Bill O’Reilly: Worse Than Brian Williams

I’ve paid little attention to the whole brouhaha over Brian Williams because, frankly, I don’t really give a shit. What does pique my interest, however, is when others with a much worse track record of lying get all sanctimonious in criticizing him. Like, say, Bill O’Reilly. David Corn points out his long history of lying about his travails in wars he was never anywhere near.

Here are instances when O’Reilly touted his time as a war correspondent during the Falklands conflict:

  • In his 2001 book, The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America, O’Reilly stated, “You know that I am not easily shocked. I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands.”
  • Conservative journalist Tucker Carlson, in a 2003 book, described how O’Reilly answered a question during a Washington panel discussion about media coverage of the Afghanistan war: “Rather than simply answer the question, O’Reilly began by trying to establish his own bona fides as a war correspondent. ‘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 about US soldiers fighting in Iraq, O’Reilly noted, “Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash.”
  • In 2008, he took a shot at journalist Bill Moyers, saying, “I missed Moyers in the war zones of [the] Falkland conflict in Argentina, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland. I looked for Bill, but I didn’t see him.”

In April 2013, while discussing the Boston Marathon bombing, O’Reilly shared a heroic tale of his exploits in the Falklands war:

I was in a situation one time, in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands, where my photographer got run down and then hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete. And the army was chasing us. I had to make a decision. And I dragged him off, you know, but at the same time, I’m looking around and trying to do my job, but I figure I had to get this guy out of there because that was more important.

There’s just one problem: He was no closer than 1200 miles away from the Falklands Island. The closest he got to covering that war was reporting on a protest against the Argentinian government in Buenos Aires after it ended.

Yet his own account of his time in Argentina in his 2001 book, The No Spin Zone, contains no references to O’Reilly experiencing or covering any combat during the Falklands war. In the book, which in part chronicles his troubled stint as a CBS News reporter, O’Reilly reports that he arrived in Buenos Aires soon before the Argentine junta surrendered to the British, ending the 10-week war over control of two territories far off the coast of Argentina. There is nothing in this memoir indicating that O’Reilly witnessed the fighting between British and Argentine military forces—or that he got anywhere close to the Falkland Islands, which are 300 miles off Argentina’s shore and about 1,200 miles south of Buenos Aires.

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, “It was a war in which a small group of correspondents and crews sailing with the Royal Navy were almost entirely dependent upon the military—not only for access to the conflict, but also for the means of reporting it back to the UK.” And Robert Fox, one of the embedded British reporters, recalled, “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.”

What has always amused me about O’Reilly is that he really does seem to live in a make-believe world, a fantasy inside his head in which he always plays the hero, often framed as the only one with the guts to tell the truth. But truth is something he has rarely had much contact with. His several books about history have been slammed by actual historians as being riddled with inaccuracies, all of them well-documented. He claimed to have won a Peabody award, then denied having said it even though there is video and transcripts of him doing so, then blew his stack when that evidence was shown publicly and it turned out that the show he worked for had won an entirely different award — and won that one a year before he worked there. At least NBC had the integrity to suspend Williams for his lie; at Fox News, that gets you a promotion.

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  • gshelley

    The only interestin thing about the Brian Williams story is all the people insisting he must be lying because being shot at is a type of memory that could get confused.

    They are are wrong, or at the very least their personal incredulity is not evidence, but on the face of it O’Reilly’s claims seem different – not an isolated memory, but a whole series of events over several weeks or months.

  • dugglebogey

    Williams owned up to his mistake and got suspended for it. O’Reilly will continue to lie and nothing will happen to him.

    Guess what kids, that is what life is really like. I hate to break it to you, but that’s really how it works.

  • otrame

    This is not exactly surprising. We can go back to Al Franken’s Lies and the Liying Liars who Tell Them, a Fair and Balanced Look at the Right for many examples. Then we can come forward to Bill arguing with Mikey Weinstein about the removal of nativity scenes from Guantanamo a little more than a year ago, in which he said “I covered four wars with a pen!”.

