Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly has falsely claimed to have reported from war zones and has made a series of exaggerated statements about his career, according to Mother Jones magazine.
The magazine accused O’Reilly of having his “own Brian Williams problem”, after the Fox News host was fiercely critical of NBC News anchor Williams, who was suspended for six months after he made exaggerated statements about his reporting.
Mother Jones said O’Reilly has described being under fire in “war zones” in South America during the 1980s, when in fact he was miles away from any armed conflict.
O’Reilly had “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,” said the magazine.
But “dramatic stories about his own war reporting ... don’t withstand scrutiny” the magazine said, stating O’Reilly had claimed to have behaved “heroically in a war zone that he apparently never set foot in”.
The Washington Post reports that in an interview O’Reilly called the Mother Jones article a slander and labelled its co-author, veteran reporter David Corn, a liar and “a guttersnipe.”
In the interview, O’Reilly denied that he has ever stated he was in the Falklands. He said he had been in Buenos Aires when Argentina surrendered, and thousands of Argentinians stormed the presidential palace in anger over the capitulation. “Troops fired at the crowd. I was in the middle of that carnage,” he said. “In Argentina, I was in combat in the sense that bullets were being fired.”
The Mother Jones claims come after NBC suspended Williams for six months without pay last week after he claimed - among other exaggerations - that he came under fire while flying in a US 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. Williams’s helicopter had not faced an attack, and he apologised to Iraq war veterans saying he had “conflated” his memory of the event with that of another helicopter.
The Mother Jones article says that in 2004 O’Reilly wrote a column about US soldiers fighting in Iraq, in which he said: “Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash.”
It also said that while talking about the Boston marathon bombing in 2013, O’Reilly said: “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.”
But in his own account of his time in Argentina in his 2001 book The No Spin Zone, O’Reilly does not relate his “war zone experience”. Instead, O’Reilly reports that he arrived in Buenos Aires soon before the Argentinian junta surrendered to the British. He does not state that he was on the Falkland Islands, which are 300 miles off Argentina’s shore and about 1,200 miles south of Buenos Aires.
Mother Jones also said O’Reilly exaggerated the violence he saw when reporting from El Salvador during its civil war in 1982. O’Reilly stated in his book that he visited a village that had been “leveled to the ground”, and there was no one “alive or dead”. But in a 90-second report for CBS News, residents could be seen walking around amid a handful of burned-out structures.
O’Reilly responded: “Everything I reported was true.”
Corn, the Mother Jones co-author, said he had attempted to reach O’Reilly before publication of the story on several occasions.
“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,” he said.