Got a call the other day from my old CBS News colleague, Bill O’Reilly. Although I can’t recall ever having actually seen him around the newsroom during my time there (tall as he is), he was undoubtedly off in some high-risk war zone, not hanging around 524 W. 57 looking to score brownie points with the brass.
Anyway, back to the phone call. “Citizen”, he started off (he’s called me that ever since this column panned his book, “Killing Robespierre”, thereby ruining its chances for a slot on the NYT Best Seller list), “I want to get out in front of this ‘stolen valor’ thing and I’d be grateful to see some plausible ameliorating spin from an influential blogger such as yourself”. “Certainly, Mr. O’Reilly”, I replied (I try to keep my relationships with celebrities formal, so as not to be open to charges of cronyism), “I’ll get my people on it tout de suite.”
After exhaustive research, we managed to unearth this creditable item from The [Racine] Journal Times:
“Is O’Reilly guilty of the same offense as [Brian] Williams, exaggerating the danger he faced while on assignment as a war correspondent? Yes. Does it matter as much? No. Williams is the managing editor of NBC News; he is in charge of a journalistic, news-gathering operation; in effect, the reporter-in-chief. Williams’ factual inaccuracies, especially with regard to a life-or-death situation such as coming under enemy fire in a war zone, damage the credibility of NBC News. Williams is a reporter, obligated to truthfully and accurately report the news. O’Reilly, in contrast, is a commentator; if Fox News were a newspaper, he’d be its star columnist. ”
O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” is, of course, an “all spin all the time zone”, and everybody knows it…fans, foes and frenemies alike. A commentator is not a reporter, and I would apply the same distinction to any of the host of opinion-mongers who post comments on the Internet, including myself.
Not so incidentally, resumé padding by those engaged in the high-stakes pursuit of Fame & Glory in the entertainment industry is hardly unknown, and is rarely punished by more than a slap on the wrist, if even that; so going after a performer (despite his genuine journalistic creds) like O’Reilly seems like selective prosecution.
To those who would have it that this is all an effort by Liberals to bring down FNC’s fattest cash cow, I hasten to concede that they’re almost certainly correct. Meanwhile, anyone who thinks that the Murdoch/Ailes/O’Reilly axis is just going to roll over and apologize, had best not hold his breath; these are guys who bring guns to a knife fight.