The case against Bill O’Reilly’s credibility got more serious yesterday after retired CBS reporter Eric Jon Engberg came forth with his recollections of working with O’Reilly during the Falklands war. I think “withering” would be an apt description.
Much of O’Reilly’s response to a Mother Jones article raising serious questions about the credibility of his claims about reporting from a "war zone," were to accuse the publication of using him as a pawn in its political agenda. It will be much tougher, if not impossible, for O’Reilly to make that same allegation about Engberg, a CBS correspondent for 27 years.
In a lengthy Facebook post, Engberg details O'Reilly's dangerously amateurish and self-promoting behavior during that got him sent out of Argentina. Engberg also tore into O’Reilly’s claims about reporting from a “war zone,” especially his claim of experiencing “major violence up close and personal” and having “nearly died of a heart attack when a soldier, standing about ten feet away, pointed his automatic weapon directly at my head” while covering a Falklands-related riot in Buenos Aires:
The riot around the presidential palace was actually short-lived. It consisted mostly of chanting, fist-shaking and throwing coins at the uniformed soldiers who were assembled outside the palace. I did not see any police attacks against demonstrators.
…O’Reilly has said he was in a situation in Argentina where “my photographer got run down and hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete and the army was chasing us.” The only place where such an injury could have occurred was the relatively tame riot I have described above. Neither Doyle (the bureau chief), who would have been immediately informed of injury to any CBS personnel, nor anyone else who was working the story remembers a cameraman being injured that night. No one who reported back to our hotel newsroom after the disturbance was injured; if a cameraman had been “bleeding from the ear” he would have immediately reported that to his superiors at the hotel. This part of O’Reilly’s Argentina story is not credible without further confirmation, and O’Reilly should identify the cameraman by name so he can be questioned about the alleged injury.
…O’Reilly’s claim that the army fired weapons into the crowd is not supported by anyone’s recollection. Had that happened, I believe, the riot would have escalated into an uncontrollable attack on government buildings all over the capital. Nothing like that happened. Actually, the military chiefs, yielding to the public outcry over the war’s outcome, were willing to give up their offices, which they did the next day.
I am fairly certain that most professional journalists would refer to the story I have just related as “routine reporting on a demonstration that got a little nasty.”
Engberg goes on to say that he does not think O’Reilly’s lie is as big as Brian Williams’ because – unlike Williams – O’Reilly did not claim to be the target of an enemy attack. “But he has displayed a willingness to twist the truth in a way that seeks to invent a battlefield that did not exist. And he ought to be subject to the same scrutiny Williams faced. He also ought to be ashamed of himself,” Engberg concludes.
Erik Wemple has obtained the name of the cameraman in question, Roberto Moreno, from Fox News. Wemple notes:
According to this story in the Sun Sentinel, Moreno covered various international hotspots for CBS News in the 1980s and 1990s before leaving in 2000. Though the story recounts dicey moments from the careers of Moreno and his wife, Viviana Moreno — including from the Persian Gulf war, Russia and Nicaragua — there’s no mention of a bloody moment on the streets of Buenos Aires. The Erik Wemple Blog has spent much of the afternoon attempting to reach Moreno and will update if we break through.
Wemple also notes that Fox released a statement on Saturday:
“The O’Reilly Factor invited Eric Engberg to appear on the program this Monday and he refused. The O’Reilly Factor has also contacted CBS news and asked them to release the footage in question. Bill O’Reilly wll address Engberg’s claims on Mediabuzz with Howard Kurtz tomorrow at 11:00 am ET.”
Two choice posts in Enberg’s thread:
From Ed Rabel – “I know this fraud from my days as a cub reporter at CBS News in Atlanta where O’Reilly spent a short time. I say a short time because, even then, O’Reilly was a complete fraud – refusing to do the hard, grunt work of a neophyte reporter to earn his stripes. He was lazy, flippant, self-centered, egotistical and full of excuses (There’s a word for excuses I won’t use here) When called to go on stories in the middle of the night, he was too good for that. And for almost anything else he was asked to do. Today, we are witnessing the same old fraud at play. Cheers!”
From Sam Roberts – "Thank you Eric. But there’s more. When O’Reilly got back to NY, Ed Joyce, the president of CBS News and O’Reilly’s rabbi, came into my office. I was then the National editor. Joyce told me that O’Reilly was to report directly to me and that I was to “turn him into a real CBS News Correspondent.” Not two minutes later, Dan Rather walked into my office and shut the door. He said “under no circumstances is O’Reilly to be assigned any story for the Evening News.” I sat O’Reilly down and said something to the effect that he was like the All-American football player who got drafted by the Dallass Cowboys and brought all his press clippings to training camp. “Nobody gives a shit,” I said. “You’ve got to do it here.” O’Reilly said he couldn’t work with producers in the field so I worked out a deal with the Weekend News allowing him to work alone. That lasted for about two stories. A few weeks later, his agent, Richard Leibner called. “How’s O’Reilly doing?” he asked. I hemmed and hawed a little and Richard then said he had a job offer in Boston for O’Reilly and wondered oif he should take it. “He’ll never make it here,” I said. Take that job in Boston before it goes away." And that was the end of O’Reilly’s career at CBS News."
It’s understandable that Enberg has no intention of going on O’Reilly’s show. To Enberg that would be dignifying O’Reilly’s conduct and ego, and the segment would likely consist of O’Reilly repeatedly screaming at Enberg rather than acknowledging the truth. It’s even more telling that O’Reilly has yet to find a single CBS staffer or reporter to back up even a single statement of his. Instead, those people are recalling even more damaging material about him.
The key here is that O’Reilly has never had the credibility of a Brian Williams or a Dan Rather. He was always a loudmouth and a grandstander. I’m not sure that he was ever taken seriously as a journalist – particularly after he chose to take the Fox News paycheck. So I don’t know that Corn’s article and this controversy will have much of an effect on his career. But this material does punch a hole in O’Reilly’s occasional bids for respectability. Instead of getting the mantle of “elder statesman” that he clearly hopes to receive, O’Reilly is more likely to be remembered as exactly what he’s called others: a “guttersnipe”. He’ll have made himself quite wealthy by doing so, but he’ll never be able to fool the general public into giving him a halo he has never deserved.
It seems like the only war zone that Bildo has ever been in was a Long Island court room when his wife divorced him.