Brian Williams

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  • Veteran War Reporters: O'Reilly's Falklands Fibs Violate "Journalism 101"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Revelations that Bill O'Reilly may have misled viewers about his reporting from the Falklands War back in 1982 are drawing fire from veteran war correspondents who contend apparent embellishments like O'Reilly's hurt the credibility of all combat journalists.

    On Thursday, Mother Jones reported that O'Reilly "repeatedly told his audience that he was a war correspondent during the Falklands war and that he experienced combat during that 1982 conflict between England and Argentina. He has often invoked this experience to emphasize that he understands war as only someone who has witnessed it could. As he once put it, 'I've been there. That's really what separates me from most of these other bloviators. I bloviate, but I bloviate about stuff I've seen. They bloviate about stuff that they haven't.'"

    The magazine went on to note that American journalists were not allowed near the Falkland Islands in that conflict, even citing a CBS News producer who worked on the coverage. The findings follow O'Reilly's criticism of NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who was recently suspended for misleading viewers about his own combat experience.

    In comments to Media Matters, war correspondents criticized media figures like O'Reilly for "exaggerating" their experiences. 

    "I have no patience with journalists exaggerating their role as derring-do types when they're trying to report the news, it's not about us, it's about the news," Don North, a former ABC News and NBC News war correspondent who has covered conflicts from Vietnam to El Salvador, said of O'Reilly. "I think many journalists, all of us probably, have had some attitude toward perhaps embellishing or writing a more dramatic story, but it's a discipline you've got to watch. It's Journalism 101. You don't exaggerate, you don't lie about it."

    "I'm concerned about the damage this is doing to journalists everywhere," Sig Christenson, a founding member of Military Reporters and Editors who has covered Iraq and Afghanistan warfare for the San Antonio Express-News, said about O'Reilly. "When people see these stories and then they are called into question it makes the rest of us look bad. We are at a really critical point in our business and our credibility matters. If I am introduced as someone who was in combat will people even believe it?"

    He also took O'Reilly to task for having recently been critical of Brian Williams.

    "If (O'Reilly's) misrepresenting himself and criticizing someone else for misrepresenting himself then he's got problems," Christenson said. "If Bill O'Reilly's gone out and done something like that, God help him. I know one thing, it's bad for all of us. We don't need it."

    Matt Schofield, a McClatchy national security reporter who has reported from combat in Iraq, said such misleading tales hurt readers and reporters.

  • Conservative Media Weaponize Brian Williams Suspension To Attack Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Fox & FriendsRight-wing media are using the suspension of NBC's Brian Williams to attack Hillary Clinton, fixating on a story she apologized for telling years ago about landing amid sniper fire in Bosnia when she was first lady.

    The media has rightfully focused over the past week on Williams' apparent pattern of falsely claiming that he rode on a military helicopter that was forced to land after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during a reporting trip to Iraq in 2003. Williams apologized during the February 4 broadcast of Nightly News and has since been suspended for six months without pay.

    But the right-wing media have sought to use Williams' tall tales for political advantage, pointing to Clinton's Bosnia story to ask, "If Brian Williams can no longer be the face of NBC then can Hillary no longer be the face of the Democratic Party?" In a segment representative of such discussions on Fox News,Fox & Friends' Steve Doocy asked this morning, "Brian Williams has been held to this standard because he told these lies about Iraq. But what about Hillary Clinton?" Invoking Clinton's Bosnia story which "turned out not to be true," the hosts aired a clip of a Fox News contributor declaring Clinton's story to be worse than Williams', while on-screen text asked "Why Isn't Hillary Held Accountable For Lies?" and "Did Mainstream Media Give Clinton A Pass?"

    But Clinton acknowledged nearly seven years ago that she had misspoken in describing the events that occurred in Bosnia. And contrary to conservative claims, Clinton was heavily criticized by media outlets at the time, including by NBC News. As Bloomberg News reported in March 2008:

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her staff said she misspoke when saying she landed under sniper fire during a March 1996 trip to Bosnia as first lady.

    "I did make a mistake in talking about it the last time, and recently," Clinton told reporters in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. "I made a mistake. I have a different memory. That happens. I'm human. For some people that's a revelation."

    During a speech last week in Washington, she said, "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

    Moreover, in seeking to use Williams' story for partisan benefit, conservatives are ignoring numerous Republican politicians who have embellished their stories of military service to burnish their political careers, dating back to Sen. Joe McCarthy's self-aggrandized war record. As Joe Conason noted in a 2010 piece on how "mythmaking is indeed characteristic of the politicians most revered by the GOP," both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush greatly exaggerated their service:

    Take George W. Bush, whose controversial service as a Texas Air National Guard pilot was shrouded in mystery, evidently because he wanted to conceal the basic facts of his privileged admission to the TANG and his strange departure from its ranks. In his 2000 campaign autobiography, ghosted by Karen Hughes, Bush claimed that after completing his training in the F-102 fighter plane, "I continued flying with my unit for the next several years." That simple sentence was entirely untrue, according to records eventually released by the Bush campaign, which showed that he had never flown in uniform again after his suspension from active duty in August 1972 for failing to show up for a mandatory physical examination. 

