Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The next journalist under fire

By Isaac Simon

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(Rubenstein/Flickr)

(Rubenstein/Flickr)

Ever since NBC News handed a six-month suspension to Brian Williams for his fictitious Iraq War story, it seemed as if citizens and news organizations everywhere started to keep a close watch on reporters. Now that Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly’s credibility has been called into question, it seems that the public has done its homework.

O’Reilly has been saying for decades that he covered the Falklands War and saw combat in the process. The problem is that this is not true.

Like Williams, O’Reilly took every opportunity to tout his war experience. Aside from the details included in his book, “The No Spin Zone,” which reads, “You know that I am not easily shocked. I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands,” he has gone on to embellish this story further, including in a book written by Tucker Carlson.

O’Reilly took a stab at journalist Bill Moyers when Moyers claimed that he touted untrue war stories.

“I missed Moyers in the war zones of (the) Falkland conflict in Argentina, the Middle East and Northern Ireland,” O’Reilly said. “I looked for Bill, but I didn’t see him.”

The problem is that we didn’t see O’Reilly there, either.

For some reason, O’Reilly feels that if he is on the same continent or in the same country as a conflict that is in the midst of winding down, then he must be front and center – an eye witness, even – covering the action as it unfolds.

As the 10-week conflict was beginning to wind down, O’Reilly and his CBS crew flew into Buenos Aires. On “The Factor” in April 2013, he discussed a time when he was covering combat during the Falklands War and risked death for the sake of the story.

His memoir, however, paints a different picture. It leaves out the part where he witnessed any sort of combat. His discussion about the fighting he witnessed between the Argentines and the British were events he was never present for.

Also, the Falkland Islands are located 1,200 miles away from Buenos Aires. What’s more? Only 30 journalists were allowed into the conflict zone, all of whom were British. And yet O’Reilly continues to claim that he was in the thick of it.

“The Factor” is the most watched cable news program in the country. Since the controversy began, its ratings have spiked with a little over 700,000 viewers tuning in each night, according to variety.com.

It comes as no surprise that O’Reilly’s audience has maintained its loyalty to the show, given O’Reilly’s constant bashing of the “liberal news media” – a topic he revisits week after week.

Now that we have seen the rise and fall of Brian Williams, what are we to expect for O’Reilly? Although forgiveness for Williams is questionable, he admitted his mistakes and apologized for his actions, something O’Reilly has yet to do.

On Feb. 18’s program, O’Reilly called the Washington Bureau magazine’s chief David Corn a “liar.” A response like this is no surprise from a man who comes from an arena where backpedaling and acting on the defensive have become commonplace.

In what is perhaps his most famous interview on “The Factor,” O’Reilly slammed then-Congressman Barney Frank, the house financial services chairman, for his poor handling of the economic crisis in 2008, specifically pertaining to government sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

During the anything but cordial back-and-forth argument, O’Reilly called Frank a coward, saying he wasn’t “man enough” to admit his wrongdoing. This is nothing more than sheer hypocrisy considering that O’Reilly railed against Brian Williams and the entire liberal establishment for his false war stories.

Perhaps O’Reilly should man-up and admit his own mistakes.

As Amy Davidson reported in The New Yorker, this problem goes beyond Fox News. It speaks to a larger insecurity within the journalism world where wars are created and dismantled by the person “covering” the story. These conflicts go beyond having boots on the ground and are now used for celebrity gain.

During an O’Reilly talking points memo on Brian Williams, he said, “If you can’t trust a news anchor or commentator then you’re not going to watch that person.”

The same should go for watching “The Factor,” only in this case, I never began.

Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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