cohen, who turned the host position down because he’s “concerned for his safety” as a gay man in a country with an anti-gay government.

  7. emjayay says:

    Everyone please feel free to skip over this off topic response even more than you usually may do when you see that little black furry animal in the orange square. It’s a comment copied from a thread also mentioning Mitt.

    Besides being born with a silver spoon and a lifetime of reinforcement of his personal privilege, Mitt is a pure businessman. There is no such thing as business ethics. That’s not a value judgment, it’s just the way it works. Ask Adam Smith. That’s why we have come to realize we need big government (thank you Bull Moose) to go up against big corporations, and various regulations to protect the commons and individuals.

    I never was able to get to the bottom of the story, and no reporter has either really, and I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I have strong suspicions about what happened with young Mitt in France. His arduous Mormon missionary service included a major period living in a mansion in Paris with the top Mormons in France, no doubt because of who he was. He was driving them in their Citroen DS, the super high tech French luxury level car, on a two lane local highway at night. Although fragile compared to modern cars, the DS did have some early attention to crash engineering. He drove head on into a Mercedes (compact size by today’s standards) driven by a priest on a curve, killing the priest and the wife of the Mormon president.

    Obviously it was in the interest of the Mormon church in Catholic France to not be too interested in any investigation as to who was at fault – either one, make as little a deal of it as possible, and leak that the priest was at fault without making any accusations. There is speculation that the priest missed the curve (although he lived around there) and also speculation that Mitt passed a truck on the curve.

    Anyway, not the part Mitt ever brought up about his time in France, including the living in mansion part. He has talked about outhouses and riding a bike there.

    Privilege and business non-ethics. Also similar behavior of institutions, like the Mormon church which Mitt was also connected to the top of from the beginning.

  8. emjayay says:

    That Rachel Maddow and all her buddies are so homophobic it just makes me sick.

  9. Butch1 says:

    Yes, he paid dearly for that nightmare to go away.

  10. 2karmanot says:

    Poor Billy Goat isn’t the brightest bulb in the hate mirror. He just confused ‘Loofah’ for ‘Fallujah’

  11. 2karmanot says:

    Bill O’Liely and the no truth zone.

  12. 2karmanot says:

    You bet it was….just like Romney’s dangerous assignment in Paris during the Vietnam era.

  13. Butch1 says:

    Good point, I’d forgotten about that.

  14. emjayay says:

    I was in England in 1982 during the Falklands war. O’Reilly is right. It was hell, being in a war zone like that.

  15. Buford says:

    Actually, if Fox News cared one whit about credibility and integrity, he would have been fired after the Andrea Macros scandal. How anyone can seek O’Reilly’s insight on any topic after he was caught harassing a coworker with dirty talk about using vibrators on himself, masturbation, getting her drunk so she’d consent to sex, etc… is simply beyond me.

  16. Butch1 says:

    Yes, I enjoyed Jeremy Scahill when he went after some host on CNN for using one of their foreign war “experts” so much. He said that they had never even been to the area let alone embedded with any military unit to learn anything or really know what was going on as was the case with those generals on FOX who get paid to just spout off their opinions and haven’t been connected with any real source of information. This man knows of what he speaks and knows people in the area as well as has been embedded in some very rough regions and battles. He is constantly going to those areas to get his stories and not sitting in the US waiting for some news to come to him.

  17. Butch1 says:

    You will never see him removed from his lofty position at FOX like Williams was for “making a mistake” in his recollections of the past. Sorry, the blowvader has done worse that that; he has pretended he has military service under his belt and directly lied about being in battle. He needs to be asked with direct questions if he has been in the military? Yes or No? No one has ever put his feet to the fire and he constantly dances around it. He’s nothing but a wannabe soldier and pretend hero. His fans eat this stuff up.

  18. nicho says:

    A recent media study revealed that 61 percent of the stuff reported on Fox is false. What more do you need to know. People who watch no news at all are better informed than Fox viewers.

  19. Bill_Perdue says:

    Homophobc ‘news’ networks like Fox and MSNBC produce a lot of liars and a lot of lies.

  20. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:


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