“Grave clashes between protesters and officers of the Federal Police took place yesterday across from the Government House and other sections of downtown,” wrote the Argentine newspaper La Nacion in the lead of its story on June 16, 1982. The protests resulted from disenchantment with the failure of the military government, which had been in power since 1976, to vanquish the British and retake the Falklands (known in Argentina as “Las Malvinas”), not to mention the regime’s incompetent management of the economy.
Accounts in La Nacion, El Clarin and the Buenos Aires Herald paint an aggregate picture of chaos and violence. In some passages, even a sexist picture of chaos and violence: “It was possible to spy scenes of hysteria in which disconsolate women had no idea what route to take in order to flee and save themselves from the disorder. In such circumstances, one of them tumbled over and was very nearly flattened by an assault vehicle that was headed at high speed toward Congress,” reads the story in La Nacion. (All translations provided by El Blog de Erik Wemple).
What’s missing from the accounts is any mention of death. El Clarin sums up: “There were people wounded and many arrested.” La Nacion ran a box featuring an official communique stating that five police officials were hurt in the proceedings, as were various onlookers.” It also reported the arrest of “various activists.” La Nacion didn’t dispute the communique. The Buenos Aires Herald wrote, “Dozens of people and five policemen were injured as riot police used truncheons, rubber bullets and tear gas to combat crowds of rock-throwing youths chanting anti-government slogans on almost every street-corner of the area around Plaza de Mayo.”
The no-fatality coverage poses problems for O’Reilly. In his book “No Spin Zone,” the popular Fox News host wrote that “many were killed” in these clashes. When pressed to back up that claim in the face of much evidence to the contrary, O’Reilly, though a spokeswoman, told the Erik Wemple 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 Galtieri crew.” O’Reilly also made a similar claim on his program last night.
Such claims allowed El Blog de Erik Wemple to make a return to one of its favorite places, the Library of Congress, which conveniently has microfilm from these three key Argentine newspapers. From the looks of one of the cartridges, El Blog de Erik Wemple was on turf where no blogueador had ever before ventured:
In any case, the newspapers consulted for this outing don’t and cannot entirely nullify O’Reilly’s contention that local news outlets had highlighted fatalities arising from the clashes. After all, Reagan-era Argentina had far more news outlets than these three newspapers, and we checked only the two days after the protests. Even so, a scholar who specializes in recent Argentine history told us that there were no fatalities connected with the civil unrest. The difference between life and death is among the most solemn jobs of a journalist, and until O’Reilly turns up some bodies, his viewers and his supervisors at Fox News deserve better than the bluster and threats that he’s delivered thus far.
Now for the mound of material that corroborates various aspects of O’Reilly’s memory. In a 2009 interview, the King of Cable News said that security forces at the protests were “were doing real bullets, they were just gunning people down in the streets.” True, according to La Nacion. “There were injuries and arrests, torched buses, shots from firearms and tear gas…,” notes La Nacion in its summary of the violence. El Clarin notes, “Violent disturbances broke out last night in the Plaza de Mayo when police forces used tear gas, batons, rubber bullets, assault vehicles and — in some cases — small-arms fire to repress some five thousand protesters.” Buenos Aires Herald contributed this detail: “One policeman was reportedly injured by gunfire from an unidentified sniper and the Noticias Argentinas news agency reported that plainclothes policemen fired on a passenger bus caught in traffic on Nueve de Julio.”
Piling on, La Nacion reports that there was “no shortage of shots from firearms and mistreatment of journalists covering the events.” Another detail: One guy got a bullet wound to the head. And La Nacion reported that after an offensive from the police, “you could see many people fall while others locked in struggle with police who struck various reporters.” O’Reilly has said that he saw people go down.
While reporting on the protests, O’Reilly was working for CBS News. One of the details he cites is how he assisted a cameraman — CBS News’s Roberto Moreno — who was bleeding from the ear. Various CBS News veterans have said they know of no injuries to Moreno or other cameramen that day. Journalists were under siege, however, as the Buenos Aires Herald reported: “Among those injured in the ensuing chases was a photographer for the Diarios Y Noticias news agency, who received multiple wounds from rubber bullets in the legs and back,” according to the newspaper.
In another little detail that should delight O’Reilly, the lede of the Buenos Aires Herald story asserted that “Downtown Buenos Aires became a battle zone of violent street fighting last night…” Mother Jones and others have bashed the host for referring to this episode as a “combat situation” and the like.