As controversy surrounding Bill O'Reilly and his previous claims of harrowing “combat” journalism escalates, and as more than half-a-dozen former CBS News colleagues raise doubts about his storytelling, this would be the moment when most news organizations would step in and announce that an internal review was underway to ascertain the truth. Nervous about having its credibility diminished and committed to being accurate and fair, most major news organizations would take steps to stop the bleeding via a thorough review of the facts.
But not Fox News.
Ignoring the conscience blueprint recently set down by under-siege news outlets such as NBC News, CBS News and Rolling Stone, Fox instead has hunkered down and allowed O'Reilly to mount his own public, and increasingly erratic, defense that's built around obfuscation and name-calling. The result is that rather than containing the controversy, first sparked by David Corn's and Daniel Schulman's report in Mother Jones, Fox and its most famous host have allowed questions to multiply on a daily bases.
Now, the unanswered questions not only center around allegations that O'Reilly misled people for years by claiming he reported from the “war zone” during the Falklands War. (He did not.) New questions persist about the street protest O'Reilly covered soon after the end of the war; a street protest in Argentina's capital, 1,200 miles away from the fighting on the Falkland Islands. O'Reilly's former CBS colleague Eric Engberg, who was in Buenos Aires at the time with O'Reilly, claims virtually everything the Fox host has said about his Argentina work is erroneous.
“Bill O'Reilly's account of a 1982 riot in Argentina is being sharply contradicted by seven other journalists who were his colleagues and were also there at the time,” reported CNN's Brian Stelter. One former CBS cameraman called O'Reilly's description of the events as “outrageous.”
In other words, it's seven vs. one, so far. And in four days O'Reilly hasn't been able to produce one person who can corroborate his version of the Argentina story. Given those damning circumstances, most news organization in America would be anxious to get to the truth via an internal or even independent review.
But not Fox News.
“Fox News Chairman and C.E.O. Roger Ailes and all senior management are in full support of Bill O'Reilly,” a spokeswoman said in a statement to The New York Times, giving no indication Fox News has undertaken a full review of O'Reilly's previous statements, or that executives have taken into account unfolding testimonies from journalists who clearly undercut O'Reilly's storytelling.
One of the reasons the O'Reilly story continues to grow day after day is that it arrived in the wake of the Brian Williams controversy, and the fact that O'Reilly and his colleagues at Fox News relentlessly hammered the NBC anchor for his deceptive ways regarding Iraq War stories Williams appeared to embellish.
How, in part, did NBC respond to the controversy? With an internal review:
NBC News has launched an internal review of Nightly News anchor Brian Williams' 2003 reporting mission to Iraq, details of which he acknowledged this week he had recalled incorrectly.
Last November when Rolling Stone became embroiled in controversy after it published a discredited account of a rape case at the University of Virginia. How did Rolling Stone respond? With an external review.
From the magazine's Editor and Publisher, Jann Wenner:
We have asked the Columbia Journalism School to conduct an independent review - headed by Dean Steve Coll and Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel - of the editorial process that led to the publication of this story. As soon as they are finished, we will publish their report.
And in 2013, CBS faced a widening controversy surrounding the heavily-hyped 60 Minutes report about the terrorist attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. That report was plagued by problems, including obvious conflicts of interest and revelations that its star “witness” to the attack told contradictory tales about his actions the night it unfolded.
How did CBS respond? With an internal review:
CBS has asked 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan to take a leave of absence, along with her producer, after her recent story on the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was found to have multiple flaws. An internal report also found broader failings in how the news division handled the story. A summary of the report's findings was obtained by NPR on Tuesday.
But Fox doesn't follow most newsroom protocols. It prefers to traffic in its own reality.
“In a way, it's impossible to win a debate with O'Reilly because he is not bound by reality,” noted Corn after O'Reilly responded to the Mother Jones article. Indeed, the showdown represents a classic dual between reality and the bubble, which means there can be no fact-based debate like the one that unfolded surrounding Brian Williams and his wartime recollections.
For instance, Corn notes that O'Reilly told Fox News' Howard Kurtz, “Nobody was on the Falklands and I never said I was on the island, ever.” I repeat: O'Reilly last week made a firm denial that he never said “I was on the island, ever.” Yet Mother Jones plainly pointed to a 2013 example in which O'Reilly announced, "I was in a situation one time, in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands." [Emphasis added.]
Because O'Reilly, for self-preservation reasons, is willing to pretend up is down and that black is white (and because Kurtz is apparently willing to play along), there's no chance O'Reilly's going to lead anyone to the truth. But Fox News, a national news organization, could do that with a review that's conducted outside of O'Reilly spin zone. That's what a responsible news outlet would do.
But not Fox News.