Former Fox News contributor and journalism professor Jane Hall explained that the media should hold Fox News host Bill O'Reilly to the same standard Brian Williams faced after news broke of his multiple reporting fabrications.
Recently, O'Reilly has faced increased criticism and scrutiny following the news of various discrepancies and fabrications in stories he told about his journalistic credentials which may have wrongly benefited his career. The controversy has spurred calls from a veterans group and other organizations for O'Reilly to be held accountable for his fabrications by Fox. O'Reilly has even faced criticism from former colleagues at CBS, Inside Edition, and now Fox News.
During an interview with The Wrap, O'Reilly's former colleague at Fox, American University journalism professor Jane Hall said that media outlets should hold O'Reilly to the same standard as Brian Williams, who was suspended for six months after he acknowledged "exaggerating his role in a helicopter episode in Iraq." According to Hall:
"I think the media reporting should hold [O'Reilly] to the same standard [as Brian Williams]," former Fox News contributor and American University Journalism Professor Jane Hall told TheWrap. "He reaches how many millions of people a night? If people in the media are dismissing him as, 'he's an entertainer,' I think they're vastly underestimating his influence."
A Fox News spokesperson told The Wrap Hall's contract was not renewed and she was let go; Hall says she left of her own volition.
Hall thinks NBC News' swift response to the Williams scandal was appropriate in the context of the sober "Nightly News" brand, but emphasized O'Reilly shouldn't be let off the hook.
"He is an opinion host, but I don't think that means reporters shouldn't be writing about it given his influence and his ratings," adding that the question reporters need to ask is, "what is your audience, what is your reach, what is your political influence?"
Always viewing conflicts through the prism of partisan warfare, conservative media have been faced with a stark choice as Bill O'Reilly's long list of confirmed fabrications pile up in public view. They can defend the Fox News host no matter what, while lashing out his "far-left" critics for daring to fact-check the host. Or, conservative media outlets can let him fend for himself. (The third, obvious option of openly criticizing O'Reilly for his duplicitous ways doesn't seem to be on the table.)
Incredibly, as the controversy marches on and neither O'Reilly nor Fox are able to provide simple answers to the questions about his truth-telling as a reporter, some conservative media allies continue to rally by his side.
On Sunday, Howard Kurtz's MediaBuzz program on Fox came to O'Reilly's aid by doing everything it could to whitewash the allegations against the host.
Over the weekend at Newsbusters--a far-right clearinghouse for endless, and often empty, attacks on the media--Jeffrey Lord denounced the O'Reilly fact-checking campaign as "wrong" and "dangerous." And Fox News contributor Allen West actually told the Washington Post that all the allegations against O'Reilly had been "debunked." (Lots of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week shared West's contention.)
What's the peril for blindly protecting O'Reilly this way? Simple: It completely undercuts the conservative cottage industry of media criticism. Because why would anyone care about media critiques leveled by conservatives who are currently tying to explain away O'Reilly's obvious laundry list of lies.
"O'Reilly's story, intended to portray him as an enterprising journalist unfazed by potential danger, is a fiction," noted Gawker. "It is precisely the sort of claim that would otherwise earn Fox's condemnation, and draw sophisticated counter-attacks to undermine the accusers' reputation."
And how do we know that to be true? Because the entire conservative media apparatus spent last month unleashing sophisticated counter-attacks to undermine NBC News anchor Brian Williams after doubts were raised about his wartime reporting. Today, the same conservative media are either playing dumb about Bill O'Reilly, or actually defending him.
Obviously, you can't have it both ways. You can't demand Brian Williams be fired and that Bill O'Reilly be left alone. Not if you want anyone to pause for more than three seconds when considering your press critiques.
The publisher of a Bill O'Reilly book in which he falsely claims to have seen terrorists kill civilians with bombs in Northern Ireland are standing behind the Fox News host despite an admission by Fox News that he only saw photos of those events.
