"When hard news people deceive their viewers and readers to advance a political agenda, that's when the nation gets hurt," Fox News Sith lord Bill O'Reilly complained last week, after Brian Williams' high-profile face-plant. But a new report suggests O'Reilly's been similarly flogging a bogus story of military bravado for years.
Since at least 2001, O'Reilly has bragged about "having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war" in 1982. But Mother Jones editors David Corn and Daniel Schulman report that Bill's claims aren't supported by any facts, and are disputed by his ex-coworkers.
It started simply, with a one-line mention in a memoir that O'Reilly had worked "on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands." But by the time the Boston Marathon bombing happened in 2013, he was regaling Fox viewers with visceral details of being in the shit:
I was in a situation one time, in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands, where my photographer got run down and then hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete. And the army was chasing us. I had to make a decision. And I dragged him off, you know, but at the same time, I'm looking around and trying to do my job, but I figure I had to get this guy out of there because that was more important.
The problem with that account, Corn and Schulman say, is O'Reilly had just managed to get into Buenos Aires before the quick war between Argentina and Great Britain ended. That didn't leave him much time to get downrange where the action was, across 1,200 miles of ocean. And it didn't make much sense to O'Reilly's CBS colleagues at the time:
American reporters were not on the ground in this distant war zone. "Nobody got to the war zone during the Falklands war," Susan Zirinsky, a longtime CBS News producer who helped manage the network's coverage of the war from Buenos Aires, tells Mother Jones. She does not remember what O'Reilly did during his time in Argentina. But she notes that the military junta kept US reporters from reaching the islands: "You weren't allowed on by the Argentinians. No CBS person got there."
That's how Bob Schieffer, who was CBS News' lead correspondent covering the Falklands war, recalls it: "Nobody from CBS got to the Falklands. I came close. We'd been trying to get somebody down there. It was impossible." He notes that NBC News reporter Robin Lloyd was the only American network correspondent to reach the islands. "I remember because I got my butt scooped on that," Schieffer says. "He got out there and we were all trying to get there." (Lloyd tells Mother Jones that he managed to convince the Argentine military to let him visit Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, but he spent only a day there—and this was weeks before the British forces arrived and the fighting began.)
Schieffer adds, "For us, you were a thousand miles from where the fighting was. So we had some great meals."
The Mother Jones editors note that O'Reilly did witness a street protest that turned violent in the streets of the Argentine capital, but that he split the scene after losing out to Schieffer for the marquee coverage. "I got the hell out of Argentina fast, landed in Miami, and raised a major ruckus at the CBS offices there," O'Reilly wrote in his memoir.
The Miami area also happens to be where O'Reilly taught history in what he's called "a relatively poor school" in "the shabby, tough Florida town of Opa-Locka." That school was Monsignor Edward Pace High, a private prep that's been recognized as one of the top 50 Catholic high schools in the United States.
Bill O'Reilly says a new Mother Jones report alleging that the Fox News host made false claims about his Falklands War experience is "a piece of garbage" and that its principal author, David Corn, is "a liar."
In a telephone interview with the On Media blog, O'Reilly called Corn a "despicable guttersnipe" who has been trying to take him down "for years."
"It's a hit piece," O'Reilly said. "Everything I said about what I reported in South and Central America is true. Everything."
...In the interview, O'Reilly said that he never claimed to have been on the Falkland Islands.
"I was not on the Falkland Islands and I never said I was. I was in Buenos Aires... In Buenos Aires we were in a combat situation after the Argentines surrendered."
I'm just gonna leave this screenshot from the above post... here:
Meanwhile, Mother Jones has added a video supercut of O'Reilly's Falklands claims; we've swapped it in above. Enjoy.