Why Lying Doesn’t Hurt Bill O’Reilly

Gabriel Arana, the media critic for the Huffington Post, has an article about the now-undeniable accusations of lying by Bill O’Reilly and why Fox News simply doesn’t care about them. Fox has no intention of actually doing anything about them because it only helps his ratings and that’s all that matters. And they have a built-in defense mechanism.

Of all the allegations levied at Bill O’Reilly, the most compelling — the most difficult to wave away — is his claim to have witnessed the suicide of George de Mohrenschildt, a friend of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. The Fox host said in his book Killing Kennedy that he had been knocking on the door when he heard the gunshot.

But O’Reilly’s colleagues say he was in Dallas at the time. Last week, CNN played an audio clip between O’Reilly and a congressional investigator in which the Fox host asks where the suicide took place and whether a gun was used. “I’m coming down there tomorrow. I’m coming to Florida … I’m going to get in there tomorrow,” O’Reilly says.

The Fox host’s explanations for his other fibs are far from satisfactory. However violent the protests in Buenos Aires got after the Falklands War, O’Reilly can’t claim he was in a “combat situation” or an “active war zone” — quite simply, the war was over, and took place 1,200 miles away from the Argentine capital. Watching footage of an execution isn’t the same thing as seeing one firsthand. And a brick being thrown does not an ambush make.

But all of these fall under the category of exaggerations. If O’Reilly were more forthright, he could simply say he misspoke. There’s no plausible explanation, however, for saying you were in one place when you were, in fact, in another.

This is exactly right. The others can be dismissed to some degree as exaggerations, and if he could just admit that he was exaggerating — which he can’t do because of his ego — they would go away. But the JFK thing is an outright lie and we have a recording of him proving it’s a lie himself (that audio did not come from CNN, by the way, it came from my old colleague Jeff Morley and he should be getting far more credit for this). But as Arana notes, Fox won’t even pretend to address that lie.

This is probably why neither O’Reilly nor the network have responded to this accusation. A spokesperson for Fox News directed questions to O’Reilly’s publisher, Henry Holt, which in typical PR fashion issued a statement of support but didn’t answer the question: “We fully stand behind Bill O’Reilly and his bestseller Killing Kennedy and we’re very proud to count him as one of our most important authors,” the spokesperson said.

And ultimately they don’t have to address is because they have a built-in defense mechanism:

O’Reilly’s claim to have been in Florida at the time of de Mohrenschildt’s death is certainly something that can be fact-checked, but the revelation that O’Reilly was in Dallas at the time has caused the Fox host little damage.

It may be cynical, but this was destined to become a partisan pissing contest. NBC may get things wrong from time to time, but its executives see reporting the truth and educating the public as their goal. Fox News’ standard isn’t so much truth as it is conservative ideology. Anything that doesn’t line up with what O’Reilly says can simply be dismissed as an attack from the far left, and as long as it doesn’t hurt his standing among viewers, it matters little whether or not he is a liar.

Having spent the last few decades railing against the “liberal media,” the right wing can now just wave their hand and dismiss any report that shows them to be lying, no matter how unassailable the evidence is for that conclusion, and their followers will lap it up like a kitten on a saucer of milk. They have been conditioned by Fox and other sources to ignore reality, inoculated against the truth. It’s just old-fashioned tribalism — any criticism that comes from the other tribe must be false so there is no need to even address the evidence. A wave of the hand is sufficient to satisfy their followers. And that’s why nothing will happen to O’Reilly. Truth and accuracy do not matter, ideology and profits matter.

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  • Donnie

    can we start calling Fox the “propaganda media”? If facts and honesty are part of the “liberal” media than Fox must be part of the propaganda media.

  • scienceavenger

    can we start calling Fox the “propaganda media”? If facts and honesty are part of the “liberal” media than Fox must be part of the propaganda media.

    Well, since Fox hosts rouitinely refer to other media outlets as “the mainstream media”, the perfect name for them is “alternative media”. Not only does it taint them with wooish implications (re alternative mediciine), it would no doubt piss them off, since from a conservative viewpoint anything alternative is the evil product of socialist hippies.

  • a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    It’s not Billdo’s fault. Reality has a well known liberal bias!

  • Ronald Taylor

    Ed, I still think you and the author of the Huff post piece are giving O’Reilly way to much credit to say all that other stuff can be “dismissed as mere exagerrations.” Other than just the war zone/ riot conflation, there are a lot of incidents in Buenos Aires O’Reilly has been unable to substantiate. (Dragging his bloody cameraman to safety while being “chased” by the army, civilians being mowed down with “real bullets”) Also, as far as repeatedly referring to incidents he “saw” when later he admits he only saw pictures (the bombings in Ireland, the nun killings), it boggles my mind that those would qualify as only “exagerrations,” especially when someone is talking about those incidents to shore up their bona fides as a reporter. These look more like compulsive serial fabrications on the level of someone like Stephen Glass.

    On another note, It’s incredibly disturbing to see the specific way O’Reilly’s defenders have made this whole thing about the “calculated onslaught” from the “far-left.” They especially keep repeating words like “calculated” and “coordinated” over and over (Does that mean an uncoordinated assault from the far left is somehow a little better?) I really feel like it’s gone beyond the everyday political tribalism into Scientology level cultism. literally anybody who brings up O’Reilly’s lies is by definition a suppressive person whose vicious smears have to be purged from the minds of believers with forceful OCD mantras about far-ranging sinister conspiracies and reassurances about how inconceivably spectacular O’Reilly’s ratings are. They don’t just unfairly dismiss criticisms they don’t like, they dehumanize the hell out of anyone involved in those criticisms.

  • llewelly

    Lies are profitable. This is known as the mind of the market.

  • zenlike

    I actually love how this has played out. Now all pretense -how little that was left- of Fox News being a news organisation are shown to be completely false. Yeah, the hardcore ‘true believers’ will not be swayed by it, but a lot of people in the middle who previously thought that both sides are equally bad are taking notice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.criley jason the cripple

    Let’s face it, if Fox News fired everyone who lied on air, they wouldn’t have anyone left.

  • peterh

    The function of commercial press & broadcast outlets it to deliver an audience to the advertisers. Follow the money.

  • dugglebogey

    Let that be a lesson to you kids. Never ever admit that you’ve lied, and you will never be fully held accountable. Watch Fox News!

  • felidae

    O’Reilly will be around as long as he makes money for Rupert–just look at what happened with Glenn Beck. The Fox fucks stood behind Beck until his descent into extreme paranoid ranting caused advertisers and viewers to desert in droves and then he was dropped like a hot rock. I’m convinced Rupert saw the movie Network and saw it as a business plan instead of satire

  • Michael Heath

    All these assertions by Bill O’Reilly are outrageous lies, some are not mere exaggerations. O’Reilly’s claims misinform his audience, it’s obvious what we wants his audience to conclude, where such concludes are not reflective of reality. That makes alls those assertions lie.

    It’s not difficult being honest. There’s no excuse for lying. I remain amazed at how even liberals grant latitude for people who are liars telling lies.