Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is furiously spinning amid mounting evidence that he has repeatedly lied about his professional history as a journalist.
On Wednesday, the Fox anchor put forth a laughable explanation to justify his claim to have seen nuns gunned down in El Salvador even as new evidence emerged casting doubt on his claim to have been at the scene when a friend of Lee Harvey Oswald committed suicide.
After it was revealed that O'Reilly could not possibly have witnessed nuns being gunned down in El Salvador, as he has repeatedly claimed, O'Reilly argued that he only meant that he had seen pictures of nuns who were killed before he even arrived in the country in 1981. That disingenuous explanation follows the pattern O'Reilly set in response to earlier reporting, led by Mother Jones, that he had been in an active combat zone "in Argentina, in the Falklands." O'Reilly now claims he never meant to suggest that he was in the Falkland Islands during the war, only that he was in Argentina when a violent protest broke out.
And tonight, The Guardian is reporting that O'Reilly's former Inside Edition colleagues "have disputed his account of surviving a bombardment of bricks and rocks while covering the 1992 riots in Los Angeles."
As questions regarding Bill O'Reilly's credibility linger, more individuals have stepped forward casting doubt on his claim he was at the scene when a figure linked to President John F. Kennedy's assassination committed suicide.
Significant evidence contradicts O'Reilly's repeated statements that in 1977 he personally "heard" the self-inflicted shotgun blast that killed Lee Harvey Oswald's friend, George de Mohrenschildt, Media Matters reported on February 24. Despite the heavy scrutiny of O'Reilly's claim, he has offered no evidence to confirm that he was outside the residence and "heard" the shot. By contrast, the detailed police report filed after de Mohrenschildt's suicide refutes the notion that O'Reilly could have been at the residence at the time of death. It states that three people around and inside the house didn't hear the gunshot and also didn't see any strangers around the residence. O'Reilly is not mentioned at any point in the report. A congressional investigator's memoir and tapes of his conversations with O'Reilly also undermine O'Reilly's claims.
Byron Harris, who earlier this week told Media Matters he "guarantee[d]" that O'Reilly was not in Florida at the time of the suicide, now says he thinks O'Reilly was in Florida around that time, though Harris maintains his belief that O'Reilly was not at the scene when de Mohrenschildt committed suicide. His story shifted after talking with Bob Sirkin, an O'Reilly ally and freelance reporter who previously worked for Fox News. Sirkin described himself as one of the few people at WFAA who got along "very well" with O'Reilly, and said that he spoke to O'Reilly earlier this week when news of his JFK claim broke.
Sirkin claims to have reported from Florida with O'Reilly at the time and says O'Reilly told him he had heard the gunshot that killed de Mohrenschildt. Sirkin confirmed he wrote a September 2012 blog comment claiming he visited Florida with O'Reilly prior to de Mohrenschildt's suicide. That entry makes no mention of O'Reilly hearing the gunshot or being present at the location of the suicide.
And three new sources -- a WFAA colleague, a former Newsweek bureau chief, and a videographer who said he was O'Reilly's Florida cameraman -- also cast doubt on O'Reilly's story.
In an interview with Media Matters on Wednesday, Doug Fox, who worked for WFAA from 1974 to 2003, cast further doubt on O'Reilly's claim to have been at the scene.
"Sirkin and O'Reilly were both going to Florida to interview de Mohrenschildt," Fox said. "I think O'Reilly called and said the guy is dead before he could even get to him. He never mentioned to my knowledge hearing the gunshot that took de Mohrenschildt's life."
Frank Eberling, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who has served as an adjunct professor in the Palm Beach State College Film Department, told Media Matters he had worked with O'Reilly and Sirkin when they reported from Florida around the time of de Mohrenschildt's death. Eberling said that while he is unsure, he thinks O'Reilly arrived in Florida the day after the suicide.
Eberling also said that he does not remember O'Reilly telling him that he had overheard the death. "If he had told me, that is something I would have remembered," he said.
