Today's lesson in "practice what you preach" comes from none other than Fox News' Bill O'Reilly who has once again riled up the internet with his shameless hypocrisy. Recently, the Fox News mouthpiece criticized NBC's Brian Williams for lying about events that happened while he was in Iraq, saying that Williams let down the American people who trusted him for fact-based reporting.
"Reporting the news comes with a big responsibility," O'Reilly said on his show The O'Reilly Factor. "The Founding Fathers made that point very clearly. They said to us: `We'll give you freedom; we'll protect you from government intrusion, but in return, you, the press, must be honest."
O'Reilly's statements would have been respectable if it weren't for one integral element: Bill O'Reilly has no right to give a lesson on ethical journalism.
The political publication Mother Jones recently ran a story called "Bill O'Reilly Has His Own Brian Williams Problem," which drew attention to a story O'Reilly has frequently told about his time covering the Falklands war in 1982 for CBS News. David Corn and Daniel Schulman, the article's authors and researchers, noted that O'Reilly "has often invoked this experience to emphasize that he understands war as only someone who has witnessed it could."
O'Reilly has said that he "reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands," has "covered wars," has "almost been killed three times," and "survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war."
OK, Bill, Fox News
Unfortunately for O'Reilly, neither Corn nor Schulman could find evidence to validate his claims.
"O'Reilly has repeatedly told his audience that he was a war correspondent during the Falklands war and that he experienced combat during that 1982 conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina," Corn and Schulman wrote for Mother Jones.
The problem is, O'Reilly and his CBS News colleagues weren't in the Falklands at all "” they were in Buenos Aires.
"There is nothing in his 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," Corn and Schulman wrote.
Of course, O'Reilly tried to save face by retorting Mother Jones' coverage on his show, stating: "I never said I was on the Falkland Islands. I said I covered the Falklands, which is what I did." If you're thinking this claim contradicts his past claims, such as "I've reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands," you're not alone.
But, wait! Things have only gotten worse for our favorite Gringott's goblin. In addition to his location claims, O'Reilly also said he was in the middle of a "combat situation" during an anti-government protest in Buenos Aires.
While both video footage and reports from O'Reilly's former coworkers do confirm a protest broke out, it seems O'Reilly exaggerated just how violent the situation actually was. One such coworker is Eric Jon Engberg, who wrote a lengthy Facebook status outlining what actually happened during their time in Buenos Aires and why O'Reilly's claims don't add up.
"To begin with `covering' is an overstatement of what we were doing," Engberg wrote. "Corn is correct in pointing out that the Falkland Islands, where the combat between Great Britain and Argentina took place, was a thousand miles away from Buenos Aires. We were in Buenos Aires because that's the only place the Argentine military would let journalists go ... We "” meaning the American networks "” were all in the same, modern hotel and we never saw any troops, casualties or weapons. It was not a war zone or even close. It was an `expense account zone.'"
Yikes, that's quite the demolition of O'Reilly's claims. But Engberg didn't stop there. O'Reilly has also claimed that one of his cameramen at the time was "run down," causing him to hit his head and start "bleeding from the ear" all while "the army was chasing" them. To this, Engberg states that the protest "was short-lived," "consisted mostly of chanting, fist-shaking and throwing coins at the uninformed soldiers who were assembled outside the palace," and that "no one who reported back to our hotel newsroom after the disturbance was injured."
An excerpt from Engberg's Facebook post, Facebook
O'Reilly also claimed that people were shot with real bullets in the streets. Engberg said he didn't personally see or hear shots, but that some of the crew did say "they believed the Argentine police or army had fired a few rubber bullets at the crowd." Once again, it appears O'Reilly stretched the truth in order to intensify his story.
Let's review. Brian Williams lied about being shot at in Iraq. Bill O'Reilly lied about being in a war zone during the Falkland war. Both Williams and O'Reilly are known for attracting a large audience and boosting their networks' ratings. So, why does O'Reilly think he stands on some moral high ground over Williams?
The answer could simply be that he knows he's not going to be punished. Williams was suspended from NBC for six months, and so far O'Reilly has gone unpunished. In fact, a Fox News spokeswoman released a statement saying "Fox News Chairman and C.E.O. Roger Ailes and all senior management are in full support of Bill O'Reilly."
But Fox News' support hasn't been enough to keep O'Reilly from causing a scene. Instead of ignoring critics"”or, you know, owning up to his lies"”he's gone so far as to threaten reporters. When a New York Times reporter dared contact him for more information, O'Reilly responded with: "I'm coming for you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat."
Williams may have been suspended, but he at least upheld some of his integrity by refraining from insulting other journalists who dared to call him out. You wouldn't hear Williams say things like, "As you may know, some left-wing zealots have attacked me, your humble correspondent." O'Reilly is many things, but humble is certainly not one.
O'Reilly has since told his audience that his show is not to be mistaken for anything but an opinion show, while Williams' spot on NBC was not. While it's true that the O'Reilly Factor is a pundit show, both men were hard news journalists at the time of their lies, thus not excusing his false claims about the Falklands.
America's "Most Trusted News Source" seems to have a truth problem. PundiFact
Jon Stewart made a joke on the Daily Show that no one really watches Fox News for the truth. Unfortunately, millions of people actually do turn to the network and to O'Reilly for their news, even though PunditFact, a website operated by the Tampa Bay Times and the Ponyter Institute, states Fox News only tells the entire truth only 11 percent of the time, while O'Reilly only tells the truth an enormous 12 percent of the time. Statistics like that should push viewers away, but it doesn't seem like they care at all. As long as their views are validated by a political pundit on television, they'll keep going back for more.
But O'Reilly, Fox News, NBC, and any other news outlet aren't the only ones to blame. As an audience, we need to demand more from reporters. If you don't care if O'Reilly stretches the truth, then go ahead and watch him. Just know that if you agree to be fed trash, you're going to keep getting it served to us by the spoonful.