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Fair and Balanced? Bill O’Reilly’s “War Zone” Stories Questioned

© AP Photo / Evan VucciO’Reilly may be guilty of bragging for years about his reporting from a war zone that he may never have set foot in.
O’Reilly may be guilty of bragging for years about his reporting from a war zone that he may never have set foot in. - Sputnik International
Few people have come forward to defend NBC News anchor Brian Williams as he suffers his disastrous fall from grace. His harshest critic may be Fox News rival Bill O’Reilly. But O’Reilly may be guilty of the same crime, bragging for years about his reporting from a war zone that he may never have set foot in.

In recent weeks, Brian Williams, America’s most trusted name in news, has had his reputation dragged through the mud. He’s been suspended from his nightly news program and left with an indefinite future after lying about his experiences reporting on the Iraq War.

Thursday night, Williams even stepped down from the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation board of directors.

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For Bill O’Reilly, the William’s debacle is just one more stone to toss onto his mountain of evidence that the mainstream US media is full of untrustworthy, leftist spin doctors – hence the name of his book, “the No Spin Zone.” If Williams was the golden boy of broadcasting, then his decline gives O’Reilly the opportunity to paint himself as the black sheep you should have trusted all along.

“Reporting comes with a big responsibility,” he said on the “O’Reilly Factor,” in response to Williams’ scandal. “You, the press, must be honest.”

And to that end, O’Reilly has always been honest. The American people can’t trust Brian Williams when he says he survived rocket fire in the desert or dysentery after Katrina, but when O’Reilly says he was chased by armies in the Falkland Islands conflict of 1982, that’s a fact you can take to the bank. And that’s exactly what he claims happened during his time with CBS News.

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“I’ve been there. That’s what really separates me from most of these other bloviators. I bloviate, but I bloviate about stuff I’ve seen. They bloviate about stuff that they haven’t,” O’Reilly once told VVH-TV.

Using a term like “bloviate,” a nonexistent word which sounds like it could have been ripped from an 1857 Farmer’s Almanac, keeps Bill folksy and fun. But the content conveys his image as a hardened war journalist.

Just like Williams, O’Reilly has touted his experience in the Falklands several times over the course of his career. In one of his dozens of books, Bill wrote, “I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands.” In 2004, he wrote a column for Semper Fi in which he states “Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash.” He also went after PBS heavyweight, Bill Moyers, in 2008, saying “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.”

He’s even recounted, during his show, how he saved a cameraman’s life during the conflict between the UK and Argentina.

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“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.”

Given his admonishment of Williams, one would imagine these claims to be true. But as Mother Jones reports, the remote location of the Falkland Islands – 300 miles off the coast of Argentina – made access for journalists a very difficult task, access that only a select number of British journalists were given.

Robert Fox, one of the few reporters traveling with the Royal Navy at the time, told Mother Jones, “We were, in all, a party of about 32-34 accredited journalists, photographers, television crew members. We were all white, male, and British. There was no embedded reporter from Europe, the Commonwealth, or the US…”

© AP Photo / Victor R. CaivanoCrosses marking the 32nd anniversary of the start of the Falklands conflict.
Crosses marking the 32nd anniversary of the start of the Falklands conflict. - Sputnik International
Crosses marking the 32nd anniversary of the start of the Falklands conflict.

“Nobody got to the war zone during the Falklands war,” Susan Zirinsky, CBS News producer at the time, told Mother Jones. “You weren’t allowed on by the Argentinians. No CBS person got there.”

Bob Schieffer, lead correspondent for CBS News during the conflict, remembers the situation similarly. As he recalls, there was one American reporter who managed to step foot on the islands, but for only a day, and weeks before the actual fighting started. And it wasn’t Bill O’Reilly, it was Robin Lloyd.

O’Reilly was actually with the rest of the CBS crew in Buenos Aires, 1,200 miles from the Falklands. Even his 2001 book, “The No Spin Zone,” corroborates this. The violence that O’Reilly reported on at the time was a riot that ensued in the Argentinian capital once the ten-week war ended.

While O’Reilly writes that “many people were killed” during the riot, CBS News made no such claims when it reported on the event.

© Flickr / CSIS | Center for Strategic &CBS journalist Bob Schieffer
CBS journalist Bob Schieffer - Sputnik International
CBS journalist Bob Schieffer

Soldiers “were just gunning these people down, shooting them down in the streets,” O’Reilly told VVH-TV in 2009, while speaking about the Buenos Aires protests. “I was out there pretty much by myself because the other CBS news correspondents were hiding in the hotel.”

But: “We were all out with our camera crews that day to cover the protest,” Schieffer told Mother Jones. “I’d been out there with a crew too.”

Even if O’Reilly’s exaggerations about the Buenos Aires protest are true – and again, other CBS journalists on the scene seem to support the idea that these are, in fact, strong exaggerations – a riot is a far cry from a war zone.

While Fox News is widely perceived as a news network which leans heavily conservative, O’Reilly wants you to watch. He wants you to watch the “O’Reilly Factor.” He wants you to trust his take on the world as more honest than the perceived liberal counterparts at NBC, CBS, and CNN.

Now, if we can’t even trust O’Reilly, who, oh who, can we trust?

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