Bill O’Reilly is still hitting back at Mother Jones for questioning his war reporting history while he worked for CBS News in the 1980s.
Mother Jones announced that “Bill O’Reilly has his own Brian Williams problem” in a Feb. 19 article by the magazine’s Washington bureau chief David Corn and Washington senior editor Daniel Schulman.
“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 the United Kingdom and Argentina,” the Mother Jones editors wrote.
Mother Jones further listed how O’Reilly has commented about the Falklands, including that
- he “reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands,”
- that he “survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war”
Mother Jones noted that O’Reilly was never actually in the Falklands or the war zone, as he has repeatedly insisted. Rather, he was in Buenos Aires where there was what O’Reilly described as “a major riot” where “many were killed.”
The 1982 war resulted from the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, which had been ruled by the UK. More here on the BBC’s website.
O’Reilly retorts that he never said he was in the Falkland Islands but did say he was in Buenos Aires which he desribed as a “war zone” for the Falklands because of protests where “many were killed.”
The problem, Mother Jones argued, is “The protest in Buenos Aires was not combat. Nor was it part of the Falklands war. It happened more than a thousand miles from the war—after the fighting was over. Yet O’Reilly has referred to his work in Argentina—and his rescue of his cameraman—as occurring in a ‘war zone’.”
Mother Jones pointed to CBS News’ own coverage of the protest and that of other news outlets, including the New York Times, that were reporting from Buenos Aires. None of these outlets mentioned that people were killed during the protests.
Mother Jones asked Fox News for comment, but instead O’Reilly talks to other outlets
Mother Jones said it sent specific questions to Fox News but Fox didn’t respond to e-mails or phone calls. After Mother Jones published its report, however, O’Reilly slammed the publication. Mother Jones‘ Corn questioned why O’Reilly and Fox refused to respond to their questions instead opting to complain to other outlets.
According to Mother Jones, the magazine sent detailed questions to Fox News and waited all day for a response. Corn told Politico: “Yesterday I checked in with [Fox News spokesperson] Dana Klinghoffer, and said, ‘if I have questions about a personality is it best to direct them to you?’ She said yes. So this morning at 8:30 I sent them a detailed list of questions — a dozen or more questions — with all the individual quotes and citations that the piece reports. I asked them to explain O’Reilly’s comments and to explain contradictions between what he said and the public record.”
Corn added that he sent the list of questions and claims to verify at 8:30 AM, then contacted Fox News four times by phone and a few additional times by e-mail to ask if Fox News would respond, but never heard from Fox News PR. Corn said he then contacted Fox News executive vice president asking for a response and that he would be willing to hold publication for comment but Fox News never responded to him.
IMediaEthics asked Mother Jones for the full list of questions sent to Fox News. They are here on Mother Jones’s website.
“Rather than calling anyone a liar or a guttersnipe, he had ample opportunity to deal with the facts of this case. He elected not to, and instead engaged in name calling,” Corn said. “He chose not to address the issue, he chose to throw mud. And I would say that his right to impugn others ought to be diminished until he answers the basic questions about his statements,” Corn said to Politico Feb. 19.
O’Reilly told the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, who noted that his wife works for Mother Jones and reports to Corn, that Mother Jones‘ Corn “is a guttersnipe liar” and a “disgusting piece of garbage.”
O’Reilly stood by his position with Wemple that he “never said” he reported from the Falklands and as part of his support for his claims, pointed to his book Those who Trespass: A Novel of Television and Murder. Because the book O’Reilly cited is fiction, this seems like an odd choice for evidence to back up his claims.
O’Reilly went on, “When you have people shooting guns, that’s combat. There isn’t any distinction to be made because I’ve never said that I was on the islands or that there was any action in that capacity. All I did was tell people what I did, and 100 percent of that is true. If you want to distort what I’ve said, as Corn does, then that is irresponsible, and that is a lie.”
O’Reilly says Mother Jones writer should be in ‘Kill Zone,’ Mother Jones wants retraction
O’Reilly also talked to TV Newser about the Mother Jones article. He maintained “everything I said is true.”
