USA Today's editorial board is calling on Fox News to "distance itself" from the network's "truth-challenged" Bill O'Reilly in the wake of revelations that the Fox host has repeatedly lied about some of his experiences as a reporter.
Bill O'Reilly's record has come under scrutiny after Mother Jones and Media Matters exposed a series of lies and exaggerations about his reporting during the Falklands War and the El Salvadoran Civil War. In the former case, O'Reilly repeatedly suggested to viewers he was in a combat zone in the Falkland Islands when no CBS News reporters (O'Reilly's employer at the time) ever reached the area. In the latter case, O'Reilly said on multiple occasions that he witnessed the execution of four American churchwomen in El Salvador - an event that took place before he was even in the country.
Another Media Matters investigation has turned up questions about his claims to have heard the gunshot that killed a figure in the investigation into John F. Kennedy's assassination. And The Guardian reported that six of O'Reilly's former colleagues dispute his account of having been "attacked by protesters" during the L.A. riots.
In a February 27 editorial, USA Today called for Fox distance itself from O'Reilly, but acknowledged that this is unlikely to happen because Fox News doesn't hold itself to the same standards of journalism that outlets like NBC News does.
"Fox News was not created to be neutral but rather to feed a hunger among conservatives for a network they could relate to," wrote the editors. They added that Fox has built a profitable business model around the misconception that the network has an exclusive hold on reality and impartiality -- and that the rest of the news media industry is untrustworthy:
Fox News was not created to be neutral but rather to feed a hunger among conservatives for a network they could relate to. For decades, the so-called mainstream news media left them with the impression that the press, liberals and the Democratic Party shared the same enemies: them. According to a Gallup Poll last fall, even one in five Democrats think the news media are too liberal.
That was never the networks' goal. Their news divisions are built on a commitment to impartiality. But good intentions don't guarantee success, and Fox has turned perception of liberal bias into a profitable reality. As a business matter, Fox doesn't need to compete on credibility. Many of its viewers long ago decided the rest of the news media have none.
That's why, absent any earth-shattering revelations, O'Reilly isn't going anywhere. Every time media critics hit Fox and O'Reilly, it just feeds the feeling that the left is out to get them, which in turn feeds Fox's success.
Fox News and owner Rupert Murdoch's newspapers The New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal have all fallen silent as more questions emerge about Bill O'Reilly's claims about his reporting career.
The New York Post has never reported on any of the recent revelations that O'Reilly has inflated tales of his journalism career, while the Wall Street Journal provided just one article right as the controversy began, and Fox News' scant coverage has disappeared as they now ignore all new developments, according to a Media Matters review.
O'Reilly has come under heavy criticism for multiple lies and exaggerations, after a Mother Jones report first noted the Fox host has a history of misleadingly claiming to have been "in the Falklands" and in "combat" during the Falklands War. Media Matters has also identified serious discrepancies in O'Reilly's stories about witnessing nuns being shot in El Salvador, and overhearing the suicide of a figure linked to President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
When the original Mother Jones piece broke, Murdoch's Fox News went to war with the magazine. O'Reilly immediately gave a series of interviews to other news outlets, denying the allegations by saying he had never said he was on the Falkland Islands themselves, and launching personal attacks.
On Fox News itself, O'Reilly first lashed out at critics during his February 20 show and dismissed the Mother Jones report as "garbage," and later used his February 24 show to try to shift the focus away from the scrutiny. Fox's MediaBuzz also covered the story, giving O'Reilly another platform to attack his critics. No other Fox News program covered the story, according to a search of the Nexis and Snaptream databases.
The Wall Street Journal, which is also owned by Murdoch, similarly reported on O'Reilly's initial denials.
When Media Matters further reported on February 25 that O'Reilly had fabricated the claim that he personally "saw nuns get shot in the back of the head" in El Salvador, O'Reilly also offered a statement to Mediaite claiming that when he said "I was in El Salvador and I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head" he was referring to seeing "horrendous images" of nuns murdered, not personally witnessing their deaths.
He did not, however, mention the El Salvador controversy that night on his show, and Fox's PR department released a statement the same day suggesting they would not continue to respond to the "accusation du jour." Additionally, neither Fox nor O'Reilly have directly addressed Media Matters' report on the substantial evidence undermining O'Reilly's claim that he "heard" a shotgun blast when a figure linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy committed suicide.
Outside of O'Reilly's own program, no Fox News show has even hinted at these developments, according to a search of the Nexis and Snaptream databases.
