The Fox News anchor has told numerous media outlets of the experience at the end of the Falklands war – sometimes facing one troop, other times several
Bill O’Reilly has told different versions of an encounter at gunpoint that he claims to have experienced while reporting in Argentina – one involving a single armed soldier and the other detailing several troops.
The Fox News anchor, who has been accused of exaggerating his accounts of wartime coverage, also once said that he was shot at while reporting in the field – a statement he appears not to have repeated in recent years.
Footage emerged on Sunday of the Fox News anchor talking in 2008 about having an M16 rifle pointed at him by a teenage Argentinian soldier, who was 10ft away, while O’Reilly reported on a riot in Buenos Aires at the end of the Falklands war in 1982.
“The guy was about 18, 19 years old,” O’Reilly told interviewer Marvin Kalb in front of an audience. Explaining that he had told the soldier “journalist, don’t shoot” in Spanish, O’Reilly said: “He didn’t shoot me.”
Two years earlier, however, O’Reilly told an interviewer that he had actually faced more than one Argentinian troop who had guns trained on him. O’Reilly estimated that the soldiers had been standing twice as far away as he would state later.
“Argentine soldiers were pointing guns at me ... from 20ft away,” he told an online interviewer. Claiming to have “showed no fear”, O’Reilly said: “They didn’t shoot.”
In the 2008 interview, O’Reilly also claimed to have grabbed a colleague and his camera as the cameraman was trampled by protesters. Yet when telling the story on television the following year in another interview, O’Reilly said that a third member of their team had, in fact, tried to save the equipment.
Fudging the numbers?
In a memoir, O’Reilly described the experience in Buenos Aires as “nearly getting my head blown off”. And in an exchange from his syndicated radio show a decade ago, O’Reilly went further. “People were shooting at me,” he said, while recalling “firefights” he encountered in his work in south and central America.
A spokeswoman for Fox News did not respond to an email seeking comment.
O’Reilly was accused last week by Mother Jones magazine of exaggerating his role in covering the Falklands war as a young correspondent for CBS News. While O’Reilly claims to have reported on the war from a “combat zone”, he remained in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian capital, which was 1,200 miles away from the conflict.
Former CBS colleagues, talking to CNN, disputed O’Reilly’s claim that he dragged a bleeding cameraman to safety during clashes between protesters and government forces following Argentina’s surrender to the UK. Several have said they recall no such incident.
“He has displayed a willingness to twist the truth in a way that seeks to invent a battlefield that did not exist,” Eric Engberg, a CBS colleague in Buenos Aires at the time, wrote in a Facebook post . “He also ought to be ashamed of himself.”
On Sunday, CNN showed archive footage of O’Reilly in 2008 describing an encounter at gunpoint with a single Argentinian soldier during his Buenos Aires assignment. He said this took place immediately after he intervened to rescue the cameraman, Roberto Moreno, who O’Reilly has said was bleeding from an ear.
“The soldier runs down the street,” O’Reilly told Kalb. “I’m there, photographer gets trampled, alright, so he’s on the ground. I grab him and the camera, and drag him into a doorway. The soldier comes up, and he’s standing maybe 10ft away. He’s got the M16 pointed at my head.
“I thought it was over,” O’Reilly continued. “I said ‘periodista, no despare’ – it means ‘journalist, don’t shoot’ – ‘per favore’. The guy was about 18, 19 years old. He didn’t shoot me.”
However, in 2006, O’Reilly was reported to have told journalist Mark “Scoop” Malinowski, of TheBioFile.com , that he faced a threat from multiple soldiers. Asked for a “funny career memory”, O’Reilly was quoted as saying: “In Argentina, covering the Falklands War in 1981 [sic] for CBS News.
“Argentine soldiers were pointing guns at me...from 20 ft away. In Buenos Aires. I just said, ‘Perio dista [sic] no despare.’ Journalist, don’t shoot. Showed no fear. They didn’t shoot.”
‘Sergeant Bill O’Reilly’s Tales of Combat’
During the 2008 interview with Kalb, O’Reilly recalled that during the incident with Moreno, “photographer gets trampled, alright, so he’s on the ground. I grab him and the camera, and drag him into a doorway.” However, during a discussion with Hamptons TV in 2009 , he said that an unnamed soundman had tried to grab the camera after O’Reilly had removed the tape from the device and escaped with the footage and the cameraman.
The spokeswoman for Fox News did not respond to an email asking for an explanation of the discrepancies. She also did not respond to a query over a little-noticed exchange during a broadcast on O’Reilly’s program the Radio Factor, which was first reported in January 2005 by Al Franken, the future US senator for Minnesota, on Franken’s own Air America radio show.
A caller to O’Reilly’s show had questioned the host’s claim of having combat experience. When O’Reilly said that he had been “in the middle of a couple of firefights in south and central America”, the caller – named only as Roger, of Portland, Oregon – pointed out that O’Reilly had been only “a media guy”. O’Reilly replied: “Yeah, a media guy with a pen, not a gun. And people were shooting at me, Roger.”
The excerpt prompted Franken to create a satirical item on his show titled “Sergeant Bill O’Reilly’s Tales of Combat”. An original recording of the program could not be located. The archive for radio programs from January 2005 on O’Reilly’s official website for paying subscribers is empty.
The Guardian could find no other examples of O’Reilly claiming that he himself came under fire in the several other written and spoken accounts he has given of his war-reporting experiences. The Fox News spokeswoman did not respond to a request for other such instances.
In his 2008 memoir, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity, O’Reilly said he had been changed for the better by his experience in Argentina. “After nearly getting my head blown off in Buenos Aires during a riot in front of the presidential palace, I gained a new appreciation for life and an even greater hatred for corruption,” he wrote.
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