The 3 Major Questions That Will Decide the Bill O'Reilly Controversy

A look at O'Reilly claims about reporting from a "war zone."

Bill O�Reilly onstage at O'Reilly Vs. Stewart 2012: The Rumble In The Air-Conditioned Auditorium at Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University on October 6, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Photographer: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Rumble 2012)

The brouhaha over Bill O'Reilly's 1982 reporting for CBS News on the Falklands War has escalated yet again. After he got thrown back from using New York Times coverage of the events to defend himself, O'Reilly issued a "threat" to a different Times journalist that he would come after her "with everything" he had if her coverage wasn't fair.

Did the Fox News star embellish or fabricate? That comes down to three major questions.

1. Did O'Reilly report 'on the ground' or in a 'war zone'?

What he said:

O'Reilly certainly claimed to have reported on the war from the islands themselves in the past: "I've reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falkland Islands," O'Reilly wrote in his 2001 book, The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America, according to CNNMoney, having repeated the notion that he was in "a combat situation" or "in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands" over the years. 

What we know so far:

  • All the players, including O'Reilly himself, now agree that he covered the aftermath of the war between Britain and Argentina from Buenos Aires, some 1,200 away from the Falkland Islands.
  • Mother Jones, the liberal magazine that first questioned O'Reilly's experience, also detailed the strict control the combatants exerted over the Falkland Islands, such that no journalists from U.S. outlets got in during the conflict.

2. How serious was the violence in Buenos Aires?

What he said:

O'Reilly has also detailed the protests he covered in Buenos Aires, where demonstrations erupted after Argentina surrendered on June 14, 1982. "They were doing real bullets," he said in a 2009 TV interview. "They were just gunning these people down, shooting them down in the street." He wrote, also in his The No Spin Zone, that "many were killed," according to CNNMoney.

What we know so far:

  • That the protests occurred after the surrender means, at the very least, O'Reilly wasn't in a technical "war zone" on that day—in Buenos Aires or anywhere else—as he claimed in 2001.
  • No media accounts of fatalities have been uncovered, although O'Reilly has blamed this on the Argentine junta's media blackout, and no witnesses have come forward claiming any.
  • Author Federico G. Lorenz, who has written a great deal about the war, rebuffed the claim of fatalities in an email to the Washington Post. "As far as I know, there were no people killed at the protests," he wrote, "people slightly injured due to gasses and anti riot munition, but not dead people."
  • It was violent, to be sure: Amateur video that the Post found shows fires, arrests, and what appear to be police firing into the crowd, but CBS News broadcasts from the following days, which O'Reilly excerpted on his show on Monday evening, say these were not "real bullets." It mentions only "guns that fired tear gas and plastic bullets."

3. Did his photographer get injured?

What he said:

Finally, O'Reilly wrote in his book that, in "war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands," his "photographer got run down and then hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete."

What we know so far:

  • O'Reilly's CBS colleagues at the time came down hard on this claim. Eric Engberg, who has been highly critical of O'Reilly, wrote on Facebook that neither the CBS bureau chief at the time, "who would have been immediately informed of injury to any CBS personnel, nor anyone else who was working the story remembers a cameraman being injured that night. No one who reported back to our hotel newsroom after the disturbance was injured; if a cameraman had been 'bleeding from the ear' he would have immediately reported that to his superiors at the hotel."
  • But contemporary accounts suggest this could be true: "Some television crew members were knocked to the ground," CBS Anchor Dan Rather said in introducing the report from Buenos Aires back in 1982.
  • The cameraman has been identified as Roberto Moreno. He has so far declined to speak about the incident.
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