Bill O'Reilly has one hell of a mess on his hands. After the left-leaning publication Mother Jones ran a story on Feb. 19, accusing O'Reilly of embellishing his past reporting experience, the conservative talk show host lashed out at his detractors, releasing his own "Talking Points Memo" statement the following day, in which he called Mother Jones' Washington Bureau Chief David Corn "a liar" and a "guttersnipe." O'Reilly refuted Corn and contributor Daniel Schulman's claims that he had padded his resume with insincerities about his reporting in the Falklands war, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland, saying, "Everything I’ve said about my reportorial career — everything — is true. ... Real journalists knew this story was B-S from the jump." Despite the chaos surrounding the conflicting reports, O'Reilly's bosses at the Fox News network are standing by O'Reilly.
In a statement released on Sunday, the network insisted that "CEO Roger Ailes and all senior management are in full support" of O'Reilly, despite several others coming forward since Mother Jones' initial story with their own claims against the host. It's unsurprising that a network which banks so heavily on the success of O'Reilly's show would defend him in the public sphere against those seeking to discredit him. In fact, it's not necessarily the first time they've stepped up (or rather aside) in support of O'Reilly when things have started to go south.
On Tuesday, Huffington Post contributor Amanda Terkel recalled an incident from 2009 where O'Reilly Factor correspondent Jesse Watters confronted her on the street outside her hotel near Washington, D.C. about a piece she had written which cited the host's penchant for shaming rape victims. Terkel, then a blogger with the left-leaning Think Progress, claimed that Watters ambushed her, peppering her with duplicitous questions and demanding an apology for "hurting rape victims."
After inquiring with Fox News officials as to how Watters and the Factor team had found her (Terkel alleged that they would had to have "staked out [her apartment] until [she] left" and then "followed [her] across state lines" before "accosting" her with questions while she was on vacation, Terkel told MSNBC after the incident), the network refused to respond, instead inadvertently propping up both O'Reilly and Watters' gray-area tactics.
Back on Dec. 17, during a Factor interview with Martin Luther King III (the famed civil rights activist's eldest son) about the civil unrest in Ferguson and over the recent police killing of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, O'Reilly implied that, rather than shirts that read "I Can't Breathe," young black Americans should wear shirts that said "Don't get pregnant at 14" to remind them how to live their lives purposefully:
Don't abandon your children. Don't get pregnant at 14. Don't allow your neighborhoods to deteriorate into free-fire zones. That's what the African American community should have on their T-shirts. Am I wrong?
Media outlets pounced, but again, Fox News executives were silent.
More recently, O'Reilly has been more personal in his attacks, verbally threatening New York Times reporter Emily Steel on Monday for covering the Mother Jones scandal. O'Reilly warned the reporter that he would take aggressive action if the coverage was not up to par with his standards or defamatory or "inappropriate" in any way, telling her, "I am coming after you with everything I have — you can take it as a threat."
O'Reilly's attempts at diverting the conversation away from his record may very well be the actions of a man who is telling the truth. In a perfect world, it would be easier to give the longtime host and successful reporter a pass and the benefit of the doubt — the rest of his curriculum vitae reads elegantly, after all. But so long as Fox News executives silence their opponents and so long as O'Reilly continues to petulantly claw at those with whom he fundamentally disagrees, his media counterparts will assume the worst and push for the truth, no matter how far down they have to dig.
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