Similarly, other Rupert Murdoch-owned media properties have fallen silent or failed to mention the controversies entirely.
Though the Wall Street Journal reported on February 20 on O'Reilly's initial denials of the Falklands story, the paper hasn't mentioned O'Reilly since. According to a search of the newspaper's website and Factiva, the paper has not reported any of the new developments.
And The New York Post hasn't published any stories about O'Reilly this month, except for a brief mention in an Inside Edition anniversary special piece.
The evidence of O'Reilly fabricating and exaggerating past experiences has sparked national news coverage in other non-Murdoch outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, Politico, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and more.
Previously, Murdoch-owned properties have not shied away from reporting on O'Reilly controversies. For example, the New York Post published multiple reports in 2004 on the alleged $60 million dollar settlement over an O'Reilly a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Andrea Makris, a former O'Reilly producer.
From the February 26 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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The Guardian reports that six of Bill O'Reilly's former colleagues dispute the embattled Fox News host's claim that he and his crew were "attacked by protesters" during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
O'Reilly covered the riots, which took place after several LAPD officers were acquitted on charges they used excessive force against Rodney King, while serving as the host of Inside Edition. In a February 20 interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, O'Reilly claimed that during the riots, "We were attacked, we were attacked by protesters, where bricks were thrown at us." In a 2006 interview, O'Reilly said, "They were throwing bricks and stones at us. Concrete was raining down on us. The cops saved our butts that time."
Several of O'Reilly's former Inside Edition colleagues -- "reporters Bonnie Strauss, Tony Cox and Rick Kirkham, and crew members Theresa McKeown, Bob McCall and Neil Antin" -- disputed O'Reilly's characterization of the event and suggested he was exaggerating an incident where the crew was confronted by a single man.
According to The Guardian, "Two of the team said the man was angered specifically by O'Reilly behaving disrespectfully after arriving at the smoking remains of his neighbourhood in a limousine, whose driver at one point began polishing the vehicle. O'Reilly is said to have shouted at the man and asked him: 'Don't you know who I am?'"
Bill O'Reilly has claimed repeatedly that he witnessed the execution of nuns while reporting in 1981 on the civil war in El Salvador, an apparent fabrication that is at odds with both history and what O'Reilly himself has said about arriving in the country after the event took place, according to new information unearthed by Media Matters.
O'Reilly's El Salvador Fabrication Revealed
Between 1980 and 1992, a civil war raged in El Salvador between the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the government of El Salvador. On December 2, 1980, four members of the Salvadoran national guard raped and shot "three American nuns and a layworker." The tragedy ''did more to inflame the debate over El Salvador in the United States than any other single incident,'' according to a 1993 State Department report. After the death of Silvia Arriola, a member of a religious order killed six weeks after those four churchwomen, "no priests or nuns were killed in El Salvador for more than eight years," according to Dr. Anna Lisa Peterson, a professor of religion at the University of Florida.
O'Reilly has spoken on several occasions about his time covering the Salvadoran civil war as a CBS correspondent in 1981, suggesting at least twice that he witnessed the murder of the churchwomen. On the September 27, 2005, edition of his talk-radio program The Radio Factor, O'Reilly said, "I've seen guys gun down nuns in El Salvador." And on the December 14, 2012, edition of his Fox News show, O'Reilly spoke of telling his mother that "I was in El Salvador and I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head."
However, O'Reilly could not possibly have witnessed the murder of the churchwomen if his own timeline is to be believed. The former CBS correspondent only arrived in El Salvador in 1981, as he mentioned on the February 22, 2002, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, saying (according to Nexis transcript), "Before I went to El Salvador in 1981, I talked with some experienced Latin American experts, people who had seen the brutal wars down there for themselves. I had never been in a war zone before, so I wanted some prep."
Bill O'Reilly tried to shift focus away from the scrutiny he is facing for embellishing his reporting career by claiming that Fox News is under attack.
After Mother Jones called into question O'Reilly's accounts of covering the 1982 Falklands War, a number of journalists -- including many of O'Reilly's former CBS News colleagues -- and an Argentine historian have discredited O'Reilly's description of the riot he covered as a combat situation where "many were killed." And more holes have been exposed in other accounts of his reporting career -- his claim that he personally "heard" a shotgun blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination while reporting for a Dallas television station in 1977 has also been contradicted by his former colleagues at the station as well as a police report, contemporaneous reporting, and a congressional investigator who was probing Kennedy's death.
