The Bill O’Reilly saga gets deeper and deeper, though it doesn’t mean O’Reilly is going to suffer the same fate as NBC’s Brian Williams. Here is a recap of the discrepancies:
- O’Reilly claims to have reported from the Falklands war zone and seen civilians being shot at by the military. All evidence shows this to be false.
- O’Reilly claims to have heard a Kennedy-era figure shoot himself in 1977. All evidence shows O’Reilly was in a different state at the time.
- O’Reilly claims to have seen nuns shot in the head and killed in El Salvador. All evidence shows no nuns were killed during the alleged time frame.
How has O’Reilly addressed the charges and defended himself?
By simply proclaiming that anyone who criticizes him is politically motivated, is a political hack, is a liar, is part of a far-left agenda, and is a “guttersnipe” (gotta love that word!).
In other words, O’Reilly isn’t actually addressing the highly specific charges of where he dissembled.
Is this a crisis communications strategy that would work for the average politician, CEO, or mainstream network news journalist caught fabricating stories? No, it would result in instant career death.
But that’s the thing about a crisis communications situation, every situation is different given the fundamentals that surround the case.
In the case of O’Reilly, he isn’t a mainstream network news anchor trying to pose as unbiased. So these charges of factual inaccuracy aren’t harming O’Reilly.
It does beg the question: what is Bill O’Reilly’s brand?
- Bill O’Reilly is an important hero who looks after you.
None of the fabrications hurt O’Reilly in this regard because they all make O’Reilly look like an integral part of major historical events.
- Bill O’Reilly is the guy who stands up to The New York Times, CNN and Mother Jones of the world.
In this story, those media outlets are attacking O’Reilly for lying. This actually helps O’Reilly reinforce his brand.
- Bill O’Reilly is the guy who tells you that liberals are destroying the world and that conservatives are saving the world.
Nothing in this story affects that fundamental aspect of the O’Reilly brand.
O’Reilly’s brand is in better shape than ever. The proof? His ratings are up 20% in the last week. Far from getting a suspension a la Brain Williams, the only thing O’Reilly is likely discussing with Roger Ailes is how big next year’s bonus and salary increase will be.
I must confess that at some level, I find this whole story amusing because trying to “punish” Bill O’Reilly for stretching the truth is like trying to punish Michael Jordan for scoring a game-winning basket–that is what they do. O’Reilly is not in the fact-based news business. He is in the ideology/propaganda business. Nightly, O’Reilly is in the business of telling millions of viewers a cartoon reality where all Democrats and liberals and moderates are dangerous leftists who are out to destroy the country. And he nightly twists/fabricates facts to make this point.
If you want to know what “crisis” could actually destroy Bill O’Reilly’s career, it would be if he did one of the following on air:
- Praised Obamacare.
- Endorsed Hillary.
- Called for tax increases on the wealthy.
- Released a secret “47%” of Americans are lazy bums videotape from a GOP nominee.
(Please note, none of these crimes would involve factual errors)
Until O’Reilly does one of those things, he has tenure that is much more secure than any union-backed school teacher in a Blue state.
TJ Walker is president of Media Training Worldwide and can be reached at 212.764.4955