Bill O’Reilly is now making a migration from the King of Cable News to the King of the Empty Denial.
In February, the host of Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” attempted to swat away reports concluding that he had told some tall tales about his years reporting from foreign and domestic hotspots, starting with a Mother Jones piece citing the host’s recollections of his Falklands War coverage that didn’t withstand scrutiny (disclosure: The Erik Wemple Blog’s wife is a Mother Jones staffer). “It’s a lie,” O’Reilly told us about the Mother Jones report. After Media Matters joined the fray, O’Reilly framed the attack as political: “Mother Jones and the far-left web sites couldn’t care less about the truth. They’re in the business to injure. This is a political hit job.”
Whatever the motivations of the “hit job,” it mustered condemnatory facts. O’Reilly talked about people being killed in a Buenos Aires protest; news reports documented mayhem but not fatalities. O’Reilly talked about assisting an injured CBS News cameraman during the protest; his colleagues maintain no cameraman was injured. In his 2012 book “Killing Kennedy,” O’Reilly talked about being at the doorstep during the Florida suicide of George de Mohrenschildt, a shadowy figure in the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; phone calls from the day of the suicide suggest he was several states away.
Those were just a few of the discrepancies that surfaced in a weekslong scandal for O’Reilly. Issues with the truth also infected his recollection of events in Los Angeles, Northern Ireland and El Salvador. From a trickle, O’Reilly’s bogus memories grew into a flood.
He handled the attacks well. Counter-attacking the alleged motivations of lefty journalists accomplished two things for O’Reilly. It appealed to the leanings of the Fox News base — this was a veritable marketing program for “The O’Reilly Factor” — and it also enabled O’Reilly to sidestep painstaking, point-by-point rebuttals of each allegation facing him. For instance: As part of his rebuttal to the allegations that he’d never been at the doorstep of the Florida house where de Mohrenschildt killed himself, O’Reilly referred his viewers to a supportive statement from a former colleague, but didn’t himself get into the nitty-gritty of those long-ago events.
After several weeks of rest, the O’Reilly denial mill is churning again. On Wednesday, Gawker released partial transcripts from a custody trial with ex-wife Maureen McPhilmy. In testimony from last year, a forensic examiner appointed by the court testified that O’Reilly’s daughter told him that she’d seen O’Reilly “choking her mom” in grabbing her neck as he “dragged her down some stairs.” Also according to these records, the daughter told the forensic examiner that O’Reilly told her that her mother is an “adulterer.” The testimony also alleged that O’Reilly “struggles to control his rage around his family” and that he has been an “absentee father.”
When this story first surfaced Monday on Gawker (then attributed to a source, not to a transcript), O’Reilly responded via his attorney Fred Newman of Hoguet Newman Regal & Kenney, LLP: “All allegations against me in these circumstances are 100% false. I am going to respect the court-mandated confidentiality put in place to protect my children and will not comment any further.”
Unavailable to O’Reilly is the denial strategy that worked so well against his winter tormentors. The political leanings of the case’s forensic examiner and O’Reilly’s daughter, after all, aren’t well known.
But hold on here, this is O’Reilly’s private business — of what concern is it to Gawker, to the New York Daily News, to Politico, to the Erik Wemple Blog? Clearly O’Reilly’s employer is staying away; the statement denying the allegations came via the host’s lawyer, not through Fox News public relations, implying that this matter has no bearing on O’Reilly’s role at Fox News. (Fox News did not return this blog’s requests for comment.)
However, O’Reilly’s own stances make these charges relevant. Comb through Fox News transcripts and choose the O’Reilly soundbite that puts his private life in the relevant category. The Daily News cites this O’Reilly remark from a September conversation with Ben Carson: “I’m telling you, battery against women in this country and around the world is just out of control.” Gawker cites a December 2014 comment about black families: “The astronomical crime rate among young black men—violent crime—drives suspicion and hostility. … No supervision, kids with no fathers—the black neighborhoods are devastated by the drug gangs who prey upon their own. That’s the problem!”
It’s true, though, that those are a bit old. Is there anything more recent? Precisely a week ago, O’Reilly discussed the troubles facing black families with Tavis Smiley, author of “My Journey with Maya.” After Smiley found fault with government programs, O’Reilly shot back, “But that is public policy. I’m big on the personal thing,” he said. “Because I’m a former high school teacher. I taught a lot of black kids, all right? I saw the ones with involved parents prosper while the ones with parents who didn’t give a fig go down. And so I want to declare a war on irresponsible parents.”
More to come on this front.