Sirkin told Media Matters he didn't recognize Eberling's name, but acknowledged he wasn't sure who their freelance cameraman was in Florida.
Even Sirkin, who told Media Matters he was "not really interested" in going on O'Reilly's show to corroborate his claim, acknowledged that he cannot confirm O'Reilly's whereabouts at the time of de Mohrenschildt's suicide, noting that he was not with O'Reilly at the time.
Hugh Aynesworth, a former bureau chief for Newsweek and the Washington Times, strongly refuted O'Reilly's JFK claim. The Dallas Observer reported on February 26 that the de Mohrenschildt suicide scoop came from the Dallas newspaper "where Aynesworth was working. It was his story, he says. He did go to Palm Beach, and he says now there was nobody around the news scene that day named Bill O'Reilly." Aynesworth, a "JFK assassination expert," says he was on the scene "within hours" of the suicide, adding, "I didn't see him [O'Reilly] there. I was at the police department or that house for hours, and he just was not there."
Rudy Giuliani used a Fox & Friends appearance to explain his belief that President Obama does not love America, claiming that he rarely hears the president express love for America or discuss American exceptionalism -- an awkward claim given that just yesterday President Obama extolled America in a public speech.
"I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America," Giuliani said earlier this week during an event featuring Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. "He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country." Asked to explain that position during an appearance on Fox & Friends, Giuliani said:
GIULIANI: In his rhetoric, I very rarely hear him say the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things I used to hear Bill Clinton say about how much he loves America. I do hear him criticize America much more often than other American presidents.
Giuliani's comments fit into a long term pattern of Fox News hosts and guests campaigning to smear Obama by portraying him as insufficiently proud of America. But his claim is particularly tone deaf today, coming just one day after Obama celebrated what he called America's unique strength and perseverance:
OBAMA: For more than 238 years, the United States of America has not just endured, but we have thrived and surmounted challenges that might have broken a lesser nation. After a terrible civil war, we repaired our union. We weathered a Great Depression, became the world's most dynamic economy. We fought fascism, liberated Europe. We faced down communism -- and won. American communities have been destroyed by earthquakes and tornadoes and fires and floods -- and each time we rebuild.
My point is this: As Americans, we are strong and we are resilient. And when tragedy strikes, when we take a hit, we pull together, and we draw on what's best in our character -- our optimism, our commitment to each other, our commitment to our values, our respect for one another. We stand up, and we rebuild, and we recover, and we emerge stronger than before. That's who we are. [Whitehouse.gov, 2/18/15]
Media Matters researcher Nicholas Rogers contributed research to this post.
Rush Limbaugh warned his listeners Monday that net neutrality was part of a secret plot to undermine the radio host as well as Fox News and to control the media.
Limbaugh's scare tactics come amid an industry-funded push in the media to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from passing rules to defend net neutrality.
But Tim Karr, senior director of strategy at Free Press, explained on Media Matters Radio that net neutrality regulations simply protect the principle that all content should be subject to the same rules. "It's just a question of regulation for whom," Karr said, explaining that the FCC rule reclassifying broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon as utilities would protect users.
According to Karr, those protections are necessary given the push by companies like Comcast and Verizon to control Internet access:
We need to put in place protections against these companies, because they have spoken out on numerous occasions over the last 10 years about their desire not just to simply provide us with access, but to start to try to privilege certain Web sites and to slow down others so that they can have more control over the future of this communications medium.
Karr also pushed back on claims that net neutrality protections would cost jobs. "They are simply scare tactics," he told Media Matters Radio. According to The New York Times editorial board, the FCC's "strong rules will actually help innovation flourish."
Listen to Tim Karr refute net neutrality myths on the February 7 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
Fox News host Kennedy likened a federal requirement that publicly traded corporations disclose how much money CEOs make relative to workers to the practice of making women feel guilty for their perceived sexual behavior.
