It’s a dangerous time to be on television. Big-time TV stars are keeling over, left and right. First, NBC’s Brian Williams, caught in a lie. And now Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. With one big difference: Nobody suspected Williams was a liar; everybody knew O’Reilly was.
If nothing else, Bill O’Reilly, the arrogant, loudmouth bully and host of ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ is a television phenomenon. The heart of Fox News’ nightly line-up since 1996, the ‘Factor’ is consistently, year in and year out, the highest-rated program of all three cable television networks, averaging three million viewers.
O’Reilly has repeatedly, on air and in print, told two big lies about his previous experience as a correspondent for CBS News: claiming he once reported from a ‘war zone,’ and claiming he had lived through ‘combat experience.’ But for O’Reilly, the problem is: Neither statement is true.
Did O’Reilly, as he has repeatedly claimed, report from the ‘war zone’ during the 1982 conflict between England and Argentina over the Falkland Islands? No! As reported by Corn and Schulman, O’Reilly, like every other American reporter, spent all his time in Buenos Aires, 1,200 miles away from the fighting.
What about his second bragging point? Did O’Reilly have any direct combat experience? No, again. O’Reilly describes covering an anti-military protest in Buenos Aires as the equivalent of combat experience because, he says, it turned so violent.
Again, sounds bad, but it never happened. Yes, there was a riot. Yes, there were rocks thrown, a couple of buses torched, and some windows broken. But there was no evidence of live ammunition being used by police, and no reports of fatalities.
Caught in his own lie, O’Reilly refused to apologize. Instead, he insisted that every word he said about reporting from the war zone was true.
What fate awaits Bill O’Reilly? Will he also be suspended without pay for lying to his audience? Don’t hold your breath. Because, unlike Brian Williams, O’Reilly is not a news anchor, he’s a cable TV professional provocateur. And because, unlike NBC, Fox News is not a news organization, it’s a propaganda machine.