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Fox Defends Bill O'Reilly's Account Of Falklands Conflict


Let's hear now about TV news anchors and their war experience. It's a topic that keeps resurfacing this month. First, it was "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams, given a six-month suspension for falsifying a story about being shot down in a helicopter during the invasion of Iraq. Now it is Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's turn. He's being accused of embellishing his war reporting experience during the Falklands conflict. In a typical Bill O'Reilly fashion, he's not taking these accusations lying down. For more, we're joined from New York by NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: So let's talk about Bill O'Reilly. Tell us the details.

FOLKENFLIK: O'Reilly is accused by Mother Jones magazine - a left-of-center publication to be sure - of hyping up the kinds of experiences he had briefly as a war reporter for CBS News, 1982. It was when Britain was at war with Argentina. He was down there in Buenos Aires and other parts of Argentina and described himself as being in the war zone. He was in Buenos Aires when some pretty intense protests broke out. He said in public settings that many people were killed, and he talked about dragging a CBS News cameraman to safety after being badly injured.

O'Reilly's former CBS colleagues have said they have no recollection, knowledge or evidence that any such injury occurred to a CBS cameraman. The man believed to be the one at stake has not commented publically about this. In addition, those riots - there's no evidence, either from the footage of the era or public records or newspaper accounts or my talking to people down there who were present at those protests, that anyone was killed in them. So it's -Mother Jones is making the case that - like recently what happened to Brian Williams, that Bill O'Reilly has inflated the kind of peril he faced while in, if not the combat zone itself as O'Reilly seemingly said, certainly in a country that was at war. These protests broke out because people were angry that the ruling junta seemed to have lost this war to the British.

MONTAGNE: And Fox is backing Bill O'Reilly in aggressively defending his account of things.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, Fox's defense and O'Reilly in particular's defense - he's their top-rated host; he's the top-rated host in all of cable news to be honest. Fox's defense is to go on offense. And he's attacked his critics. He called David Corn of Mother Jones a guttersnipe and suggested that Corn was motivated by the fact that some years ago his contract with Fox to be a liberal commentator there was not renewed.

He even threatened The New York Times's reporter Emily Steel. He said, you know, I'm going to come after you with everything I've got if I don't like how you report on this, and you can take that as a threat. So he's going on the attack. And he's also saying, look, I never said I was actually on the Falkland Islands themselves. He never said that he was at war, which was basically fought at sea and on the islands. He said that he did have this experience with a cameraman and that he got it right.

MONTAGNE: And Fox is behind O'Reilly here in this aggressive defense of his account of things. What's the strategy there?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Fox's audience is very loyal. And baked into the Fox model is the idea that the rest of the media will mislead or lie to the public, so that if people are criticizing O'Reilly, like his former CBS colleagues or reporters from CNN or The New York Times or NPR or other places, he'll say, well, that's what they're organized and destined to do is to attack us at Fox. We're the truth tellers. And in addition, any kind of fracas about media credibility ultimately redounds the model that the chairman of Fox News, Roger Ailes, created, which is to cast doubt on the veracity and reliability of the media more generally.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.


MONTAGNE: David Folkenflik, NPR media correspondent, speaking to us from New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.