When you host the most-watched cable news show and do it on the Fox News Channel, you’ve got to expect your share of brickbats from the left. So it was not terribly surprising that in the wake of the Brian Williams scandal, some on the left would seek to take down someone on the right, especially one of the stars of the dominant cable news channel that liberals love to hate. But as much as the commentary about this non-scandal that is being hyped as one has understandably revolved around Bill O’Reilly and his incendiary personality, it has little to do with him and everything to do with the antagonism that the left feels toward his network.
Despite the attention being lavished on this story by Fox rival CNN, there’s not all that much here to unwrap. The story published by Mother Jones magazine has an inflammatory headline comparing O’Reilly to Brian Williams, but even if you take the piece at face value—which is unjustified by its clear bias and use of innuendo—the comparison is pure hyperbole. There’s no dispute about O’Reilly being on the scene in Buenos Aires as riots convulsed Argentina as the Falklands War came to a disastrous end for that country. Nor is there are real dispute that those riots were violent and that people were shot there. The only possible point on which O’Reilly can be called out is whether reporting from Argentina can be termed “war reporting” or “combat” since he was not in the Falklands but rather on the Argentina home front.
It is, at best, a semantic point. Especially since there was no frontline war reporting going on as there were no journalists with the combatants. Perhaps it does count as an exaggeration of some sort. But surely O’Reilly is right when he says that he was sent to Buenos Aires to cover the war, not to do a travel feature. This was not frontline reportage but suffice it to say that when someone is shooting in your vicinity, it is entirely understandable if you think that feels like combat. Though reporting on the mayhem in that city as the country unraveled may not make him another Ernie Pyle or the moral equivalent of the late Michael Kelly or the other intrepid journalists who were embedded with U.S. troops during the invasion of Iraq, neither does it merit any comparisons with Williams or anyone else who embroidered stories out of whole cloth.
As for the claims that he exaggerated his experiences during the riots, there’s not much to this either. No one denies he was there in the thick of it during the riots. As O’Reilly said on Howard Kurtz’s Reliable Sources show yesterday on Fox, the prime witness against him there is former CBS colleague Eric Engberg, a longtime antagonist whom O’Reilly has already publicly accused of “bigfooting”—a practice by which big names parachute into a story that was reported by another journalist and take all the credit. As O’Reilly says, there’s no proof that Engberg was on the scene of the action which he now says was no big deal even though CBS ran O’Reilly’s footage. Taken in perspective, it’s obvious the sources of the attack on O’Reilly are more interested in settling scores with the abrasive host than in maintaining any sort of standard of journalism.
So as much as a lot of people would have been delighted to learn that O’Reilly’s claims about Argentina were faked, there’s not much smoke to this story, let alone fire. But what is interesting about the whole thing is the way CNN has latched on to it and reported it relentlessly as if it were another cop shooting a black youth in Ferguson, Missouri, even as the rest of the liberal mainstream media largely passed on it.
CNN’s motives here are as transparent as that of Engberg. It’s been a long time since CNN was the dominant cable news network. Currently Fox’s viewership in almost every hour of the day exceeds the combined audience of CNN and MSNBC. Their effort to take down the leading prime time host on FOX, even if his show is opinion rather than hard news like Williams’s NBC broadcast, shows how desperate the network is to destroy its rival.
As we have come to see, Fox isn’t just the most-watched cable news outlet. It is the scapegoat for all of the anger harbored by both liberal journalists and politicians toward those who question their policies. It is no accident that both President Obama and Attorney General Holder regularly use Fox as a punch line in their speeches to tame liberal audiences. It is not so much an antagonist as it often pursues negative story lines about the administration that mainstream liberals ignore as it is a metaphor for the Democrats’ inability to silence dissent against their beloved president or his policies.
Fox’s conservative bias is no secret, though it is far more balanced at times than the openly and almost uniformly left-wing voices heard on MSNBC and often fairer than the supposedly down-the-middle CNN. The channel’s popularity is a function of the fact that almost half the country feels disenfranchised by mainstream outlets that cover up their liberal tilt with a veneer of faux objectivity.
This motive wouldn’t protect O’Reilly if he was actually caught in a Williams-style lie. But he wasn’t, so the intense focus on him on CNN tells us more about liberal resentment than it does about his supposedly fast-and-loose style.
Perhaps O’Reilly would be better off just ignoring the attacks as pinpricks from a jealous rival. But it’s hard to blame him for defending his reputation, especially when characters like Engberg are concerned. But though his furious response may have given this story some extra life, all it really has done is give us another opportunity to ponder the left’s pointless Fox obsession.