The Securities and Exchange Commission could vote as early as this month on a so-called pay ratio rule. "As proposed in September 2013, the SEC rules would require public companies to publish the ratio of the CEO's compensation to the median pay of employees," Politico reported. "Republicans in Congress and at the SEC have criticized the rule and don't want the agency to complete it."
The New York Times omitted key facts it had previously reported to dishonestly accuse Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration of selling political favors to an Ecuadorean family in exchange for campaign donations. Excised from the Times reporting is the fact that prominent Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, have the exact same relationship with the donors that the Times is now portraying as a problem for Democrats.
"Ecuador family wins favors after donations to Democrats," the Times headline claimed. The article detailed the decision to grant a travel visa to a "politically connected Ecuadorean woman," and argued that the decision to do so was connected to "tens of thousands of dollars" the family of the woman, Estefania Isaias, has given to Democratic campaigns.
According to the Times, "the case involving Estefania could prove awkward for Mrs. Clinton," based on the fact that she was Secretary of State when members of Congress were advocating for travel visa for the relative of two Florida residents seen as fugitives by the Ecuadorean government.
The Times fixated on political donations given by the Isaias family to Democrats as if it were news, but the Times already reported on the money the Isaias family has given to elected officials in a March 11, 2014, article. Moreover, that prior article noted that potential Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio and Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had also aided the Isaias' at the same time their political campaigns received donations linked to that family -- facts absent from the more recent piece.
In March, the Times made clear that the family gave significant campaign contributions to Florida Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who "acknowledged trying to help the family with immigration troubles." The Republicans sent letters -- in one case directly to Clinton herself -- inquiring into the immigration issues surrounding members of the family or advocating on their behalf.
"The family gave about $40,000 to Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, whose district members live in," the Times reported then. "Last month, she acknowledged to The Daily Beast that while she was chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee she sent four letters to top American officials, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state, advocating on behalf of three members of the Isaias family who had problems with their residencies. She called it 'standard practice' for constituents."
That detail is absent from this week's Times article.
Here's the Times in March: "Mr. Rubio, whose political action committee received $2,000 from Luis Isaias, also made 'routine constituent inquiries' into immigration matters for two family members, his office said." In December, Rubio's advocacy vanished from the Times.
Additionally, while the article suggests in its opening paragraph that Estefania Isaias was given permission to enter the country in 2012 in direct response to the donations from her family, she reportedly received the same access on six prior occasions dating back to the first restrictions on her movement in 2007 under the Bush Administration. Indeed, the Times reported in the 23rd paragraph of its article that a spokesperson for Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said the senator's office had gotten involved with the Isaias case because "because Ms. Isaías had previously been allowed to travel to the United States six times despite the ban, and the decision to suddenly enforce it seemed arbitrary and wrong."
Conservative media are exploiting the Times' shoddy reporting -- reporting that doesn't stand up to basic scrutiny in light of what the Times itself has previously reported.
"Clinton State Dept Pulled Strings for Menendez in Pay-to-Play Deal with Dem Donor," the Washington Free Beacon headline claimed. "Controversial Ecuadorian Family Donated About $100,000 to Obama ... and the State Department Returned the Favor," is the take over at The Blaze. The Daily Caller: "Sen Menendez Pushed Hillary Clinton To Grant Visa For Daughter Of Ecuadoran Bank Fugitive."
Taking The New York Times' lead, Rubio's and Ros-Lehtinen's advocacy on behalf of their donors is nowhere to be seen.
With a new editorial team recently in place, Politico has published a news article comparing multiple allegations of rape and assault against Bill Cosby to Bill Clinton, accompanied by a warning that its own false analogy could be politically damaging to Hillary Clinton.
After making the comparison, Politico itself points out how it makes no sense. While "several women have come forward recently" to lodge new complaints against Cosby, in Clinton's case "there have been no new women to come forward in recent years or other scandals to propel it forward."
