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Tuesday 24 February 2015

Falklands Reporter Wasn’t There

Becoming part of the story is bad for anyone who is meant to be bringing news to readers or viewers. Being dishonest about reporting is perhaps even worse, which is what happened recently to Brian Williams, long time regular anchor of NBC Nightly News, the USA’s top rated evening news programme. Williams had been in Iraq at the time of the US invasion, and claimed his helicopter had been hit by gunfire.
The problem was that it apparently hadn’t been hit, and Williams has now been suspended without pay for six months. NBC management are livid that his “mis-speak” has not just damaged his own credibility, but theirs. Those actions also laid NBC open to knocking copy from elsewhere, and there was no more gleeful dispenser of this than Bill O’Reilly, top rated host at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

There it was on the screen when O’Reilly did his Talking Points Memo: “Brian Williams, the press and you … if you can’t trust a news anchor or commentator, then you’re not going to watch that person”. There is only one problem for Bill-O here, though, and that is that his own backstory is now being pored over. And it looks very much as if he has done much worse than Williams - in a way that Brits will immediately understand.

In the 1982 Falklands conflict, as Robert Fox recalled, “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”. For Bill O’Reilly, though, this was a mere detail.

I was in a situation one time, in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands … I've reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands … I've been there. The Falklands, Northern Ireland, the Middle East … Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash”. But Bill-O only got to Buenos Aires - 1,200 miles from the Falklands.

And even then, his recollection of the street protests that followed were, shall we say, at variance with those of his fellow CBS correspondents, whom he later claimed had been scared to go out and had stayed in their hotel. On top of that, O’Reilly failed to tell that the reason he left Buenos Aires and returned to the USA was that the CBS head man threw him out. He left CBS’ employ very soon afterwards.

Would you trust a news anchor or host who told such a flagrant load of whoppers? Neither would I. So have Fox News suspended Bill-O? No they haven’t: thus far there has been a mixture of management maintaining radio silence, and freely dispensed abuse aimed at anyone giving O’Reilly a less than fawning reference. The impression is given that it’s one rule for Fox News, and another for those they mock.

And as Bill-O is their top rated host by some way, Fox will be most reluctant to yield.

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