David Drake, senior vice president and deputy publisher at Crown Publishing Group, wrote in an email to Media Matters that "Crown will continue to publish our author's book just as he wrote it."
That book is Keep it Pithy: Useful Observations In A Tough World, O'Reilly's 2013 work published under Crown Archetype, a division of Random House.
In the book, O'Reilly writes, "I've seen soldiers gun down unarmed civilians in Latin America, Irish terrorists kill and maim their fellow citizens in Belfast with bombs."
But last Friday, The Washington Post's Paul Farhi reported that Fox News admitted that O'Reilly was not an eyewitness to terrorist bombings in Northern Ireland, writing: "Asked about O'Reilly's statements Friday, a Fox News spokesman said that O'Reilly was not an eyewitness to any bombings or injuries in Northern Ireland. Instead, he was shown photos of bombings by Protestant police officers."
Drake declined to offer further comment on why the publisher would not seek to correct an obvious misleading statement.
From the March 2 edition of BBC Two's Newsnight:
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Footage newly uncovered by Mother Jones suggests that Bill O'Reilly's claim that he covered a protest in Argentina in which "many were killed" with "real bullets" is a fabrication. In the footage, which is O'Reilly's own report for CBS News from the violent incident in question, the Fox News host makes no mention of anyone dying and describes police using "tear gas," not live ammunition.
On February 19, Mother Jones wrote that O'Reilly had never reported from "a war zone, in Argentina, in the Falklands" as he's said in the past. O'Reilly responded by claiming that when he had said he reported from a "war zone," he was specifically describing a 1982 Buenos Aires protest which broke out after Argentina surrendered in the War.
O'Reilly has frequently hyped the violence at that protest to emphasize his own reporting bona fides, going so far as to call it a "combat situation." For example, O'Reilly claimed in a 2009 interview that during the riot the army shot at protesters with "real bullets," not "tear gas":
When the riots broke out in the Casa Rosada ... the army was standing between the people and the presidential palace. Here in the United States, we would do tear gas and rubber bullets. They were doing real bullets. They were just gunning these people down, shooting them down in the streets.
In his book The No Spin Zone, O'Reilly also described the protest, writing "A major riot ensued and many were killed." And on his now-defunct radio show, O'Reilly claimed:
I was in the middle of that riot when Argentine soldiers came out of the barracks and got into the streets and actually shot people dead in the street, because people were rioting. And it wasn't like warning shots or rubber bullets or teargas. They were shooting people dead.
Many of O'Reilly's former colleagues who reported from the same protest, as well as reporters from other outlets and an Argentine historian, have contradicted his claim that there were fatalities.
Mother Jones has since unearthed O'Reilly's own report from the scene, which makes no mention of live ammunition or deaths. Filed with his then-employer CBS News, O'Reilly's voice can be heard over footage of the protest specifically reporting that "police struck back, firing tear gas and rushing the crowd." He notes "some journalists" got hurt, but describes the incident as a "disturbance" and does not mention anyone dying.
According to Mother Jones, O'Reilly's report aired on local CBS affiliates at the time.
O'Reilly initially responded to criticism about his fabrications and exaggerations about his journalistic exploits by attacking his critics as partisan, but he and Fox News have largely fallen silent as evidence mounts against several of his tales.
CNN's Reliable Sources aired a new, clearer version of audio that further disproves Bill O'Reilly's claim that he personally "heard" the shotgun blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
O'Reilly has repeatedly claimed in his books and on Fox News that while he was reporting for a Dallas television station in 1977, he was directly outside at the exact moment that George de Mohrenschildt -- an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald -- shot himself in a Florida home. O'Reilly has offered no evidence to confirm this claim, and the police report filed at the time makes no mention of him.