"The hits just keep coming on with the Bill Cosby," Rush Limbaugh claimed. "And you know, somewhere Bill Clinton has to be chuckling because, back in his day, these would just be called bimbo eruptions. And Hillary or somebody would deal with it."
"I think the Bill Cosby issue, as it were, could be a real problem for Bill Clinton and, therefore, for Hillary Clinton," former Nixon dirty trickster Roger Stone warned on Fox & Friends.
While providing no evidence, Politico posits that Republican operatives may see social media as having the potential to dredge up old Clinton news and repackage it for a new audience.
"Social media is also forcing old events to be held to current moral standards," Politico reported, adding that it remained "unclear if Republicans could successfully create a viral issue out of Clinton's past."
The article then undercuts its own speculation.
"So far, Republicans outside groups say they aren't planning to engage in a smear campaign similar to what has happened to Cosby," Politico reported.
But those outside groups might not need to when they have the right-wing echo chamber doing their dirty tricks for them and Politico to amplify their smears.
Just two days after the midterm elections concluded, CNN is helping to make "Whitewater" lies part of the 2016 election.
Doug Henwood, author of a Harper's magazine article headlined "Stop Hillary!," appeared on CNN along with Elise Viebeck, a reporter for The Hill, to discuss Hillary Clinton (whom Viebeck called "pathologically ambitious" and "extremely opportunistic"). After Viebeck claimed that "the past scandals that the Clintons have been involved with" could be used by Republicans in any future election, Henwood mentioned Whitewater, a real estate venture that failed in the 1970s and 1980s and was exhaustively investigated in the 1990s, as key to any campaign to discredit Clinton.
"Every time you do Whitewater, the media will kind of roll its eyes, like 'We've been there; this is old,'" host Chris Cuomo replied. "Not the media, but the media that wants to defend Hillary Clinton, or her defenders in general. You say, oh no, no, no. The facts there mattered. She kind of got a pass."
One key fact that mattered went unsaid by Cuomo or either of his guests: exhaustive investigations by Republican prosecutors and legislators concluded that there was no evidence that Bill or Hillary Clinton broke the law in connection to the Whitewater land deal.
Henwood's explanation for why Whitewater still mattered centered on his claim that Clinton "lied" about billing records and how much time she spent as a lawyer working for a bank connected to the deal. Again, the public record fully corroborates what Clinton has said about this.
Nevertheless, Cuomo encouraged his viewers to read Henwood's story in Harper's, calling it an interesting take on Clinton.
Veteran reporters from the 90s see it differently.
"The most basic facts elude him," Gene Lyons observed in the Arkansas Times. Lyons, who wrote a book that originated as a Harper's article on the media's Whitewater failures, offers a devastating point-by-point rebuttal to Henwood before concluding, "a journalist who chooses to question a presidential candidate's character by dragging up 20-year-old controversies owes it to readers to know two or three things about them."
And CNN owes it to its viewers to challenge its guests over basic, verifiable facts.
In early October, Yahoo! News columnist Michael Isikoff revisited the Whitewater saga that made him famous, touting a book written by the first special prosecutor to look into the land deal before he was replaced by Ken Starr. Dredging up old news and breaking no new ground, Isikoff warned that Clinton foes would try to use Whitewater against her.
Joe Conason, who co-authored The Hunting of the President with Lyons, took Isikoff to task for ignoring the facts and offered compelling guidance to journalists who insist on discussing Whitewater. "If we must dredge up Whitewater," Conason wrote, "then let's be specific instead of vague." Conason urged journalists to "report all of the evidence."
Watch the CNN segment from the November 6 edition of New Day:
Forget the issues. Let's talk about fear and anger.
That message, coming out of a CNN interview with Vice President Joe Biden, perfectly captures the media's role in the 2014 midterm elections.
Biden and Gloria Borger, CNN's chief political analyst, discussed the VP's future political ambitions and his take on whether the 2014 midterms will shift the balance of power in Washington in an interview that aired this morning.
