In a series of statements on Fox News yesterday, host Bill O’Reilly repeatedly cited a June 1982 story by Richard J. Meislin of the New York Times to substantiate his claims that he encountered a “combat” situation in Argentina while covering the Falkland Islands War. “I want everybody to read the New York Times article by [Meislin]. It’s up. You can get it.”
True, that: The Meislin article is right here, and it describes a chaotic situation on the streets of Buenos Aires following the surrender of Argentina to British forces in the Falkland Islands War. Fed up with the blundering rule of the Argentine military government, citizens stormed the streets. “Hundreds fled to the side streets, shouting obscenities at the police as acrid gas filled the air. Others ripped down wooden street signs and set them afire in the plaza,” reported Meislin. “Fires appeared in several nearby intersections as demonstrators threw wastebaskets into them and then set them ablaze to slow the police. …”
On a broadcast of Kurtz’s “MediaBuzz” yesterday, O’Reilly read a portion of Meislin’s story in an attempt to counter a story by David Corn and Daniel Schulman in Mother Jones that O’Reilly had stretched the truth in various recollections of his own time covering the war from Buenos Aires. (Disclosure: The wife of the Erik Wemple Blog is a Mother Jones staff writer). O’Reilly’s appearance on “MediaBuzz” appeared to have been triggered by a critical Facebook posting by former CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg, who said that the protests were somewhat “tame,” contrary to O’Reilly’s memory. Here’s how O’Reilly abridged the Meislin story in taking issue with Engberg’s “tame” verdict:
This is the article written by Richard Meislin, on June 15, 1982. And I’m quoting, policemen firing tear gas tonight disbursed thousands of angry Argentines who had marched in front the Presidential Palace to condemn the government surrendering to the British on the Falkland Islands. As the crowd chanted increasingly bitter invective at the government before the speech reflecting sorrow, anger and disbelief of the public here over the loss, police in riot gear moved in firing tear gas canisters and roaring through the Plaza de Mayo on motorcycles.
Hundreds fled to the side streets shouting obscenities as the police fired acrid gas. Others ripped down wooden street signs, set them on fire in the plaza, fires appeared in several nearby intersections as demonstrators threw wastebaskets into them and set them ablaze to slow the police. One large gray van pulled in to an intersection a block from the plaza, policemen emerged, seizing anyone they could. One policeman pulled a pistol, firing five shots. The leaders of the ten political parties in a statement tonight denounced the police’s brutal repressors and a flagrant violation of the public faith. Several demonstrators reported that they had been injured along with two reporters at least.
Local news agencies said three buses have been set ablaze by demonstrators. Another one fired upon. The demonstration of national outrage was a type seldom seen since the military took power in 1976. That’s the New York Times!
In his very own Facebook post, Meislin is now alleging that O’Reilly selectively quoted from the text: “When he read it on Howard Kurtz’s Media Buzz show, O’Reilly left out that the shots were ‘over the heads of fleeing demonstrators.’ As far as I know, no demonstrators were shot or killed by police in Buenos Aires that night,” writes Meislin, a former reporter, foreign correspondent and editor who is now a consultant on digital matters for The Times.
The transcript supports Meislin. Whereas O’Reilly, reading from the article, said on “MediaBuzz”:
One policeman pulled a pistol, firing five shots.
The Meislin article reads as follows:
One policeman pulled a pistol, firing five shots over the heads of fleeing demonstrators.
Listening to O’Reilly, one might conclude that the policeman fired directly at the protesters, intending to maim or kill. Reading the text of the Meislin article, it’s apparent that the policeman’s intent was to disperse the crowd. In deference to O’Reilly, however, there is a detail in the Meislin article citing “local news agencies” as reporting that a bus had been “fired upon.”
Meislin concludes with a brushback to the King of Cable News: “What I saw on the streets that night was a demonstration — passionate, chaotic and memorable — but it would be hard to confuse it with being in a war zone,” he writes.
Whatever the case on gunfire, however, O’Reilly wrote in his book “No Spin Zone” that “many were killed” in the protests, even though reports from the time don’t concur with that assessment. Via a spokeswoman, O’Reilly yesterday told this blog, ““Fatalities were reported locally, the military government refused to provide any information on injuries, arrests etc. I saw folks hit the ground and stay there but no one could get info from the [President Leopoldo] Galtieri crew.”