Adding to the mounting evidence against O'Reilly's tale are tape recordings of a phone conversation between O'Reilly and a congressional investigator who was interviewing de Mohrenschildt before his death. On the tapes, O'Reilly can be heard asking the congressional reporter about the details of the suicide, and adding that he is not yet in Florida -- a claim that is at odds with O'Reilly's statements that he was near the home where de Mohrenschildt killed himself.
Lower-quality copies of these tapes were first posted online by former Washington Post editor Jefferson Morley in a 2013 piece for his website JFKFacts.org, as Media Matters noted in our initial report.
Now, CNN has obtained the original tapes from the congressional investigator's widow, and the audio is significantly cleaner and easier to hear. O'Reilly can clearly be heard asking the congressional investigator where the suicide took place, if a gun was used, and saying "I'm coming down there tomorrow. I'm coming to Florida ... I'm going to get in there tomorrow."
As Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter reported, "clearly this tape shows he was not there."
Stelter also interviewed Morley, who said that he previously attempted to bring this audio to Fox News' attention, but received no response.
O'Reilly has come under fire for multiple fabrications in the past few weeks, and has responded dubiously. However, O'Reilly and Fox News have so far not responded to the mounting evidence against his JFK story, instead directing inquires to the publisher of O'Reilly's book on the Kennedy assassination.
Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz failed to substantively discuss new allegations that Fox's Bill O'Reilly fabricated several details of his reporting career while offering no criticism of the embattled host.
Since the last edition of Fox's weekly media criticism program, MediaBuzz on February 22, O'Reilly has faced cascading allegations that he lied about hearing the suicide of a figure connected to John F. Kennedy's assassination, that he had falsely claimed to have witnessed the execution of nuns in El Salvador, and that he greatly exaggerated a story about being "attacked by protesters" during the L.A. riots.
But during the March 1 edition of MediaBuzz, host Kurtz failed to specifically mention any of these new allegations against O'Reilly and instead vaguely referenced "questions raised by Mother Jones and others about whether he has embellished some of his reporting," describing the allegations as a "flap." The only analysis offered by Kurtz was to read from a portion of an official Fox News statement, saying, "Fox News said in a statement that Bill O'Reilly has already addressed several claims leveled against him" before adding that "a couple media sites have noted his ratings have actually gone up in this past week, even when not talking about this controversy." He later agreed that not everybody has as large of a platform to defend themselves as O'Reilly does, but offered no criticism of his Fox News colleague:
From the March 1 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Speaking to the Associated Press, a former Fox News O'Reilly producer highlighted Bill O'Reilly's tendency to twist the truth, saying that hyperbole and exaggeration are "baked into" O'Reilly's persona and job description.
Bill O'Reilly has been embroiled in controversy after Mother Jones and Media Matters exposed numerous fabrications in O'Reilly's accounts of reporting on the Falklands War, the El Salvadoran Civil War, and the death of a figure in the investigation into JFK's assassination.
From the Associated Press on February 27:
The only way O'Reilly can be seriously damaged is if more allegations about his statements come forward from sources other than partisan organizations, said Joe Muto, a former O'Reilly producer fired by Fox after he began writing an anonymous blog as the "Fox mole."
"Ultimately, he'll survive this because he's not held -- by his bosses, or the public, or himself -- to the same standards of truth-telling as Brian Williams is," Muto said. "People expect a certain degree of hyperbole and exaggeration from O'Reilly. It's baked into the job description. It's part of his persona."
The vast majority of Americans believe Fox News host Bill O'Reilly should resign, be suspended without pay, or apologize if he lied about his experiences as a reporter who supposedly reported from combat zones, a new poll finds.
Over the last week, O'Reilly has been at the center of a media firestorm over the revelation that he has dramatically embellished aspects of his career in journalism. That criticism began with Mother Jones' report that O'Reilly had falsely suggested that he had reported from an active combat zone "in Argentina, in the Falklands" during the 1982 conflict there.
