After getting away with stolen valor for years, Bill O’Reilly’s repeated claims of ‘combat experience’ during the Falklands War are finally catching up with him. Eric Engberg, a retired CBS correspondent who covered the same events in Argentina, accused O’Reilly of embellishing events to puff himself up — and he’s just one of seven former colleagues making that claim. But Andrew Wallenstein, co-editor of Variety, points out a glaring difference in the way O’Reilly has handled the scandal versus how Brian Williams dealt with accusations that he fabricated an incident during the 2003 invasion of Iraq:
Had (O’Reilly) simply engaged in the kind of character assassinations he’s attempting on (writer David) Corn and his former colleagues, he would have seemed just petty. But the Fox anchor has gone above and beyond the name-calling to address the specificity of the charges. Whether you believe him or not is one thing, but the fact that he’s bothering to rebut details counts.
It doesn’t matter that O’Reilly was mounting a defense while Williams was issuing an apology. Either way, it’s important to display a true reckoning with the particulars of the charges.
That said, style matters just as much as substance in crisis management, and that’s where O’Reilly excels as well. The sheer ubiquity of the man since Mother Jones leveled the charges sends a message irrespective of his words: he feels he has no wrongdoing to hide. If public figures should take away anything from his handling of the situation, it’s that.
Despite this bravado, Bill O’Reilly is swiftly losing any respect he still had among his peers, and his power to shame people with a wag of his finger is being severely compromised. Reduced to semantic spin, O’Reilly now claims that an ugly 1982 protest he covered in Buenos Aires was a “combat situation,” and that he was forced to pull his cameraman to safety.
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.
While none of his colleagues recollects an injured cameraman that day, the person in question has since been identified as Robert Moreno, who has so far declined to comment on the matter. So if Bill O’Reilly really wants to make this whole thing go away in one fell swoop, all he has to do is convince Mr. Moreno to appear on his show and back up his version of events. That should be easy enough for Mr. Fairness and Balance, shouldn’t it?