Despite Furious Objections, Bill O'Reilly's War Claims Warrant Scrutiny The Fox News star's claims of reporting from a war zone, bullets flying, during the Falklands War don't appear to hold up. His countercampaign against his accusers is noteworthy as well.
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Despite Furious Objections, Bill O'Reilly's War Claims Warrant Scrutiny

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Despite Furious Objections, Bill O'Reilly's War Claims Warrant Scrutiny

Despite Furious Objections, Bill O'Reilly's War Claims Warrant Scrutiny

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly is facing criticism that echoes the NBC Brian Williams situation. There are claims that O'Reilly inflated his experiences covering conflict several decades ago. O'Reilly is vigorously defending himself and as NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, the accusations against O'Reilly are more ambiguous than those against Williams.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: It's been a point of pride for Bill O'Reilly that he knows conflict, as he told a local Hamptons TV interviewer in 2009.

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O'REILLY: That's what really separates me from most of these other bloviaters. I bloviate, but, you know, I bloviate about stuff I've seen.

FOLKENFLIK: He spoke most dramatically of his time covering of the Falklands War from Argentina. He had done so earlier at the National Press Club in 2008, talking about the angry protests that erupted in June 1982 as the war was lost.

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O'REILLY: So anyway, all hell breaks loose. The people start to storm the Casa Rosada. The Argentine troops shoot the people down in the street. They shoot them down. It's not like, rubber bullets or gas. People are dying, all right?

FOLKENFLIK: O'Reilly was a reporter for CBS at the time.

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O'REILLY: It's unbelievable. I mean, people just falling - bing, bing, bing, bing, bing. Soldier runs down the street. I'm there. A photographer gets trampled, all right? So he's on the ground. I grab him and a camera, drag him into a doorway.

FOLKENFLIK: Where O'Reilly says a young soldier pointed a rifle and made him fear for his life. Now O'Reilly is in a different kind of crossfire. Mother Jones, a left-of-center magazine, challenged his accounts in these public appearances, in a book and even on his Fox News program three decades later. They interviewed CBS colleagues who said O'Reilly had greatly inflated the danger he had faced in Buenos Aires, far from where the conflict was waged. O'Reilly has not taken that challenge quietly.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR")

O'REILLY: Tonight, as you may know, some left-wing zealots have attacked me, your humble correspondent. They say I trumped-up my war experiences in the Falklands conflict and in El Salvador.

FOLKENFLIK: That, from last night's "O'Reilly Factor." In his defense, O'Reilly broadcast excerpts of CBS footage. This next voice belongs to former anchor Dan Rather.

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DAN RATHER: The demonstrator, as many as 5,000 of them, began screaming traitor, traitor, and, this is the end of the military dictatorship. Police moved in with clubs and tear gas. They dispersed the crowd. Some television crew members were knocked to the ground.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet, none of the footage cites fatalities or an injured CBS cameraman, as O'Reilly had stated. O'Reilly's former CBS colleagues have said they knew of no such injury to a crew member, and Argentine historians and journalists tell NPR and other news outlets that there's no record of any fatalities during those riots.

MARVIN KALB: If what he said on air, on a news program, was an exaggeration, that is bad.

FOLKENFLIK: Marvin Kalb is a former CBS and NBC correspondent. He interviewed O'Reilly in 2008 at that National Press Club event.

KALB: If what he said many years later on a talk program recalling a war situation years before and hyped it a bit here and there - well, that to me is not the end of the world.

FOLKENFLIK: Kalb said what Brian Williams did is more serious because Williams told his story on the "Nightly News" itself. Kalb argues that journalists should care about precision off the air too, but says today's connected world of social media has heightened the stakes.

KALB: You had best be supremely careful as a journalist about what it is that you report, and even it what it is that you say about what it is that you reported.

FOLKENFLIK: O'Reilly has warned his journalistic critics that they need to be careful about what they report, too. He even threatened a New York Times reporter that he would blast her with all he had if he didn't like her coverage. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

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