Howie Kurtz spins for O'Reilly: Fox News' media reporter explains away O'Reilly's "war zone" lies

Bill O'Reilly is being called out for lying about his war reporting, but Howard Kurtz argues it's all "semantics"

Published February 20, 2015 4:22PM (EST)

           (Wikimedia/David Shankbone)
(Wikimedia/David Shankbone)

Mother Jones’ David Corn published a piece yesterday laying out in stark detail what many of us already know: Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly is a self-aggrandizing liar. More specifically, O’Reilly has for years been embellishing his heroic exploits in covering the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and Britain. At various points throughout his career, O’Reilly has boasted of being “in the Falklands” or covering the conflict from the “war zone,” when he actually was in Buenos Aires – over a thousand miles from the fighting. O’Reilly’s exaggerations on this point have featured prominently in past critiques of the man, but they’ve taken on new relevance now that Brian Williams’ career has been derailed by his own wartime reporting fabulism.

For a normal news organization, a report like Corn’s would be a troubling matter that it would investigate immediately. For Fox News, however, Corn’s piece is an act of war against Roger Ailes and the entire Fox News brand, and requires an all-hands-on-deck response. Thus, Fox News media reporter Howard Kurtz, whose job at the network is ostensibly to report on things just like this, instead penned a hackish spin job that violently contorts itself in order to get O’Reilly off the hook.

“The Mother Jones piece appears to turn on semantics,” Kurtz argues, “not some specific story that O’Reilly told about being in the Falklands.” This is false. Among the many pieces of evidence Corn lays out is a story O’Reilly told of how he saved his injured photographer – a story in which he said specifically that he was “in the Falklands.”

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.

Kurtz, however, characterizes this anecdote as O’Reilly simply using the term “Falklands” as “shorthand” for “Argentina.” Per Kurtz: “The dispute comes down to O’Reilly’s shorthand use of the Falklands and the term ‘war zone.’” Typically, the phrase “war zone” is used to describe a “zone” where a “war” is actually happening, but Kurtz apparently adheres to a more expansive definition of the term that allows a journalist who is 1,200 miles from the actual fighting to say he was “on the ground” in the “war zone.” That’s like saying you covered the Battle of Gettysburg "war zone" from a hotel in Dallas, or reported the Normandy landings while on the ground… in Iceland.

It gets even better. Part of O’Reilly’s defense is that he did actually experience danger as a correspondent in Argentina – at a post-war protest in Buenos Aires that turned violent. As O’Reilly describes it: “A major riot ensued and many were killed. I was right in the middle of it and nearly died of a heart attack when a soldier, standing about ten feet away, pointed his automatic weapon directly at my head.” But as Corn lays out, there was rioting at the protest, but there’s no evidence that anyone was killed. O’Reilly just made it up. Kurtz’s reaction? “Corn’s own piece largely backs up O’Reilly’s account of the dangerous situation, except for O'Reilly's recollection that there were fatalities.” Set aside the fact that we’re still not talking about a “war zone,” that’s a pretty big thing to, ahem, misremember.

More broadly speaking, there’s zero reason for Kurtz or anyone to give O’Reilly any benefit of the doubt. He does stuff like this all the time. My favorite O’Reilly moment ever happened in April 2004, over a year after he called for a boycott of France for that country’s refusal to help out with the Iraq invasion. Speaking to a Canadian journalist on his Fox News show, O’Reilly threatened that he’d call for a boycott of Canada as well if they got in the way of the war on terror, and warned that he would destroy the Canadian economy just like he’d done to the French. “They’ve lost billions of dollars in France,” O’Reilly boasted, “according to the Paris Business Review.”

As a matter a fact, France’s economy had not been gutted by O’Reilly, and the “Paris Business Review” does not exist. He made it all up on the spot to make himself seem powerful and important. When his guest called him out on his nonsense, O’Reilly went for broke. “There will be a nationwide boycott,” he said. “Now not every American will participate, but enough to put your country into a recession.”

This is the guy Kurtz is defending. Rather than actually grappling with what Fox News employee Bill O’Reilly has lied about over the years, Kurtz’s opted instead to cast Corn as a nit-picking liberal who is only going after O’Reilly because of ideological animus towards Fox News. Never let it be said that Howard Kurtz isn’t a team player.

By Simon Maloy

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