The headline at the top of yesterday’s segment of Brian Stelter’s CNN program “Reliable Sources” is cautious: “New developments in Bill O’Reilly exaggeration controversy.”
The guest was less cautious. Eric Burns, a former Fox News host, argued that O’Reilly “lies” and has “lied so many times.”
Those remarks were, of course, references to the controversy over O’Reilly’s statements about his foreign reporting adventures — in Argentina, El Salvador, Northern Ireland and, a bit more domestically, Florida. Here’s a (previously published) breakdown of some of the points:
• O’Reilly said that “many were killed” in a June 1982 Buenos Aires protest following the Falkland Islands war that he covered as a CBS News correspondent; news accounts from the time cite injuries and mayhem, but no deaths.
• O’Reilly said that he’d been nearby for the March 1977 Florida suicide of a friend of Lee Harvey Oswald; former colleagues from that time say no way.
• O’Reilly once claimed, “I’ve seen guys gun down nuns in El Salvador” — a statement contradicted by … O’Reilly.
• O’Reilly said he’d endured a bombardment of “bricks and stones” while covering the 1992 Los Angeles riots for Inside Edition; former colleagues say that’s not true.
On yesterday’s program, Stelter showcased statements from nuns with connections to those executed in El Salvador. “Maryknoll Sisters were deeply saddened when our sisters were killed in El Salvador and shocked when we learned of Mr. O’Reilly’s statement inferring he had witnessed their murder. This is, of course, not true. And we hope Mr. O’Reilly will take greater care in the public statements he makes in the future,” read one of the statements from Stelter’s broadcast.
Said Burns, “No one expects much out of O’Reilly as a Fox News host. No one expects the truth. He’s been caught in numerous lies, and those have never been a story.” As Stelter himself noted on the broadcast, Burns himself, who hosted the media-accountability show “Fox News Watch,” was dismissed from the network back in 2008.
Stelter and many others are awaiting a more substantive response from Fox News regarding O’Reilly’s challenged statements. When the Argentina allegations first surfaced (Disclosure: They came from Mother Jones magazine, which employs the wife of the Erik Wemple Blog), O’Reilly took them head on; on El Salvador and Northern Ireland, he claimed to have seen violence in pictures; vis-a-vis the Florida suicide, he hasn’t said much of anything. Fox News has issued this statement about the whole thing: Bill O’Reilly has already addressed several claims leveled against him. This is nothing more than an orchestrated campaign by far left advocates Mother Jones and Media Matters. Responding to the unproven accusation du jour has become an exercise in futility. FOX News maintains its staunch support of O’Reilly, who is no stranger to calculated onslaughts.”
The statement from the nuns is a nice flourish from Stelter and CNN. The host’s false statements are sufficiently numerous and broad, after all, to keep the accountability steam engine stoked for weeks. Only a mea culpa from O’Reilly himself can stop it.