Fox News' Bill O'Reilly under fire over ‘combat zone tales’ accusations

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
Just after Bill O’Reilly excoriated NBC’s Brian Williams for fabricating his experiences during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, O'Reilly is now on the defensive himself after a publication questioned his claims of reporting during the Falklands war.

The left-leaning US magazine, Mother Jones, has bomb shelled Fox News by publishing an article that claims talk-show host Bill O’Reilly’s heroic tales of war reporting “don't withstand scrutiny—even claiming he acted heroically in a war zone that he apparently never set foot in.”

The article, entitled “Bill O’Reilly Has His Own Brian Williams Problem,” went on to produce a list of seemingly self-incriminating quotes from the notoriously outspoken Fox host, who has boasted on more than one occasion that he “experienced combat” during the 1982 conflict between England and Argentina.

In April 2013, O'Reilly shared with viewers this harrowing tale of his exploits in the Falklands war:

“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.”

In his 2001 book, The No Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America, which details his stint as a CBS News reporter, O'Reilly writes: "You know that I am not easily shocked. I've reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands."

However, as MJ points out, nowhere in the book does O'Reilly mention experiencing any combat during the Falklands war. In fact, he reportedly arrived in Buenos Aires shortly before the Argentine forces surrendered to the British, ending the 10-week war over control of the islands about 1,200 miles south of Buenos Aires. And judging by one highly respected CBS journalist, nobody from the news channel made landfall on the Falklands.

"Nobody from CBS got to the Falklands," according to veteran CBS reporter Bob Schieffer. "For us, you were a thousand miles from where the fighting was. So we had some great meals."

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The magazine quoted Robert Fox, one of the few British reporters embedded with the British troops: "We were, in all, a party of about 32-34 accredited journalists, photographers, television crew members. We were all white, male, and British. There was no embedded reporter from Europe, the Commonwealth or the US (though they tried hard enough), let alone from Latin America."

Although O’Reilly reportedly didn’t respond to calls for comment from Mother Jones, longtime CBS producer Susan Zirinsky did.

"Nobody got to the war zone during the Falklands war," Zirinsky, who helped manage CBS coverage of the war from Buenos Aires, told MJ. She said the military junta prevented US reporters from reaching the islands: "You weren't allowed on by the Argentinians. No CBS person got there."

As for O’Reilly, Zirinsky says she doesn’t remember what he was doing in Argentina at the time.

Bill O’Reilly has disputed MJ’s claims, telling the Times that the story was “a bunch of garbage.” He denied ever saying he was on the Falkland Islands during the war.

“Everything I’ve said about my career is 100 percent accurate,” he said. “I never said I was on the Falkland Islands. I said I covered the Falklands war, which we all did from Argentina and Uruguay, and I was in both places. There was a combat situation when the Argentines surrendered and thousands of people stormed the president’s palace. The dictator [Leopoldo] Galtieri was trying to kill him. Argentine troops fired into the crowd. I was right in the middle of it.”

But MJ won’t even let O’Reilly claim that magical moment of “major violence up close.”

“O'Reilly's account of the protest in Buenos Aires is at odds with news reports from the time—including the report from his own bureau,” MJ wrote. “The CBS Evening News that night aired about a minute of video of the protest, apparently including some of the footage that O'Reilly and his camera team had obtained….The only act of violence in the spot was a man throwing a punch against the car of a Canadian news crew.”

MJ pulls no punches in its effort to expose O’Reilly’s claims of ‘combat reporting’ as fraudulent.

“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."

The military machismo behind O’Reilly’s claims could be overlooked if not for one thing: He often cites his combat credentials in order to refute the arguments of people who do not agree with his views on foreign policy, which have a tendency to support military adventures.

For instance, on his television show in 1999, O'Reilly responded to comments from a retired Air Force colonel who criticized O'Reilly for supporting NATO military action in Kosovo, by dragging up his Falklands war exploits: "Hey, Colonel, did you ever have a hostile point an M-16 at your head from 10 yards away? That happened to me while I was covering the Falklands war."