Mother Jones magazine says Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has falsely claimed to have reported from war zones and has made a series of statements that echo the exaggerations that engulfed now-suspended NBC News anchor Brian Williams.
But O’Reilly, in an interview, called the article “a slander” and dismissed its co-author, veteran reporter David Corn, as “a liar” and “a guttersnipe.”
The liberal magazine took on the conservative-minded host Thursday in a piece that recounts a series of statements O’Reilly has made over the years about his reporting from Central and South America during the early 1980s. It contends that he has described being under fire in “war zones” that were not actually in the middle of armed conflict.
The story makes the connection to Williams’s exaggerations explicit with its title: “Bill O’Reilly Has His Own Brian Williams Problem.”
NBC suspended Williams for six months without pay last week after he erroneously claimed that he came under fire while flying in a U.S. Army helicopter during the start of the Iraq war in 2003. Williams has made other statements about his reporting experiences that appear to have been exaggerations.
O’Reilly has commented on Williams’s troubles on his top-rated Fox program, both coming to the NBC anchor’s defense and describing the exaggerations as part of a pattern of distortion by liberal news outlets, according to the magazine.
“Yet for years,” said Mother Jones, “O’Reilly has recounted dramatic stories about his own war reporting that don’t withstand scrutiny — even claiming he acted heroically in a war zone that he apparently never set foot in.”
It added, “O’Reilly has repeatedly told his audience that he was a war correspondent during the Falklands war and that he experienced combat during that 1982 conflict between England and Argentina. He has often invoked this experience to emphasize that he understands war as only someone who has witnessed it could.”
But O’Reilly denied that he has ever stated he was in the Falklands when he was a correspondent for CBS News in the early 1980s.
“I was in Buenos Aires” when Argentina surrendered, and thousands of Argentinians stormed the presidential palace in anger over the capitulation, he said in an interview. “Troops fired at the crowd. I was in the middle of that carnage.”
He added, “In Argentina, I was in combat in the sense that bullets were being fired.”
But Mother Jones points out that O’Reilly wrote this in his best-selling 2001 book, “The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America”: “You know that I am not easily shocked. I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falkland Islands.”
The story also said that he wrote a 2004 column during the Iraq war that included the following statement: “Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash.”
In 2008, according to the magazine, he criticized journalist Bill Moyers by saying on his program: “I missed Moyers in the war zones of [the] Falkland conflict in Argentina, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland. I looked for Bill, but I didn’t see him.”
The magazine also said O’Reilly related the following story while discussing the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013: “I was in a situation one time, in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands, where my photographer got run down and then hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete. And the army was chasing us. I had to make a decision. And I dragged him off, you know, but at the same time, I’m looking around and trying to do my job, but I figure I had to get this guy out of there because that was more important.”
In response, O’Reilly said: “This is a slander what’s happening here. . . . I was not in the Falklands. I was in Buenos Aires” during the surrender. CBS, he said, had commended him for his reporting at the time..
He called the Mother Jones story “crap” and suggested Corn — the magazine’s Washington bureau chief and a commentator for Fox rival MSNBC — had a political motivation for the story, which was co-authored by Daniel Schulman.
“He’s a guttersnipe [and] he’s a liar,” O’Reilly said of Corn. “Everyone knows what he does.”
The host added: “All you have to do as a reporter is get the reports of what happened. . . . This isn’t he-said, she-said. These are facts. These [TV reports] aired.”
The Mother Jones story notes that O’Reilly did not claim he was in combat in the Falklands in “The No Spin Zone.”
“There is nothing in this memoir indicating that O’Reilly witnessed the fighting between British and Argentine military forces — or that he got anywhere close to the Falkland Islands, which are 300 miles off Argentina’s shore and about 1,200 miles south of Buenos Aires,” the article says.
Only about 30 journalists, apparently all of them embedded with the British side, were able to reach the remote islands during the conflict.
The magazine also said O’Reilly exaggerated the violence he encountered while reporting from El Salvador during its civil war in 1982.
“Nobody in his right mind would go into the guerrilla-controlled area,” O’Reilly writes in “No Spin Zone” of a reporting trip to a small village called Meanguera. He wrote that the village was “leveled to the ground and fires were still smoldering. But even though the carnage was obviously recent, we saw no one live or dead. There was absolutely nobody around who could tell us what happened. I quickly did a stand-up amid the rubble and we got the hell out of there.”
But in a 90-second report for CBS News, Mother Jones said, O’Reilly reported from Meanguera that rebels had been driven out of the hamlet by the Salvadoran military after intense fighting. But instead of a devastated village, footage showed residents walking around amid a handful of burned-out structures.
Said O’Reilly in an interview, “Everything I reported was true.”
Corn, a former Fox News contributor, said he made several attempts to reach O’Reilly on Thursday to no avail. Corn also defended the magazine’s reporting: “O’Reilly more than once said he was in a war zone. But the war was on an island. It was not in Buenos Aires. It’s like saying you were in a war zone during the Vietnam War because you were in Washington.”
“O’Reilly has resorted only to name calling and spin in response to this article,” Corn added. “. . . It’s easier to call someone a liar or a guttersnipe than to answer the question.”