There’s been plenty of coverage of Bill O’Reilly and the efforts of critics to tie him into the same sort of scandal which engulfed Brian Williams recently. Most of these stories center around his experiences covering the action in the Falklands War from Argentina early in his career. While some of the complaints seem to come down to technicalities (as to whether “a war is still a war” after a certain date, or defining it based on riots taking place surrounding the conflict) he was in the thick of things. There is clarification of that issue available here, as Bill never actually referred to the fighting on the islands themselves (which are largely inhabited by sheep) but to the unrest in Argentina and the ensuing violence.
In any event, we’ve seen that everyone’s record in the media is open to scrutiny. O’Reilly seems to have withstood it considerably better than Williams, and that case will only be bolstered by this latest bit of testimony. O’Reilly’s old bosses at the television station in Boston where he worked beginning in 1982 have shared their recollections, and it was actually Bill’s Falklands work that landed him the job.
Bill O’Reilly’s dramatic accounts of covering the Falklands War as a young journalist have been challenged by competitors and former colleagues, prompting questions about the Fox News host’s credibility.
But in 1982, O’Reilly’s reporting from a protest in Buenos Aires, 1,200 miles from military action on the Falkland Islands, impressed television executives in Boston enough to help him land a high-paying job at Channel 7 later that year.
“We were looking at hundreds of audition tapes, and this one stood out for precisely that episode,” said Bill Applegate, then the station’s vice president of news.
Applegate and Nick Lawler, the Channel 7 news director in 1982, said that to the best of their recollection, the audition tape they received 33 years ago included clips of O’Reilly’s Falklands coverage and that his gritty on-the-ground reporting made the Boston University graduate seem like a perfect fit for WNEV-TV (now WHDH-TV).
O’Reilly had left CBS in a huff — upset that some of his footage from the demonstration in Buenos Aires had been commandeered for a report by veteran journalist Bob Schieffer — and Applegate and Lawler jumped at the chance to hire a reporter with network experience.
Both of the executives were recent hires at the time, brought in to elevate the third-place station’s ratings. Applegate had quickly become known in local TV circles for a large sign he posted in the newsroom, which read, “This is War.” Channel 7 made the 32-year-old O’Reilly a weekday reporter and weekend anchor, giving him a two-year contract worth about $200,000 a year, according to Applegate. It was big money in the early ’80s.
There’s more at the link, but I’m not going to expand on the story all that much here. Mostly this serves as background information for those of you following the “controversy” and wishing to discuss it here. The folks who knew and worked with O’Reilly personally, both during and after his experiences in the Falklands, didn’t seem to have any qualms about the veracity and quality of his reporting or his work afterward. But the entire Brian Williams saga has opened up an era of investigation of the investigators and reporters. That’s not a bad thing. It’s always worth looking to see if we’re being fed a bill of goods. But we also shouldn’t be too quick to try to gin up a scandal unless the actual record merits it.