Now another Bill O’Reilly misrepresentation of the facts has come to light, mandating action by Fox News management if it doesn’t want to appear guilty of being even less concerned with the integrity of its product than the mainstream media is with theirs. After all, Brian Williams is no longer on the air. So far, Fox is resisting. Its operative rationalizations are:
1. Bill’s not an anchorman, like Brian Williams, but a pundit. My response: He poses as a truth-teller and calls himself a reporter and a journalist.
2. These are nit-picky, minor factual variations, not outright fabrications as in Williams’ case. My response: Yes, Williams’ were worse, and there were more of them. So what? O’Reilly should be held to the standard he articulated quite well while covering the Williams situation: if you can’t trust “an anchor or commentator,” he isn’t worth watching.
3. The whole controversy was the result of an ideological hit job by angry liberals who wanted to take down a conservative talking head in retribution for the most popular left-biased network anchor being hounded off the air by conservatives. My response: Yup. So what? Fox needs to be professional and insist on the integrity of its product, whatever the motive that drove O’Reilly’s exposure.
As Ethics Alarms discussed a few days ago, Mother Jones and its ideological assassin David Corn published a piece accusing O’Reilly of repeatedly telling his audience that he had been in a “combat zone” during the Falkland Islands war, and sometimes leaving the impression that he was on the battlefield in the Falklands. The truth appears to be that O’Reilly was in a scary riot that occurred after the war itself, in Argentina. Unlike Williams, then, O’Reilly accurately described the incident, but intentionally mischaracterized its nature. (A riot, even a riot prompted by a war, is not a “combat zone.”)
I wrote: “Are you surprised? I’m not. O’Reilly has a lot in common with Williams—an addiction to self-glorification, a monstrous ego, and an unseemly desire for celebrity.” Thus I’m not surprised that a second example of Bill spinning his own exploits has surfaced. From The Daily Beast:
In 1977, O’Reilly was a 28-year-old TV reporter in Texas investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy. O’Reilly wrote in his 2012 book Killing Kennedy that he was knocking on the door of a CIA asset with ties to the Kennedys and the Oswalds when he heard the asset shoot himself to death. Pretty dramatic, but it’s entirely false, says Jefferson Morley, a former Washington Post editor and author of JFK assassination book Our Man in Mexico. O’Reilly is heard on phone calls obtained by Morley telling an investigator that he would fly to Florida from Texas the next day to cover the suicide.
It’s harder to argue this one away than the Falklands enhancement: it’s a Brian Williams-style fabrication, and it’s in print. (The Smithsonian has reportedly pulled O’Reilly’s best-seller from its book stores now, because it regards the whole book as suspect. Funny: I always regarded this amateur history exercise as presumptively unreliable.) He has also repeated this fictional version of the facts on the air.
There should be no debate. Fox News exists because of conservative conviction that the mainstream media news networks were biased and could not be trusted. Fox is obviously biased, but it can’t give an organizational pass to intentional fabrication and maintain any credibility at all, especially when the liar in question is, like Williams at NBC, the 800 lb. gorilla of the organization. If O’Reilly survives because he’s a ratings champ while NBC, though kicking and screaming, properly jettisons its own gorilla, then Fox is exposed as a journalistic fraud (which many people are convinced it is anyway.)
Meanwhile, watching conservative partisans try to make excuses for O’Reilly is instructive. The comments to posts on Mediaite and Politico are fascinating, because they show how abysmal the general public’s analytical skills are when it is required to make an objective ethics call. I’ve been waiting for an ideal example to cover here; the Mediate comments on the latest in the O’Reilly story are as good as any. The comments on that site have improved somewhat, due to a more aggressive monitoring policy, but they still tend to degenerate almost immediately into “Neener neener!” and “I know you are, but what am I?”
The liberal commenters gravitated to Fox hate rather than dealing with the ethics issue. This is typical:
I don’t think that Fox should fire him. They wouldn’t anyway. Their station is founded on lies, deception and misinformation. It’s subjective “news.” It’s satisfying enough that he’s been exposed as the liar he is. And big surprise there, right?
Fox is no more nor less “subjective” or trustworthy than NBC, CBS, ABC or CNN. If you think so, you just share the bias of those news sources and are too blind to see it.
Then there’s the cynical element:
The Williams story was the worst thing that could happen to TV “journalism” possible. As soon as he went down I saw this coming. This is the scarlet letter in modern times.
Whatever that’s supposed to mean. Journalists who lie shouldn’t be called out and shamed?
But it’s the conservative O’Reilly defenders who really embarrass themselves, as in these examples:
Liberals who are trying everything they can to make Fox, Bill look bad. They won’t stop till Fox fires him.
No, Bill does look bad, and if it doesn’t act, so will Fox. This is Rationalization #12, The Dissonance Drag, at work. Since the “Liberals” are “bad,” their arguments that O’Reilly is untrustworthy must be “bad” too.
Or maybe Obama is a big fat liar. Cant say that cause its “Racist!!!!!
There are lots of these. Irrelevant, of course. Rationalization #1, “Everybody Does It.”
Funny to see libs gun for Bill O’Reilly since one of their best hacks, Brian Williams, was shown for the fraud that he is. I hear that the next story lined up for Bill, when this one fails like the Mother Jones article, is that Bill was seen double dipping in a salsa dip he made for himself. How SCANDALOUS!
Funny that this guy claiming hypocrisy doesn’t see that he is the hypocrite. #2. The “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse, #6, The Biblical Rationalizations, and 26. “The Favorite Child” Excuse.