November 18, 2013

In an interview with his colleague Howard Kurtz, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly admitted that he went easy on “60 Minutes” after the newsmagazine was forced to apologize for bogus reporting in a damning Oct. 27 special about Benghazi. Just after it aired, the special got traction at Fox News and in conservative circles because it exposed how ill-prepared the U.S. diplomatic installation was for a terrorist attack.

Then the story fell apart after The Post exposed inconsistencies in the story of a key “60 Minutes” interviewee.

Chatting with O’Reilly, Kurtz pressed the issue of how Fox News handled the story’s collapse:

As you know they just did an apology and a retraction for a story about Benghazi based on a contractor who, it appears, was not telling the truth about having been at the compound on the night of the attack. A lot of people saying, boy, that apology didn’t get much attention on FOX News because it doesn’t fit the conservative agenda of pushing Benghazi as a big story.
Fair or (INAUDIBLE)?
O’REILLY: You know, if the facts were altered by it and we — I hadn’t — didn’t report it — I didn’t pay much attention to it. Maybe that’s a valid criticism against FOX News. I don’t run FOX News. I got my own problems with “THE FACTOR.” I look at it this way.
KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE) big mistake by “60 Minutes,” why didn’t you do more with it?
O’REILLY: Why didn’t I do more on what?
KURTZ: The mistake.
O’REILLY: Because everybody makes them. And it doesn’t really have anything do with people’s lives. The people’s perception of Benghazi wasn’t have changed by Lara Logan’s report. They brought in a guy who was a charlatan. He faked them out. He wanted to sell a book. He wanted money. It happens. It happens.
I feel sorry for “60 Minutes.” I think they are a noble enterprise. If I thought they weren’t, I’d go after them. But I will cut them some slack on a mistake.

Bolded text added to highlight a consistency in O’Reilly’s approach. After CNN misreported that an arrest had been made in the Boston Marathon bombings, O’Reilly declined to hammer the rival cable network. “It was an honest mistake,” said O’Reilly. When various news outlets, including Fox News, misreported the use of an AR-15 weapon in the Navy Yard shootings, O’Reilly said, “Now, everybody makes mistakes.” But then he cited “a coordinated effort, kind of a hysterical reaction. There is no question the American media is opposing the majority of Americans over the Second Amendment. And the reason is that most journalists live in secure places. Here in New York City, many press people live in high-rise apartment buildings protected from intruders.”

Whatever O’Reilly’s treatment of news orgs following catastrophic mistakes, it’s refreshing to see a big shot at Fox News facing serious questions about Fox News coverage. Upon his hiring at Fox News, Kurtz vowed that he would remain an independent voice. This quite excellent interview is perhaps the best case in point to date.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.