"If you look at every single major issue in this campaign, the American public agree with our position," Biden said, "from federal support for infrastructure to minimum wage to marriage equality."
Biden is right, and the numbers are staggering. Seventy percent of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, according to the results of a CBS News/New York Times poll from September. When Gallup asked whether voters would be more likely to support candidates who want to spend federal government money on infrastructure repairs, 72 percent said they would. Polling from ABCNews/Washington Post, The New York Times/CBS News, and McClatchy-Marist all shows majority support for marriage equality. Add universal background checks and federal action to combat climate change to the growing list of progressive issues backed by large majorities of the electorate.
"But wait a minute," Borger injected:
Our polls show voters are angry, they're fearful, they're frustrated. Not only about domestic policy, like the roll out of the president's health care reform, but also on the handling of Ebola and ISIS. So the question is how do you fix that?
It's true that a recent CNN poll found that voters are scared and angry -- when they are asked by pollsters how scared and angry they are. That poll, incidentally, didn't ask what issues matter most to voters.
All of this feeds right into the GOP electoral strategy of using fear-based appeals to sway voters.
"With four weeks to go before the midterm elections, Republicans have made questions of how safe we are -- from disease, terrorism or something unspoken and perhaps more ominous -- central in their attacks against Democrats," The New York Times reported in October.
Since that time, CNN discussed the minimum wage on 35 broadcasts and mentioned unemployment or economic growth during 52 broadcasts, according to a Nexis search. Ebola appears in 565 news transcripts during that time. Even factoring in CNN's international broadcasting, it would hard to find an hour of news programming that didn't feed into Ebola panic in the past 4 weeks.
And it's not just CNN. Throughout the closing weeks of the election, news media have gone into overdrive helping Republican sow the seeds of Ebola panic.
Voters, meanwhile, are 11 times more likely to say that jobs and the economy are one of the most important issues heading into the economy than they are to cite Ebola.
Nevertheless, Borger was congratulated by her CNN colleagues for forcing Biden off a discussion of issues like raising the minimum wage.
"He had listed that laundry list, that grocery list of items and you pushed him off that, you were right to," New Day host Chris Cuomo said. "Because it's all about the perception of whether or not there's been leadership on the key issues, not the positions."
By defining the problem as one of perception, CNN lets Republicans off the hook for blocking massively popular policies like raising the minimum wage or establishing universal background checks on firearms sales.
Discussing her interview with Biden, Borger warned that Democrats would need to reconsider whether they spent enough time talking about the economy this election cycle. That would be a reasonable critique had Borger not just made sure the conversation was centered around fear and anger:
They're going to have to have the discussion about whether they had a campaign with a bunch of themes, which I would argue they didn't, and what they can talk about. Should they have been talking about the economy, as Joe Biden was trying to talk about, or did they let the message get out of control on other items? Lots of Republicans are running on fear.
And lots of media outlets are lending them a helping hand.
Time misrepresented the findings of an Inspector General report to falsely imply that former State Department aide Cheryl Mills was faulted for "strong-arming" departmental investigations, even though the inspector general cleared Mills of wrongdoing in the only case where her actions were investigated.
In an October 17 piece, Time claimed several aides to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been faulted for the appearance of "undue influence and favoritism" during three State Department investigations. In what Time called "the highest-level case," a U.S. Ambassador in Belgium was recalled to Washington for an internal review into accusations that he had solicited a prostitute. "The move effectively halted an investigation by the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security," Time reported. It continued:
The ambassador, Howard Gutman, was recalled to Washington from Belgium to meet with Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy and Clinton Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, according to the report.
By focusing on Mills' role in that meeting -- in an article centered around claims that Clinton aides were strong-arming investigators and fostering an atmosphere of favoritism -- Time implied that Mills was found negligent by the Inspector General. But the inspector general report did not criticize Mills for her role in that meeting. The IG report was only critical of the decision to internalize the inquiry, a decision made by the Undersecretary of Management, Patrick Kennedy. From the report:
The Under Secretary of State for Management told OIG that he decided to handle the suspected incident as a "management issue" based on a disciplinary provision in the FAM that he had employed on prior occasions to address allegations of misconduct by Chiefs of Mission.