    Needless to say, he covered three of those wars from the US and the fourth from Buenos Aires.

  • John Pieret

    At least WIlliams was in a real war zone and RPGs were fired in his vicinity. But, if BillyO want to prove how tough he is, we can arrange to drop him into Iraq.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    As quoted elsewhere on FtB:

    … a protest in Buenos Aires after the Argentine junta surrendered to the British. O’Reilly covered that event, and in a 2001 book, he wrote, “A major riot ensued and many were killed.” He has called it a “combat situation.” In a 2009 interview, he recalled how soldiers “were just gunning these people down, shooting them down in the streets” with “real bullets.” Yet no media reports of the event that we found referred to such dramatic violence or any fatalities. Not even the CBS News report on the protest that O’Reilly contributed to mentioned soldiers shooting and killing civilians.

  • Modusoperandi

    His several books about history have been slammed by actual historians as being riddled with inaccuracies, all of them well-documented.

    Well, at least he’s raising the bar. Williams’ story didn’t even have any footnotes. O’Reilly’s stories are well documented. Take that, Liberal Media!

  • Al Dente

    Of course nothing will happen to O’Reilly. Williams works for a news organization. BillO works for a propaganda mill. News organizations usually discourage their people from lying. Propaganda organization promote lies.

  • dan4

    I liked how O’Reilly’s Talking Points Memo on Friday-which was a response to the Corn piece-involved him bringing up a 33-year old memo from CBS praising his reporting from the Falklands as if it were somehow “proof” that Corn was full of it (it wasn’t of course. Corn’s piece was critical of O’Reilly’s characterization of his reporting, not the actual reporting itself).

  • busterggi

    Well the GOP had nothing bad to say when Reagan told stories of ‘his life’ that were plots of movies he’d been in.

    Its not lying, its tradition!

  • birgerjohansson

    Didn’t Reagan tell an Israeli prime minister he had been there during the liberation of one of the concentration camps?

  • Reptile Dysfunction

    OT, but my favorite headline from the Falklands conflict:


  • Stanley James

    fox is more then a propaganda mill. the corporate culture caries on from when its predecessor fox films – their german subsidiary did propaganda films for the nazis in hte early 1930s

    Billo is a perfect example of the bible – Money is the root of all evil $3 million/year BTW his wife couldnt stand this extremist. She left him and he tried to get her excommunicated

    Roger Ailes of fox news is even worse. He was nixons guy to convert the south from the dIXIEcrats to the repubs. It was easy -the passage of the civil rights bills oulawing segregation, the voting rights bill both in the mid 1960s PO.d t he south something awful. the worst was yet to come soon afterwards- soctus trashed the last 16 of 41 states inter-racial marriage bans

    And of course now the repubs who almost totally run the south – Obama is their nightmare come true- a black president, even worse now he supports equal civil rights eg marriage for gay people

  • neonsequitur

    Hey, I’ve been in combat too! Well, it was sort of like combat. Actually, it was rush hour on the Cross Bronx Expressway. OK, look… there were thousands of angry foreigners trying to kill me, alright? Isn’t that bad enough, FFS….

  • roggg

    The thing is, Williams is a journalist, so there’s a high bar for ethical and honest reporting expected of him. O’Reilly is a pundit and an ideologue. Everything he says falls into the category of editorial. There’s no expectation of truth or ethical behaviour.

  • Michael Heath

    roggg writes:

    The thing is, Williams is a journalist, so there’s a high bar for ethical and honest reporting expected of him. O’Reilly is a pundit and an ideologue. Everything he says falls into the category of editorial. There’s no expectation of truth or ethical behaviour.

    A news story reports facts and provides the conclusions of some relevant people.

    An opinion piece published by a journalistic outlet is also supposed to also rely on relevant facts to make a case for a particular conclusion. Journalists do not abdicate their responsibility to inform and not misinform merely because they’re writing an opinion piece.