A report that Fox News juggernaut Bill O’Reilly has been fluffing his war zone encounters was met with a collective chortle. Mainly because, we, as a media-consuming public are not surprised to hear O’Reilly makes stuff up. The sun will rise in the east and Bill O’Reilly will call some undeserving person a “thug” –or in the case of murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, a baby killer—and moments later, vehemently deny ever saying it.
We’ve all been groomed to accept Bill’s baloney pinned to a brag about his stratospheric ratings. He’s just quaint Americana—a weird yet popular quirk of his graying generation!
“I am not easily shocked,” O’Reilly said in 2009. “I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands.”
Only he didn’t. He never made it to the Falklands, according Bob Schieffer and several others from CBS who were with O’Reilly in mainland Argentina. He actually was in Buenos Aires, a thousand miles from the Falklands, covering a protest. Over the years, he’s spun it into a very dangerous scenario: people were killed, live rounds were shot, an M-16 aimed was at his head. There were no actual reports of fatalities in the protest—only in O’Reilly’s account of his own heroism.
Also he’s said on several occasions he saw nuns get shot in the head in El Salvador. It’s well documented he wasn’t in the country when that took place.
“I’ve been there,” he said on Hamptons TV in 2009. “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.”
So we all shrugged and chuckled, America’s favorite bellicose uncle just got caught telling a tall tale about scary places where no one even speaks English!
There’s a consensus that O’Reilly will not see the same fate as NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams for a similar crime of embellishing his “war” stories. While Williams was taken off air for six months without pay by NBC, O’Reilly has the “full support” of the president of Fox News of Roger Ailes. Different standards, you see. Williams, it’s been explained, is a trusted journalist; O’Reilly is a popular entertainer.
What O’Reilly is, is a fraud.
I say this in the wake of the ISIS beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Also for the other nearly 70 journalists who have died covering the Syrian conflict since 2011. And the 61 journalists killed worldwide in 2014 (nearly 70 percent of which, according to Committee to Protect Journalists, were covering politics). And the countless others intimidated or jailed for doing their jobs.
You’d think since Bill likes to make believe he was in combat, he’d have a kinship—a kindness for reporters in general and for war correspondents specifically. Since they’re doing what he dreamed he did on the front lines, you’d think he’d be the biggest, loudest advocate for news gatherers and the dangers (he imagines) they face.
Five journalists died in Iraq last year covering a war O’Reilly championed from his national platform. How many times has he covered their sacrifice? Zero.
Not only is he unsympathetic to the people who do what he wants his viewers to think he did—he threatened a reporter assigned to the story about his fabrications! “During a phone conversation, he told a reporter for The New York Times that there would be repercussions if he felt any of the reporter’s coverage was inappropriate. ‘I am coming after you with everything I have,’ Mr. O’Reilly said. ‘You can take it as a threat,’” reported the newspaper.
O’Reilly’s whole schtick has been to insult journalists and spread distrust of the media because, according to Bill, they don’t tell the truth. Hypocrisy is one way to spin it. I call it fraud.
War correspondents risk their lives every day to document conflicts, to give us the first draft of history, to keep us informed. Mostly they’re brave, unsung servants of the public interest. Hundreds of them die in this pursuit. No wonder Bill O’Reilly wants to pretend he’s one of them.
The irony, of course, is if Bill were a journalist—if we held him to any known journalistic standards—he’d be out of a job. Being a fake journalist pretending to have been in combat zones has much better job security.
That’s the truth.
Image by DonkeyHotey