Despite insinuating that Mills was criticized by the Inspector General, Time made no mention of the fact that Mills was explicitly cleared of wrongdoing in a separate investigation, even though that investigation was a focus of their report. The investigation centered on whether that an assistant secretary of state was found to have improperly delayed an interview with a nominee to be ambassador to Iraq. Mills, who was Chief of Staff at the time, was explicitly cleared of any improper actions:
OIG found no evidence of any undue influence by the Chief of Staff/Counselor.
OIG did not find evidence of perceived or actual undue influence or favoritism in four of the DS internal investigations reviewed.
Yahoo News correspondent Michael Isikoff is retreading old news to once again try to thrust Whitewater into the national political debate, continuing an obsession of his that dates back more than 20 years.
Isikoff dramatically touted the "first extensive public comments" made by Robert Fiske, the federal prosecutor initially appointed to investigate the failed Whitewater land deal, in which the Clintons lost money but were at first falsely accused of criminal conduct. Fiske spoke to Isikoff during a recent interview about his soon-to-be-released memoir and Whitewater, which Isikoff warned "seems likely to be revived by political foes if, as is widely expected, Hillary Clinton runs for president."
This is a convenient dodge for Isikoff, who has spent two decades helping political foes use Whitewater to try to bring down the Clintons.
But nothing in Isikoff's latest entry in his Whitewater saga about the Clintons is new.
"For years, the Clintons have sought to portray the entire investigation as a politically inspired witch hunt, pushed by partisans hunting for any ammunition they could find to damage the president and first lady," Isikoff wrote. "But the new account of Fiske, a pillar of the New York legal community, offers a more complicated picture."
Isikoff doesn't back that up.
In fact, Fiske himself undermined the claim that Whitewater could be used against Clinton, noting that he never uncovered any evidence that Bill or Hillary Clinton were connected to any crimes:
He describes how he had quickly uncovered "serious crimes" in the Whitewater investigation but that his probe was cut short after conservatives falsely accused him of a "cover up."
"There were indictments, there were convictions," said Fiske when asked about claims that there was "nothing" to the investigation. "People went to jail. There was never any evidence that was sufficient to link the Clintons to any of it, but there were certainly serious crimes."
Isikoff suggests that one new detail is Fiske's claim that he was prepared to bring indictments against individuals connected to the land deal. But this hardly noteworthy, given that it has been publicly known that indictments were brought against individuals connected to the land deal.
Isikoff even tries to revive the ancient news that billing records connected to the investigation were at one point found in the White House residence, an aspect of the story the right has long attempted to twist into a scandal.
"One of [Fiske's] first moves was to subpoena Hillary Clinton's law firm billing records," Isikoff writes, "documents that were later found under mysterious circumstances in the White House living quarters." What Isikoff never mentioned is that those billing documents actually backed up what Hillary Clinton had long maintained, that she did very little work for her law firm on behalf of the land deal -- nor does he note that Kenneth Starr, the investigator who ultimately replaced Fiske, found no evidence that the billing records were ever mishandled.
Isikoff's Yahoo News piece, devoid of relevant new facts, lacking in critical details, and filled with insinuations of wrongdoing that he actively undermines, is troubling given the praise conservatives media figures have showered him with for his inadequate Clinton reporting in the past. At one point in 1998, Sean Hannity spent four consecutive days lauding Isikoff for his reporting.
In contrast, Jeffrey Toobin, currently a legal analyst at CNN, told Salon in 2000 that Isikoff acted as "an uncritical water-carrier for the anti-Clinton forces."
It's a history worth remembering as Isikoff warns how Clinton's political foes might attack her.