In a statement to Mediaite, Bill O'Reilly says that when he said on Fox News “I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head,” he was referring to seeing “horrendous images” of nuns murdered while reporting from El Salvador, not witnessing those murders firsthand. His statement, however, does not address his radio show claim, “I've seen guys gun down nuns in El Salvador.”
Bill O'Reilly has claimed repeatedly that he witnessed the execution of nuns while reporting in 1981 on the civil war in El Salvador, an apparent fabrication that is at odds with both history and what O'Reilly himself has said about arriving in the country after the event took place, according to new information unearthed by Media Matters.
O'Reilly's El Salvador Fabrication Revealed
Between 1980 and 1992, a civil war raged in El Salvador between the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the government of El Salvador. On December 2, 1980, four members of the Salvadoran national guard raped and shot “three American nuns and a layworker.” The tragedy ''did more to inflame the debate over El Salvador in the United States than any other single incident,'' according to a 1993 State Department report. After the death of Silvia Arriola, a member of a religious order killed six weeks after those four churchwomen, “no priests or nuns were killed in El Salvador for more than eight years,” according to Dr. Anna Lisa Peterson, a professor of religion at the University of Florida.
O'Reilly has spoken on several occasions about his time covering the Salvadoran civil war as a CBS correspondent in 1981, suggesting at least twice that he witnessed the murder of the churchwomen. On the September 27, 2005, edition of his talk-radio program The Radio Factor, O'Reilly said, “I've seen guys gun down nuns in El Salvador.” And on the December 14, 2012, edition of his Fox News show, O'Reilly spoke of telling his mother that “I was in El Salvador and I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head.”
However, O'Reilly could not possibly have witnessed the murder of the churchwomen if his own timeline is to be believed. The former CBS correspondent only arrived in El Salvador in 1981, as he mentioned on the February 22, 2002, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, saying (according to Nexis transcript), “Before I went to El Salvador in 1981, I talked with some experienced Latin American experts, people who had seen the brutal wars down there for themselves. I had never been in a war zone before, so I wanted some prep.”
In his book The No Spin Zone, O'Reilly devotes several pages to his tenure covering the conflict in El Salvador, which he says began “a few weeks” after he was promoted to CBS News correspondent in 1981. O'Reilly details a reporting assignment in which he arrived at the village of Meanguera shortly after it had been “wiped out” by the rebels and witnessed “carnage” that was “obviously recent.” But he makes no mention of seeing nuns, or anyone else, being killed while he reported from El Salvador. Nor does O'Reilly mention the killings in his discussions of his reporting from that country in his memoir, A Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity.
O'Reilly even admitted he had arrived in El Salvador “right after” the killings during an interview on WVVH-TV's American Dreams Show on September 26, 2009, apparently contradicting his other assertions that he'd witnessed them (emphasis added):
O'REILLY: Now, a Jesuit priest told me about that in El Salvador. It was interesting, I was talking to the guy because these nuns had been slaughtered in El Salvador, and I was down there right after that -- they shot like a dozen, killed a dozen nuns.