    In the same book Bush also suggests that he tried to volunteer for service in Vietnam "to relieve active duty pilots" fighting the war. But, of course, the entire purpose of his privileged (and questionable) enlistment in the TANG was to avoid the Vietnam draft, as he hinted in a 1998 newspaper interview when he said: "I don't want to play like I was somebody out there marching [to war] when I wasn't. It was either Canada or the service and I was headed into the service." Two years later, under the tutelage of Hughes, that momentary candor evaporated.

    Yet Bush's self-serving revisions cannot compare with the fantastic recollections of the late Ronald Reagan, whose veneration by Republicans was never diminished by his bizarre utterances. In November 1983, he told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir during a White House visit that while serving in the U. S. Army film corps, his unit had shot footage of the Nazi concentration camps as they were liberated. He repeated the same tale to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and other witnesses. Reagan had indeed served in the Army and worked on morale-boosting movies for the War Department. But he had done so without ever leaving Hollywood for the entire duration of the war.

  • Syria And The Beltway Media Crackup

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    On the night of September 10, hours before President Obama addressed the nation about developments surrounding the crisis in Syria, NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams huddled with Meet The Press host David Gregory to analyze the day's top story.

    Events were moving quickly. After weeks of Obama threatening to use military strikes against Syria in the wake of President Bashar Al-Assad being accused of gassing his own people with chemical weapons as part of a "massive attack," a sudden diplomatic opening had appeared. Rather than bombing Syria, the United States might be able to work with Russia and get Syria to voluntarily hand over its chemical weapons.  

    Good news? Not necessarily according to Williams and Gregory. "What has the president gotten himself into here," Williams wondered, suggesting the prospect of a diplomatic resolution represented a setback for Obama. Gregory agreed. What the president had gotten himself into was, "A real mess: bad sequencing, disorganization, a sense of, a lack of real focus and strategy for what the U.S. wants to do in the world."

    Just four days later, a plan crafted by the United States and Russia's Vladimir Putin to rid Syria of its chemical weapons by next year was announced. So much for the "real mess" the White House had created.

    So far, no American bombs have been dropped on Syria, not one American soldier has died in fighting there, and no Syrian civilians have been killed by U.S. forces. But that hasn't stopped the chattering class from eviscerating Obama, often with a mocking and condescending tone. Deeply invested in the Obama's-stumbling storyline that was attached to the president's initial call for bombing strikes, pundits and reporters failed (or refused) to adjust as the facts shifted and the crisis steered toward a diplomatic resolution. 

    The Syria coverage represents a clear case of the press adopting style over substance, as well as channeling Republican spin. Of treating foreign policy as if it were a domestic political campaign and insisting that a story unfolding half-a-world away was really all about Obama and how it affected (and/or damaged) his political fortunes. It was also coverage that often lacked nuance and context, and that refused to allow diplomatic events unfold without minute-by-minute surveys of the domestic winners and losers.

    Six months ago, who would've thought that given the chance to get  Assad to give up his weapons, that achievement would be portrayed in the press as a foreign policy "fiasco" for the White House? (A sampling of pundit-class descriptions of Obama's Syria performance: "head-spinning reversal," "flaccid," "stuck in a box," "confused, erratic," "debacle," "embarrassing spectacle.")

    Meanwhile, two weeks ago with the prospects dim of Obama winning a Congressional vote to authorize military strikes, it seemed the only option that would save him from political doom at home, and head off the rush among commentators to announce the demise of his second term, was some sort of last-minute diplomatic push to force Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to postpone a Congressional war vote, thereby letting the White House avoid a potentially embarrassing defeat.

    What happened? Basically that exact scenario unfolded. Yet the Beltway press claimed Obama had really blown it. He'd been "played by Putin"! Why the failing marks on Syria? Because Obama went about it all the wrong way. (Americans didn't seem to mind.) The process was botched. It looked clumsy, according to a legion of Beltway theater critics.

  • When Will Media Ask Romney About Muslim Brotherhood Conspiracy His Campaign Surrogates Support?

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Fox News' Greta van Susteren last night became the sixth journalist to interview Mitt Romney without asking him about the conservative conspiracy theory alleging that the Muslim Brotherhood is using supposed ties to an aide for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to infiltrate the U.S. government. Two surrogates for Romney's campaign have defended that conspiracy during the past week, while Republican leaders like John Boehner and John McCain have condemned it.