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Why Bill O'Reilly Will Skate

Bill O'Reilly's lying is at least as great a breach of journalistic ethics as any untrue utterance from Brian Williams. But O'Reilly will emerge from this without a scratch, while the career of Williams will probably never recover.
Why Bill O'Reilly Will Skate
Image from: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

At Mother Jones, David Corn and Daniel Schulman have published a thorough, extremely well researched story proving that Bill O'Reilly has lied for years when he's claimed to have experienced "combat" as a reporter in a "war zone" during the Falklands War. O'Reilly did cover the war for CBS News, but from Buenos Aires; as Corn and Schulman note, the Falkland Islands, where combat in the war actually took place, are "300 miles off Argentina's shore and about 1,200 miles south of Buenos Aires." Being in Buenos Aires and saying you saw combat in the Falklands is like saying you witnessed the Bay of Pigs invasion because you happened to be in Key West at the time.

This lie -- and O'Reilly has lied repeatedly -- is at least as great a breach of journalistic ethics as any untrue utterance from Brian Williams. But O'Reilly will emerge from this without a scratch, while the career of Williams will probably never recover.

Maybe you're thinking, Really? It seems bizarre that O'Reilly would survive unscathed, given how much the mainstream media hates Fox News. But that's a fallacy: The mainstream media doesn't hate Fox News. If anything, the mainstream media treats the Murdoch media with kid gloves.

Part of this is fear: The Murdoch press doesn't take this sort of attack lightly. If the story does have legs, the fight won't be over the facts of the story.

Already we see Fox house "media critic" Howard Kurtz firing a warning shot. He claims that the Corn/Schulman story "appears to turn on semantics" and has an "adversarial tone"; he notes that Corn is "also an MSNBC contributor" and says, insinuatingly, that "Corn was a Fox News contributor, from 2001 to 2008," but his "contract was not renewed."

This is a love tap, but it hints at the sort of back-alley mugging that's coming if the story stays in the news. If O'Reilly is somehow put on the defensive for more than a news cycle or two, every real or faux scandal in the professional history of Corn, Schulman, Mother Jones, and MSNBC will be unearthed. If it's possible to suggest guilt by association, that will be suggested. This will be war.


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But it's unlikely that we'll get to that point. The rest of the media won't pile on O'Reilly the way it piled on Williams.

The Williams pile-on was, in large part, a product of mainstream media self-hate. People in the media know that they often fail to inform, that they provide more and more fluff and less and less substance; they also know that they're regularly pummeled by the right for being an insular cabal with a political bias. So they turned on one of their own to show that, while they may be schlockmeisters, at least they don't circle the wagons to protect members of the clique. The refs have been successfully worked; they agree with right-wing critiques of one of their own.

The folks in the mainstream press won't hold O'Reilly to the same standard because he and his defenders will shout and bray and beat their chests, and the MSM will shrink back from this dominance challenge. O'Reilly's doing that already:

In a series of scathing interviews last night, O'Reilly declared that Corn, Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief, is a "far-left assassin," a "guttersnipe liar," and a "disgusting piece of garbage" who authored "a politically motivated hit piece." ...

In one interview with TVNewser, he even appeared to threaten Corn, saying, "When everybody writes the truth, I've talked to about eight or nine reporters, and when they verify what I'm saying, because it's easily verifiable, then I expect David Corn to be in the kill zone. Where he deserves to be."

The mainstream media actually respects bullyboy tactics like this. This kind of thuggish behavior seems to have worked extraordinarily well for Murdoch for decades, especially for Fox News since its inception -- Murdoch is thriving while other media operations are dying, and Fox always dominates the ratings. The rest of the press envies and respects Murdoch & Co. for this. What's regarded as unethical at other journalists' news organizations is "colorful" or "audacious" in Murdoch Land. It's "swagger." It's old-fashioned Front Page bare-knuckle toughness. No one's going to hold these guys to journalistic standards -- they're mas macho.

O'Reilly should suffer consequences, of course. I'd argue that he should suffer more than Williams because the nightly news broadcast over which Williams presided until recently was so insubstantial that it has no influence on the national discussion of serious issues. O'Reilly's program, by contrast, has a tremendous influence on that discussion, as do all the Fox prime-time programs.

But it doesn't matter. The MSM secretly admires Fox and hates itself. So this won't touch O'Reilly.

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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