O'Reilly responded by lashing out at Mother Jones and claiming that he never meant to suggest that he was in the Falkland Islands during the war, only that he was in Argentina when a violent protest broke out. Numerous journalists who reported from that protest say that O'Reilly exaggerated how dangerous it was. For its part, Fox News has stood behind O'Reilly.
But the burgeoning scandal is damaging O'Reilly's credibility and requires a response, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted this week.
If O'Reilly "lied about his experience as a war reporter," 31 percent of respondent say he should apologize and explain himself, 21 percent say he should resign, and 18 percent believe he should be suspended for at least a month. Only 10 percent say that his actions wouldn't call for a response.
The poll also found that 37 percent have an unfavorable opinion of O'Reilly compared to 33 percent with a favorable one, and that respondents are split on whether the Fox host is trustworthy or not, 35 to 37.
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.
As questions continue to mount surrounding Bill O'Reilly's many embellisments about his reporting career, a parallel media debate has formed over the long-term consequences of the controversy, and specifically whether being tagged as a liar even matters to Fox News hosts.
A common refrain goes like this: O'Reilly the entertainer isn't going to be fired by Fox News for his transgressions because it doesn't hold employees accountable. If O'Reilly's standing is secure and he's going to turn the allegations around and use them for political gain, do the confirmed fabrications even matter? And since Fox News relishes bare-knuckle fights, aren't Fox and O'Reilly the real winners?
"The media controversy is one that plays to his and Fox News' inherent strengths," announced the Columbia Journalism Review. Added the Daily Beast, "It doesn't matter what accusations are leveled at the veteran Fox News host, whatever the new evidence he will shout it down louder than ever." (i.e. This guy's bulletproof!)
The avalanche of revelations began last week when Mother Jones detailed how O'Reilly had "recounted dramatic stories about his own war reporting that don't withstand scrutiny."
This week, Media Matters documented two more O'Reilly fabrications. Copious evidence contradicts his previous claim over the years about hearing a shotgun blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination. And he lied about witnessing the execution of nuns while reporting on the civil war in El Salvador. Then yesterday, The Guardian reported six former O'Reilly colleagues from Inside Edition dispute accounts he has told over the years about his allegedly harrowing work covering the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
But again, lots of the media chatter has focused on how O'Reilly viewers expect a conservative-friendly version of the news so they won't hold O'Reilly accountable, especially if he portrays the controversy as nothing more than a "left-wing smear campaign." In other words, the partisan battle lines were drawn long ago and nobody's opinion about Fox News is going to be swayed by the O'Reilly uproar.
"The current flap seems unlikely to damage his reputation among his fans," reported The New York Times. "It could have the opposite effect."
Frank Rich at New York agreed: "This all looks like a win-win for O'Reilly." And Rich's colleague Gabriel Sherman wrote that the Mother Jones story had "backfired" because O'Reilly had used it to his advantage and "hit [it] out of the park."
I'm not so sure.
From the February 26 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is furiously spinning amid mounting evidence that he has repeatedly lied about his professional history as a journalist.
On Wednesday, the Fox anchor put forth a laughable explanation to justify his claim to have seen nuns gunned down in El Salvador even as new evidence emerged casting doubt on his claim to have been at the scene when a friend of Lee Harvey Oswald committed suicide.
After it was revealed that O'Reilly could not possibly have witnessed nuns being gunned down in El Salvador, as he has repeatedly claimed, O'Reilly argued that he only meant that he had seen pictures of nuns who were killed before he even arrived in the country in 1981. That disingenuous explanation follows the pattern O'Reilly set in response to earlier reporting, led by Mother Jones, that he had been in an active combat zone "in Argentina, in the Falklands." O'Reilly now claims he never meant to suggest that he was in the Falkland Islands during the war, only that he was in Argentina when a violent protest broke out.
And tonight, The Guardian is reporting that O'Reilly's former Inside Edition colleagues "have disputed his account of surviving a bombardment of bricks and rocks while covering the 1992 riots in Los Angeles."