He accused the Mother Jones article of being “a giant piece of defamation” and claimed that Corn is “far-left assassin.”
“When everybody writes the truth, I’ve talked to about eight or nine reporters, and when they verify what I’m saying, because it’s easily verifiable, then I expect David Corn to be in the kill zone. Where he deserves to be. CBS News has the footage to this day. Everything I said about my reportorial career — EVERYTHING — is accurate,” he said.
Mother Jones complained to Fox News about the “kill zone” comments, Politico noted Feb. 20.
In a Feb. 20 letter to Fox News, Mother Jones‘ editor-in-chiefs Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein wrote that they want O’Reilly to “renounce” the comment and apologize.
“We welcome criticism, but calling for our reporter ‘to be in the kill zone’ crosses a line. Like everyone in media today, we are concerned about the safety of our staff. We’d have hoped that statements with this kind of violent tone would not come from a fellow media professional,” the letter stated.
The text of the e-mails is posted on Ad Week’s TV Newser, Mother Jones pointed iMediaEthics.
O’Reilly on Fox News: Corn ‘Smeared Me’
O’Reilly then responded in an on-air segment Feb. 20 about the Mother Jones story.
He took shots at Mother Jones, claiming it has “low circulation” and is “considered by many the bottom rung of journalism in America.” (Mother Jones says on its website its bimonthly magazine has a circulation of 240,000 and has won many awards for its investigative journalism.)
“Here’s the truth … everything I’ve said about my reportorial career … everything … is true,” O’Reilly commented.
He went on, “I never said I was on the Falkland Islands … as Corn purports … I said I covered the Falklands War … which I did.”
O’Reilly read from a 33-year-old CBS internal memo he said he found about his coverage that confirmed he reported on a riot. He also read from a letter he said he wrote to CBS News’ Ed Joyce at the time saying, “the riot had been very bad, we were gassed at, shot at.”
“So we have rock solid proof … that David Corn … smeared me … and some websites that picked up his defamation … did as well,” O’Reilly claimed on air, adding that he thinks it was a “political hit job.”
O’Reilly didn’t just slam Mother Jones; he also called CNN’s Brian Stelter a “far-left zealot…masquerading at as a journalist” for reporting on the claims against him.
Stelter tweeted Feb. 20 that he tried to interview O’Reilly about the claims but he was unsuccessful.
Last night I asked Fox News if Bill O’Reilly would speak with me. Think he’d ever call into @CNNReliable on Sunday?
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) February 20, 2015
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Update: Fox PR says no interview.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) February 20, 2015
Reasons Given Why O’Relly doesn’t Equal Williams
Christian Science Monitor listed “a number of differences” between the claims against O’Reilly and Williams.
1. “There aren’t any aggrieved soldiers…O’Reilly’s opposition is a left-leaning magazine, not Army pilots.”
2. “He’s a political commentator, not a news anchor. He’s not supposed to be measured.”
3. “Fox News is not NBC News.”
4. “Fox executives appear to be standing behind O’Reilly, for now.”
Former CBS News Colleague Weighs in
Then on Feb. 20, Eric Jon Engberg, who worked with O’Reilly at CBS New during the Falkland Islands war, weighed in on O’Reilly in a Facebook post, Mediaite reported.
“I can provide some eyewitness information on this matter because I was one of the correspondents in Buenos Aires with O’Reilly and the rest of the rather large staff of CBS News people who were there ‘covering” the war’,” Engberg wrote.
Engberg argued that “‘covering’ is an overstatement of what we were doing” because they were only in Buenos Aires.
“We — meaning the American networks — were all in the same, modern hotel and we never saw any troops, casualties or weapons. It was not a war zone or even close. It was an “expense account zone,” he went on.
He accused O’Reilly of bad behavior and lying. Further, Engberg wrote: “He is misrepresenting the situation he covered, and he is obviously doing so to burnish his credentials as a ‘war correspondent,’ which is not the work he was performing during the Falklands war. I don’t think it’s as big a lie as Brian Williams told because O’Reilly hasn’t falsely claimed to be the target of an enemy attack, but he has displayed a willingness to twist the truth in a way that seeks to invent a battlefield that did not exist. And he ought to be subject to the same scrutiny Williams faced. He also ought to be ashamed of himself.”
