Fox News is not commenting on reports that Bill O'Reilly lied in his books and on Fox News that he was nearby and "heard" a shotgun blast when a figure linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy committed suicide. The network is instead directing reporters to the host's publisher.
The network's reaction is a dramatic reversal of their aggressive communications strategy following Mother Jones' report that the stories O'Reilly has told about reporting from combat zones "don't withstand scrutiny."
Yesterday, Media Matters reported:
Bill O'Reilly has repeatedly claimed he personally "heard" a shotgun blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination while reporting for a Dallas television station in 1977. O'Reilly's claim is implausible and contradicted by his former newsroom colleagues who denied the tale in interviews with Media Matters. A police report, contemporaneous reporting, and a congressional investigator who was probing Kennedy's death further undermine O'Reilly's story.
According to CNN, "When reached for comment, a Fox News spokesperson referred CNNMoney to Henry Holt and Company, the imprint that published O'Reilly's book on the Kennedy assassination."
In seeking to pass off responsibility for O'Reilly's falsehoods to his publisher, Fox News is trying to hide the fact that he offered the same claim on their airwaves.
Directing reporters to the publisher represents a substantial shift from how Fox News responded to the Mother Jones story, which similarly detailed how O'Reilly had repeatedly made exaggerated claims about his reporting experience in his books and on Fox News. The report showed how O'Reilly had supposedly reported from a "combat zone" in Buenos Aires during the Falklands War, and at times suggested he had reported from the Falkland Islands themselves. Numerous journalists who reported on that war subsequently disputed O'Reilly's claims.
Within hours of the story's publication, Fox News made O'Reilly available for a series of scathing interviews with media reporters in which he denied the allegations and attacked David Corn, Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief, as a "far-left assassin," a "guttersnipe liar," and a "disgusting piece of garbage."
While several of the claims O'Reilly has offered in his defense have turned out to be false, some commentators have nonetheless said that O'Reilly's public reaction shows that the Mother Jones story has "backfired" because the network is using the criticism from a progressive publication to bolster O'Reilly's standing with his fans.