"No one expects the truth": The secret to Bill O'Reilly's professional survival

Want to know why Fox News' main bully evades consequences for his constant lies? Those close to him have the answer

Published March 10, 2015 2:29PM (EDT)

  (screenshot/"The O'Reilly Factor")
(screenshot/"The O'Reilly Factor")

This post originally appeared on The BRAD BLOG.

The longtime former host of the Fox "News" media critique program, Fox News Watch, took to CNN on Sunday to blast both Fox and his former colleague Bill O'Reilly during an appearance on Brian Stelter's weekend media show, Reliable Sources.

Eric Burns, who worked at Fox for years before finally leaving in 2008, described the channel as a "cult" of "extreme right", and described O'Reilly as both the leader of that cult and a "liar."

"I think it's astonishing that that's the way they operate," Burns said, describing Fox' failure to take any action against their prime time star in light of documented evidence that O'Reilly wholly mischaracterized and/or blatantly lied about his coverage of the Falklands Warbombings in Northern Ireland, the murder of nuns in El Salvador, and the suicide of a key player in the JFK assassination saga, to name just a few cases recently brought to light by others in the non-wingnut media.

Burns went on to describe [video posted in full below] how O'Reilly has been caught telling "numerous lies" over the years by, among others, former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann who used "all the evidence possible" to detail the fabrications. But, he explained, because the lies were told at Fox, nobody cared.

"No one expects much out of O'Reilly as a Fox News host," said Burns. "No one expects the truth."

The way to understand what is going on right now at Fox in the wake of the allegations against O'Reilly, Burns explained, "is to make a distinction between the words 'culture' and 'cult.'"

The man who, for a decade, hosted his own weekly show on FNC, described the people who watch the channel as "cultish".

"For many years, conservatives have been extremely upset in this country because the only newscasts they had to watch were liberal --- you people at CNN and how liberal you are, and NBC and ABC and CBS --- and they never had, the extreme right, they never had their own television station. When they got one, their appreciation, their audience loyalty --- and I know what the audience loyalty was like when I was there --- their audience loyalty soared."

"And, so, O'Reilly, as the head of the cult, is not held to the same standards as [NBC News'] Brian Williams, who was part of the media culture, the larger culture," said Burns.

"Every time, it seems, that O'Reilly lies --- and, he's lied so many times," charged Burns, the fabrications were often documented by Olbermann, whose Countdown program ran opposite The O'Reilly Factor on Fox for years.

"Every time there was a charge that was made by Olbermann about something that O'Reilly had said or done that was a complete fabrication...it was completely substantiated. I mean Olbermann had all the evidence possible."

Stelter was curious how Burns handled working with O'Reilly in the same building during all of those years.

"Well, since he was so unfriendly," Burns replied, "it was easy to handle. I'd run into him occasionally. I'd say 'Hi, Bill', and without deigning to call me by name, he'd say 'Hi.' That's how I handled it. That was it."

Stelter then asked about his earlier assertion that Fox "caters to the extreme right."

"I thought that as Fox got more and more popular, that Roger Ailes, who runs the network, would think: 'Well, the Right has nowhere else to go, so if I move a little more to the center, I can get a bigger audience and not lose my core audience'," said Burns. "He did just the opposite. He went more to the right."

He went on to say that most of the charges being detailed now by the mainstream media are from matters that occurred when O'Reilly was a CBS News reporter decades ago.

"No one expects much out of O'Reilly as a Fox News host," said Burns. "No one expects the truth. He's been caught in numerous lies and those have never been a story."

"We have a story now for two reasons. One is context --- Brian Williams has set up the media to be looking for things like this. And the second reason is that O'Reilly did what he was supposed to have done, when he was with CBS. It doesn't matter that he does it with Fox. But when he did it with one of the major networks, the attempt is to make more of a story out of it. Yet, the cult, the Fox News cult --- to the Fox News cult --- this kind of thing doesn't matter."

Fox viewers see it all as little more than "a lie from the 'liberal media'. Who cares what it is? The point is, it doesn't matter."

As for those who run Fox, and their failure to substantively address the documented facts about their star anchor: "They're not addressing the controversy. If you're charged with lying and you say 'our ratings are up', you're not answering the question of whether or not you told a lie. I think it's astonishing that that's the way they operate."

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The segment with former Fox "News" host Eric Burns on CNN's Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter, follows in full below.

By Brad Friedman

Investigative journalist and broadcaster Brad Friedman is the creator and publisher of The BRAD Blog. He has contributed to Mother Jones, The Guardian, Truthout, Huffington Post, The Trial Lawyer magazine and Editor & Publisher.

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