Earlier this week, Mother Jones magazine published a story documenting the fact that over the years, O’Reilly has repeatedly claimed to have been in a “war zone” and “combat situation” in his coverage of the Falklands War between Argentina and Great Britain. The problem is, it never happened.
OReilly has told such stories in multiple formats on multiple occasions. In his 2001 book, O’Reilly wrote that “You know that I am not easily shocked. I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falkland Islands ….” In a column in 2004, he wrote about “having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands War.” In 2012 he said on air that “since I covered the Falklands War, Father, I’ve got a little soft spot. You’re out in the middle of nowhere, believe me.” He said on the air in 2013 that “I was in a situation one time in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands …” There are more than a few additional examples, including claims of surviving firefights for which there is no apparent evidence and of having “a hostile point an M-16 at (my) head from 10 yards away”.
But by every account, O’Reilly never got anywhere near the Falklands, an isolated patch of islands where all the ground fighting took place. He wasn’t “out in the middle of nowhere.” He wasn’t “on the ground in an active war zone.” On assignment for CBS, he only got as far as Buenos Aires, a cosmopolitan city of 3 million people that is roughly 1,200 miles away from any place that could legitimately be called a war zone or a combat situation. And even then he arrived as the war was ending.
But compare what he said above to what he said on air Friday night in attempting to rebut the criticism: “I never said I was on the Falkland Islands, as (reporter David) Corn purports. I said I covered the Falklands War, which I did.”
O’Reilly is now basing his defense on the claim that if he didn’t see combat in the Falklands, he did cover a protest in Buenos Aires after the war ended that turned ugly. In his mind, that demonstration was the “war zone”; that was the “combat situation” to which he has referred for so many years.
There are two large problems with that fallback claim. One, a protest gone angry is no more a war zone or combat situation than a cow is a barn. They simply aren’t the same things. The reporters who covered the protests in Ferguson, for example, aren’t now claiming that they’re war correspondents who survived combat in a war zone. They’re not melodramatically commiserating with actual war veterans about the psychological effects of combat — “Adrenaline surges, your senses become very attune, much sharper than they are ordinarily, and you are locked in, focused in, on your survival and achieving the means of staying alive” — as O’Reilly has.
Two, the protest as O’Reilly describes it apparently never took place. He has written that “a major riot ensued and many were killed,” and has called it a “combat situation.” In 2009, he said soldiers “were just gunning these people down, shooting them down in the streets” with “real bullets.”
No news accounts of post-war unrest in the Argentinian or international press, including those to which O’Reilly himself contributed, describe anything like that. Protests occurred, but there is no mention of a single fatality, let alone “many killed”. To bolster his own ego and credibility, O’Reilly has dramatically recast actual events, just as Brian Williams did.
Of course, this isn’t going to have the same impact on O’Reilly and his career that it had on Williams, who has been suspended by NBC for six months. Williams fell from pretty lofty heights, and deservedly so; O’Reilly has just fallen off his barstool, so to speak. He’ll now pick himself up, dust himself off, glower at the snickering clientele and resume his ranting, trying to pretend that he hasn’t lost any of his dignity and credibility.
And to be honest, he probably hasn’t. As that great media critic Muddy Waters used to tell us, you can’t lose what you never had.