On the February 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly attempted to shift focus away from scrutiny surrounding discrepancies in his accounts of his reporting career by claiming that Fox News is under attack. Pointing to criticism disputing his claims about covering the 1982 Falklands War as a CBS News correspondent, O'Reilly claimed that despite rebutting such criticism, the media attacks against him have been "vicious, it's more vicious now than it [has] ever been." O'Reilly asserted that the reason he and his Fox News colleagues are under attack is because "Fox gives voice to conservatives and traditional people," and are "putting tremendous pressure on the Obama administration to fight the terror savages," and holding Hillary Clinton accountable ahead of a potential 2016 presidential bid. O'Reilly added, "On a personal note, I'm pretty tired of all the garbage":
Bill O'Reilly has repeatedly claimed he personally "heard" a shotgun blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination while reporting for a Dallas television station in 1977. O'Reilly's claim is implausible and contradicted by his former newsroom colleagues who denied the tale in interviews with Media Matters. A police report, contemporaneous reporting, and a congressional investigator who was probing Kennedy's death further undermine O'Reilly's story.
George de Mohrenschildt was a Russian emigre who befriended Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and testified before the Warren Commission investigating the Kennedy assassination. On March 29, 1977, the same day he was contacted by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, he committed suicide at his daughter's home in Florida. At the time, O'Reilly was a reporter for Dallas' WFAA-TV who regularly reported on stories related to the Kennedy assassination.
O'Reilly has bizarrely inserted himself into de Mohrenschildt's story, claiming in books and on Fox News that he was outside the house seeking to interview de Mohrenschiltd at the time of his death. O'Reilly is under heavy criticism and scrutiny for his false claims about his 1982 Falklands War reporting.
O'Reilly's implausible tale was first flagged by Jefferson Morley in a 2013 post for his website JFKFacts.org. Morley has worked as an editor for The Washington Post, Salon.com, and Arms Control Today, and is a visiting professor at the University of California, Washington Center.
New interviews with former O'Reilly colleagues who say he wasn't in Florida on the day of de Mohrenschildt's suicide and documents obtained by Media Matters bolster Morley's reporting.
In his 2012 best-selling non-fiction book Killing Kennedy, O'Reilly writes on page 300 that as a "reporter knocked on the door of de Mohrenschildt's daughter's home, he heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide of the Russian ... that reporter's name is Bill O'Reilly."
O'Reilly repeated the tale for the Killing Kennedy audiobook.
The Fox News host repeated the tale while promoting his book and movie special on Fox News. During an October 2, 2012, appearance on Fox & Friends, O'Reilly claimed he "was about to knock on the door where [de Mohrenschildt] was, his daughter's house, and he blew his brains out with a shotgun." O'Reilly replayed the clip of his 2012 appearance during a November 30, 2014, O'Reilly Factor special before Fox News' airing of the Killing Kennedy film.
Numerous pieces of evidence contradict O'Reilly's claim that he "heard the shotgun blast" that killed de Mohrenschildt.
In comments to Media Matters, two of O'Reilly's former colleagues at WFAA say that his version of events is a lie.
"Bill O'Reilly's a phony, there's no other way to put it," said Tracy Rowlett, a former WFAA reporter and anchor who worked at the station with O'Reilly. "He was not up on the porch when he heard the gunshots, he was in Dallas. He wasn't traveling at that time."
Byron Harris, a reporter at WFAA for the past 40 years, agreed that O'Reilly had not traveled to Florida for the story and accused him of stealing his reporting on de Mohrenschildt's suicide from a newspaper.
According to Harris, O'Reilly "was in Dallas. He stole that article out of the newspaper. I guarantee Channel 8 didn't send him to Florida to do that story because it was a newspaper story, it was broken by the Dallas Morning News."
Both Harris and Rowlett said O'Reilly never mentioned having been present for the gunshot during his time at WFAA.
"I don't remember O'Reilly claiming that he was there. That came later, that must have been a brain surge when he was writing the book," Rowlett said.
Harris further pointed out that WFAA "would have reported it as some kind of exclusive -- and there was no exclusive -- if O'Reilly had been standing outside the door."
O'Reilly's claim of having been present when de Mohrenschildt shot himself was also missing from his 1992 Inside Edition report on documents relating to the Kennedy assassination. During that report, O'Reilly told viewers, "moments before he was to be interviewed by House investigators, de Mohrenschildt blew his brains out with a 20-gauge shotgun."
In comments to Media Matters, Jefferson Morley said O'Reilly's claim of being present for the gunshot is "just not true" and speculated that it was "just part of the pattern, to embellish the story and make it a sexier story."