As questions regarding Bill O'Reilly's credibility linger, more individuals have stepped forward casting doubt on his claim he was at the scene when a figure linked to President John F. Kennedy's assassination committed suicide.
Significant evidence contradicts O'Reilly's repeated statements that in 1977 he personally "heard" the self-inflicted shotgun blast that killed Lee Harvey Oswald's friend, George de Mohrenschildt, Media Matters reported on February 24. Despite the heavy scrutiny of O'Reilly's claim, he has offered no evidence to confirm that he was outside the residence and "heard" the shot. By contrast, the detailed police report filed after de Mohrenschildt's suicide refutes the notion that O'Reilly could have been at the residence at the time of death. It states that three people around and inside the house didn't hear the gunshot and also didn't see any strangers around the residence. O'Reilly is not mentioned at any point in the report. A congressional investigator's memoir and tapes of his conversations with O'Reilly also undermine O'Reilly's claims.
Byron Harris, who earlier this week told Media Matters he "guarantee[d]" that O'Reilly was not in Florida at the time of the suicide, now says he thinks O'Reilly was in Florida around that time, though Harris maintains his belief that O'Reilly was not at the scene when de Mohrenschildt committed suicide. His story shifted after talking with Bob Sirkin, an O'Reilly ally and freelance reporter who previously worked for Fox News. Sirkin described himself as one of the few people at WFAA who got along "very well" with O'Reilly, and said that he spoke to O'Reilly earlier this week when news of his JFK claim broke.
Sirkin claims to have reported from Florida with O'Reilly at the time and says O'Reilly told him he had heard the gunshot that killed de Mohrenschildt. Sirkin confirmed he wrote a September 2012 blog comment claiming he visited Florida with O'Reilly prior to de Mohrenschildt's suicide. That entry makes no mention of O'Reilly hearing the gunshot or being present at the location of the suicide.
And three new sources -- a WFAA colleague, a former Newsweek bureau chief, and a videographer who said he was O'Reilly's Florida cameraman -- also cast doubt on O'Reilly's story.
In an interview with Media Matters on Wednesday, Doug Fox, who worked for WFAA from 1974 to 2003, cast further doubt on O'Reilly's claim to have been at the scene.
"Sirkin and O'Reilly were both going to Florida to interview de Mohrenschildt," Fox said. "I think O'Reilly called and said the guy is dead before he could even get to him. He never mentioned to my knowledge hearing the gunshot that took de Mohrenschildt's life."
Frank Eberling, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who has served as an adjunct professor in the Palm Beach State College Film Department, told Media Matters he had worked with O'Reilly and Sirkin when they reported from Florida around the time of de Mohrenschildt's death. Eberling said that while he is unsure, he thinks O'Reilly arrived in Florida the day after the suicide.
Eberling also said that he does not remember O'Reilly telling him that he had overheard the death. "If he had told me, that is something I would have remembered," he said.
Sirkin told Media Matters he didn't recognize Eberling's name, but acknowledged he wasn't sure who their freelance cameraman was in Florida.
Even Sirkin, who told Media Matters he was "not really interested" in going on O'Reilly's show to corroborate his claim, acknowledged that he cannot confirm O'Reilly's whereabouts at the time of de Mohrenschildt's suicide, noting that he was not with O'Reilly at the time.
Hugh Aynesworth, a former bureau chief for Newsweek and the Washington Times, strongly refuted O'Reilly's JFK claim. The Dallas Observer reported on February 26 that the de Mohrenschildt suicide scoop came from the Dallas newspaper "where Aynesworth was working. It was his story, he says. He did go to Palm Beach, and he says now there was nobody around the news scene that day named Bill O'Reilly." Aynesworth, a "JFK assassination expert," says he was on the scene "within hours" of the suicide, adding, "I didn't see him [O'Reilly] there. I was at the police department or that house for hours, and he just was not there."