The Guardian reports that six of Bill O'Reilly's former colleagues dispute the embattled Fox News host's claim that he and his crew were “attacked by protesters” during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
O'Reilly covered the riots, which took place after several LAPD officers were acquitted on charges they used excessive force against Rodney King, while serving as the host of Inside Edition. In a February 20 interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, O'Reilly claimed that during the riots, “We were attacked, we were attacked by protesters, where bricks were thrown at us.” In a 2006 interview, O'Reilly said, “They were throwing bricks and stones at us. Concrete was raining down on us. The cops saved our butts that time.”
Several of O'Reilly's former Inside Edition colleagues -- “reporters Bonnie Strauss, Tony Cox and Rick Kirkham, and crew members Theresa McKeown, Bob McCall and Neil Antin” -- disputed O'Reilly's characterization of the event and suggested he was exaggerating an incident where the crew was confronted by a single man.
According to The Guardian, “Two of the team said the man was angered specifically by O'Reilly behaving disrespectfully after arriving at the smoking remains of his neighbourhood in a limousine, whose driver at one point began polishing the vehicle. O'Reilly is said to have shouted at the man and asked him: 'Don't you know who I am?'”
Colleagues who were with O'Reilly during the riots coverage suggested to The Guardian that O'Reilly had overplayed the incident, which did not result in any injuries to members of the Inside Edition crew:
Kirkham, the show's lead reporter on the riots, was adamant that it did not take place. “It didn't happen,” he said. “If it did, how come none of the rest of us remember it?”
Tonya Freeman, the head of the show's library at the time, said: “I honestly don't recall watching or hearing about that. I believe I probably would have remembered something like that.” Another librarian from the time also said she did not recall the incident. A spokeswoman for Inside Edition declined to comment. Several other senior Inside Edition staffers from the time declined to comment when asked if they recalled O'Reilly's version of events.
Several members of the team, however, recalled that one afternoon in the days following the peak of the riots, which began on 29 April, the angry resident attacked a camera while O'Reilly was being filmed near the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Pico Boulevard. “It was one person with one rock,” said McCall, the sound man. “Nobody was hit” .
“A man came out of his home,” said Antin, who was operating the camera that was struck. “He picked up a chunk of concrete, and threw it at the camera.” Told of O'Reilly's description of a bombardment, Antin said: “I don't think that's really... No, I mean no, not where we were.”
“There was no concrete,” said McKeown. “There was a single brick” . Kirkham's response was: “Oh my god. That is a completely fictitious story. Nothing ever rained down on us” . Kirkham, whose van was shown on an episode of the show being shot at during late-night rioting, later made a film for HBO about his struggle with drug addiction.
McKeown, the director of west coast operations, and Kirkham, said O'Reilly had in the moments beforehand irritated residents who were trying to put out fires and clear wreckage. A seventh member of the team, who declined to be quoted for this article, agreed with this characterisation of the incident.
“There were people putting out fires nearby,” said McKeown. “And Bill showed up in his fancy car.” McKeown said at one point, the driver of O'Reilly's personal car risked causing further offence by exiting the vehicle with a bottle of Windex and polishing the roof.
“The guy was watching us and getting more and more angry,” said McKeown. “Bill was being Bill - complaining 'people are in my eye line' - and kind of being very insensitive to the situation.” Kirkham said: “It was just so out of line. He starts barking commands about 'this isn't good enough for me', 'this isn't gonna work', 'who's in charge here?'”
The man shouted abuse at O'Reilly and the team, crew members said, and O'Reilly ordered him to shut up. He asked “don't you know who I am?',” according to two members of the team
“The guy lost it,” said McKeown. Enraged, he is said to have leapt on to the team's flatbed trailer and kicked over a light, before throwing the piece of rubble, which smashed the camera and an autocue screen. Antin said he restrained the man. But O'Reilly then continued taunting him while a producer stood between them. “Come on, you wanna take me? I'll take you on,” O'Reilly is said to have shouted at him.
O'Reilly is under scrutiny for several of his past claims, including that he was in a “combat situation” while reporting on the 1982 Falklands War; that he “heard” the gunshot that signaled the suicide of a man set to testify about the assassination of John F. Kennedy; and that he had witnessed the execution of nuns in El Salvador during a civil war in that country.