A media storm is going after one of America’s most trusted name in news. No, not Brian Williams. No, not Jon Stewart. Mother Jones went after Bill O’Reilly last week over claims that he has lied about his experiences in the Falklands War. Then Media Matters picked up allegations originally posited by Jeffrey Morley, which challenge O’Reilly’s claim that he was present – on the front porch, no less – for the suicide of a close friend of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Through it all, Bill has taken it like a champ. Not in the good-natured, apologetic sense, but more like an enraged, Mike Tyson boxing kind of champ. O’Reilly has put on the gloves, taking heavy swings at the credibility of his accusers.
But another frequent claim made by the self-described “bloviator” is that “concrete was raining down,” and that his camera crew was “attacked by protestors” while covering the Rodney King riots for Inside Edition.
The riot began in South Central LA, but spread to large swathes of the city over a six-day period following the acquittal of LAPD officers who were accused of using excessive force. 53 people were killed, 2,000 injured, and an estimated $1 billion in damage was done, making the incident one of the most significant events of 1990’s America.
Which meant O’Reilly was all over it.
“They were throwing bricks and stones at us,” O’Reilly said during an online 2006 interview. “Concrete was raining down on us. The cops saved our butts that time.” Just earlier this week, he told radio host Hugh Hewitt that “we were attacked, we were attacked by protesters, where bricks were thrown at us.”
But, in what’s becoming an all-too-familiar turn of events, several of Bill’s colleagues from the time adamantly refute O’Reilly’s recollection of events.
“It didn’t happen,” Rick Kirkham, lead reporter for Inside Edition at the time, told the Guardian. “If it did, how come none of the rest of us remember it?”
Tonya Freeman, another former colleague, also has trouble remembering O’Reilly’s version of events. “I honestly don’t recall watching or hearing about that. I believe I probably would have remembered something like that.”
“Oh my god. That is a completely fictitious story,” Kirkham said. “Nothing ever rained down on us.”
So what is O’Reilly talking about here? His Falkland claims had at least some grain of truth. While he never set foot on the islands, he did cover the war’s aftermath from the Argentine capital. It could be that this latest exaggeration stems from Bill’s encounter with a single, perhaps justifiably angry, resident.
The riots left several LA neighborhoods in flames. It was to one of these smoldering residential communities that O’Reilly arrived in a chauffeured limousine. As Bill prepared to report on the devastation, his driver began polishing the car.
“There were people putting out fires nearby,” Inside Edition crew member Theresa McKeown told the Guardian. “And Bill showed up in his fancy car. This guy was watching us and getting more and more angry,” she said, referring to a resident who was trying to clean his damaged neighborhood. “Bill was being Bill – complaining ‘people are in my eye line’ – and kind of being very insensitive to the situation.”
The man, perhaps understandably, flipped out, and began shouting at O’Reilly and his crew. He kicked over a piece of the crew’s equipment and smashed one of their cameras with a piece of rubble. Where most professional broadcasters would have attempted to calm the situation, Bill took a different route.
“Don’t you know who I am?” two anonymous crew members recall O’Reilly shouting, before encouraging a fistfight as the man was subdued by producers. “Come on, you wanna take me? I’ll take you on.”
One of the team restrained O’Reilly, but “didn’t have much trouble holding Bill back,” according to team member Bob McCall. “It was a lot more show than anything else on Bill’s part.”
While O’Reilly paints the incident as another example of fearless reporting which resulted in a heroic police rescue, it appears to have been more of a cowardly scuffle between an emotional man who had just seen his neighborhood destroyed and a blasé bully who wanted to point and take pictures of it. Police were flagged down, but appeared to be more annoyed at the Inside Edition crew. They ordered them to leave.
“We had to lay all of our equipment down and just drive out of there with cables dragging,” said crew member Neil Antin.
Why, then, after not one, not two, but three serious accusations against O’Reilly’s credibility, has he not been reprimanded in some way by his employers? Brian Williams, after all, has been suspended after he inflated his accounts during the Iraq War. But Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes has repeatedly stood by O’Reilly.
As Justin Peters points out in Slate, the spin machine behind what is largely considered to be a conservative news network can view attacks on O’Reilly as affirmation of a so-called “liberal media.” “The first thought isn’t ‘Bill O’Reilly is a liar’,” Peters writes. “It’s ‘The world is out to get Bill O’Reilly’.”
— Sarah Wood (@SarahWoodwriter) February 27, 2015
He may emerge from it all relatively unscathed. But as McCall notes, “I don’t have much respect for Bill, having worked for him during that time.”
In response to these allegations, a Fox News spokesperson released the following statement:
“Bill O’Reilly has already addressed several claims leveled against him. This is nothing more than an orchestrated campaign by far left advocates. 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.”
True or false, the allegations persist. Somebody better pat Bill down with a towel, because he’s about to climb back in the ring.