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.