Engberg and seven others who were in Argentina at the time — including cameraman Manny Alverez and sound engineer Jim Forrest — all challenged O’Reilly’s claims in interviews with CNN.
“Bill O’Reilly’s account of a 1982 riot in Argentina is being sharply contradicted by seven other journalists who were his colleagues and were also there at the time. The people all challenge O’Reilly’s depiction of Buenos Aires as a ‘war zone’ and a ‘combat situation.’ They also doubt his description of a CBS cameraman being injured in the chaos,” CNN reported. Four of CNN’s sources were anonymous. All work for competing publications.
Forrest and Alvarez said there were no deaths.
CNN added that the photographer who O’Reilly said was injured in the protests, Roberto Moreno, “declined to comment to CNN” but CBS MIami’s office manager during the war, Mia Fabius, said she never heard he was injured or heard of any injury report, despite being “in touch with Moreno for decades.”
Fox News announced in a statement Feb. 21 that O’Reilly would respond to new claims against him on Fox News’ MediaBuzz Feb. 22.
“The O’Reilly Factor invited Eric Engberg to appear on the program this Monday and he refused. The Factor has also contacted CBS News and asked them to release the footage in question. Bill O’Reilly will address Engberg’s claims on Mediabuzz w/ Howard Kurtz tomorrow at 11 AM/ET.”
See that Feb. 22 segment with Kurtz about Engberg’s claims below. The Fox News video is titled, “Bill O’Reilly vs. Mother Jones.”
“It’s absurd,” O’Reilly responded, saying that he wasn’t sure if Engberg was there and able to judge the riot. “He’s running over to CNN but he can’t come on to my program,” O’Reilly said about Engberg.
“I don’t think he was even there!” O’Reilly questioned, claiming Engberg was known as “Room Service Eric” because he “never left the hotel.” (Engberg denied those claims in an interview with CNN, calling them “the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.” He stated: “I never ordered room service during a riot.”)
O’Reilly went on to stand by his reporting on the war and said the questions against him are “a smear.”
Kurtz asks: Would you Rephrase your Reporting History?
When asked by Kurtz if in hindsight he would have rephrased his characterization of what he did in Argentina as something besides combat or warzone, O’Reilly said no and claimed it was “splitting hairs” and an attempted take-down of him in light of Brian Williams.
“The Mother Jones piece, ultimately if you boil it down, comes down to this semantic question. You said you covered a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands War….Looking back, do you wish you had worded it differently?” Kurtz asked.
O’Reilly then attacked David Corn. “Why does he have any credibility anywhere if he lied in his article about something that demonstrable…Why would [any news outlet]’ take anything else he says seriously?”
In response, Kurtz pointed to Corn’s history reporting in Washington, D.C.
O’Reilly claimed Corn “is a hatchet man, you know he is, he’s an apparachnik.”
Finally O’Reilly attacked CNN’s Brian Stelter for being “far left” for covering the Mother Jones claims.
“These guys wanna come after me? I’m here.”
“None of the stories mentions O’Reilly, then a young CBS reporter, or makes any specific reference to a CBS crew member being hurt,” the AP said.
The videos didn’t “resolve the issue of whether his retellings of the experience have been completely factual,” the AP further added.
David Zurawik, media critic for the Baltimore Sun, wrote: “These are serious charges flying back and forth – charges that can tarnish and maybe ruin reputations. O’Reilly shared assessments and words about performances of his former colleagues in Argentina that I have only heard network news reporters say among themselves – almost never in public. This is a culture war battle at its most raw-boned, bruising and bloody.”
On Fox News, Zurawik pointed out two key distinctions between this and Brian Williams’ apology:
1. There’s an “ideological component” differentiating this from the Brian Williams incident as Williams was called out by Stars & Stripes and Mother Jones is liberal while O’Reilly is conservative.
2. As NBC Nightly News managing editor, Williams was in a “position of tremendous journalistic responsibility” making editorial decisions whereas O’Reilly’s show “has a very different agenda” and isn’t considered a “journalistic entity”.