He added, "It is what these guys all do, they inject themselves into a dramatic situation. O'Reilly was chasing this story, but he wasn't there, he made it sound like he was more on the scene than he was, it was show business."
O'Reilly has written about his time at WFAA as being extremely contentious. In his book The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life, he writes that he was "twenty-six going on ten in the worldliness department" when he joined WFAA and describes his colleagues as "ambitious, aggressive journalists battling each other under the strong thumb of an unsympathetic management." O'Reilly concedes that he made "every possible political mistake" when he got to the station, including "mouth[ing] off to the producers" and making "stupid comments in the newsroom."
His admitted abrasiveness clearly made an impression on his former colleagues.
According to Rowlett, "It was my experience with O'Reilly that he was less than an honest reporter, generally. He was the most disliked person in our newsroom. He wasn't to be trusted, he was all about Bill O'Reilly, he wasn't about the news."
Harris painted a similar picture of O'Reilly, saying he was "often not a truthful person" and claiming the Fox News host "was just a jerk, nobody liked him. He was always tooting his own horn."
A Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office death investigation report about de Mohrenschildt's suicide, a 19-page document that extensively details interviews with numerous relevant parties, makes no mention of O'Reilly. The March 1977 report was posted online by Marquette University Professor John McAdams, who confirmed the document's authenticity to Media Matters and said that a student obtained the original report from the office as part of a class project and gave it to him.
Gaeton Fonzi, as the New York Times wrote in a 2012 obituary, was "one of the most relentless investigators on the House Select Committee on Assassinations" regarding Kennedy's death. Fonzi's memoir and personal recordings show that O'Reilly could not have been in Florida at the time of de Mohrenschildt's death.
Morley also obtained phone conversations between Fonzi and O'Reilly on March 29, 1977, from Fonzi's widow which the former Post editor says show that O'Reilly "certainly did not hear de Mohrenschildt's demise with his own ears. When the fatal shot rang out, O'Reilly was in his office at the WFAA studios in Dallas, Texas, more than 1,200 miles away. The confirmation comes from O'Reilly himself."
Morley wrote that in the tapes O'Reilly says "he has been trying to run down the story by telephone from Texas" and O'Reilly later states he's coming down to Florida to investigate the suicide further. He concludes: "O'Reilly's utterances prove that he was not knocking on George Mohrenschildt's doorstep as he now melodramatically claims. The truth is more prosaic. O'Reilly got a tip on a hot story, worked his sources to confirm it, and rushed to the scene."
The Associated Press' March 30, 1977, report about de Mohrenschildt's suicide quoted Palm Beach County Sheriff's Lt. Richard Sheets stating of the death: "At the time of the shooting, he was alone in the house except for two maids who said they did not hear the shot." The AP report, obtained via the Nexis database, makes no mention of O'Reilly's alleged presence outside the home.
Bill O'Reilly's claims about his 1982 Falklands War reporting have been disputed by numerous journalists who covered the events for CBS News, NBC News, and CNN, as well as an Argentine historian.
From the February 22 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the February 22 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the February 20 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Bill O'Reilly claims he never said he was in the Falkland Islands while reporting on the Falklands War from Buenos Aires. But over the years, O'Reilly has repeatedly created the impression he was in a combat zone.
Amid controversy over whether he has repeatedly lied about his role as a reporter in Argentina during the Falklands War, Bill O'Reilly once again suggested that he was "down there" in a war zone in 1982.
On the February 19 edition of his show, during a discussion about the lack of networks news coverage of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) conflict, O'Reilly said that he had covered "minor wars like the Falklands ... I was down there in Argentina."
The Fox host has come under fire after Washington bureau chief David Corn pointed out in a recent Mother Jones article that O'Reilly has said he reported from active war zones like the Falklands during his time with CBS News, when in fact no CBS News correspondents reported from the Falkland Islands at the time. O'Reilly lambasted the Mother Jones report, calling it "garbage" and Corn a "guttersnipe."
Corn responded in an interview with Politico's Dylan Byers, explaining that O'Reilly has said (emphasis added):
"He said he was in the war zone during the Falkland Island conflicts -- the conflict was in the Falkland Islands, it was not in Buenos Aires," Corn said. "He covered a protest after the war was over in Buenos Aires. I don't think that's a reasonable definiton of a combat situation. If you look up 'combat situation' in the dictionary, it's not 'an ugly protest'."
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has "recounted dramatic stories about his own war reporting that don't withstand scrutiny," including claiming that he covered the Falklands Islands warzone from which American reporters were banned, according to a Mother Jones report.