bill v jon
Bill O'Reilly prepares for a debate with talk-show rival Jon Stewart Getty Images / Jamie McCarthy

Accusations of dishonest reporting brought by left-leaning news outlet Mother Jones against Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly were bolstered in the past week, as former colleagues attested to his hand-off reporting style in conflict zones. Many of his alleged falsehood center on exaggerated reporting in Latin America and in Latino communities including El Salvador, Argentina, and Los Angeles.

O’Reilly has suffered occasional attacks on his journalistic honesty for years, but the recent scandal involving NBC’s Brian Williams -- in which the anchor erroneously claimed to have been in a helicopter that came under fire in Iraq -- have fueled media attention on the Fox news anchor’s record. The original Mother Jones article, entitled “Bill O'Reilly Has His Own Brian Williams Problem” was published on Feb. 19th by David Corn and Daniel Schulman.

Bill O’Reilly, the right-wing invective machine, denounced his accusers on his show, calling Corn a “guttersnipe” and a “liar,” while allegedly threatening New York Times Reporter following up on the story. O’Reilly fans at CPAC defended him, and the right-leaning Breitbart news site dissected the Mother Jones article, concluding that “upon examination, MoJo has not presented evidence that O’Reilly did anything wrong.” Officials at Fox News called some of the accusations “nothing more than an orchestrated campaign by far left advocates,” but admitted that others had some truth to them.

El Salvador

O’Reilly claimed on multiple occasions that he witnessed human rights abuses during the El Salvadoran Civil War while working for CBS in 1981. In a 2005 radio broadcast he claimed that he’d seen “guys gun down nuns in El Salvador.” During a 2012 television program, he claimed to have seen “nuns get shot in the back of the head,” referring to a quadruple murder committed by Salvadoran military forces. His comments weren’t limited to off-the-cuff live outbursts. In his book, Keep it Pithy, he claimed to have "seen soldiers gun down unarmed civilians in Latin America.”

O’Reilly now admits -- or clarifies -- that he was merely one of a few “reporters [who were] shown horrendous images of violence that were never broadcast,” and not a witness, as many inferred.


Mother Jones’ meta-reporting on O’Reilly argues that the news anchor’s “clarifications” of his alleged exaggerations are not apologies but negotiated falsehoods.

“For years, O'Reilly has said that he reported from the war zone ‘in the Falklands’ during the 10-week war between Britain and Argentina in 1982. But after our article [on the subject] appeared, O'Reilly conceded he was never on or near the remote Falkland Islands where the fighting occurred.”

Instead, says Corn, O’Reilly clarified his “war zone” statement by saying that he was referring to violent protests in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, hundreds of miles from the literal war zone hundreds of miles off the Argentine mainland. Whether or not the anchor’s statements are misleading, Corn argues that even the “clarification” is false. That’s because O'Reilly's statement makes specifics claims about the protest: that there was a massacre, that live rounds were fired, and specific threats were made against his crew.

“His own real-time coverage of the protest [...] makes no mention of a massacre or threats to him and his crew,” he wrote, in an article co-authored by Schulman. In the article, the writers include a video from from the protest, which mentions police violence, but not bullets, and injuries to journalists, but not threats to his crew.

The LA Riots

Six former colleagues of O’Reilly’s contradicted the anchor’s claims about dangers faced while covering the LA riots that followed the Rodney King beating in 1992. Specifically, O’Reilly claimed that his crew had been “attacked by protesters,” who had concrete “raining down on us.” An investigation by The Guardian offers proof that the protesters in O’Reilly’s stories were not threatening life and limb, but that the real altercation might have been a reaction to the anchor, not the Rodney King beating. In fact, multiple members of the team claim that a single object was thrown by local resident who was angry at O’Reilly’s insensitivity to the devastation of the neighborhood.

“The guy was watching us and getting more and more angry,” said said Rick Kirkham, the lead reporter on O’Reilly’s crew. “Bill was being Bill – complaining ‘people are in my eye line’ – and kind of being very insensitive to the situation.” A single brick -- or possibly a piece of concrete -- was thrown, but it was not an attack, said Kirkham. “Oh my God. That is a completely fictitious story. Nothing ever rained down on us.”

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