It’s hard to not derive an immense amount of pleasure watching Bill O’Reilly’s expanding stack of lies pored over by the press. The revelation that O’Reilly wasn’t actually anywhere near the Falklands war despite claiming he ‘saw combat’ there, has now morphed into a long, drawn out humiliation as more of his tough guy stories turn out to be complete nonsense.
Disturbingly though, as O’Reilly’s lies get bigger and bigger, so too does his audience. Reuters reports:
As media observers have noted, the deluge of reports questioning O’Reilly’s past reportage is likely to only rally his core audience to the show. Monday’s episode of “O’Reilly Factor,” in which O’Reilly defended himself by broadcasting excerpts of CBS News coverage of the protests he was covering in 1982, drew the largest overall “Factor” audience (3.34 million) since November.
This is alarming on two levels. It could be that people are tuning in to see how he deals with the allegations, but as the Reuters report indicates, it is most likely that his core audience is rallying around him in his time of need. It also means that Fox News benefits from the massive attention being paid to their biggest star. And we can be absolutely sure that Fox News doesn’t give a flying fuck whether O’Reilly has lied about his experiences. This is after all, Fox News we’re talking about – a network specifically dedicated to misinforming the public and promoting a far right agenda.
The fact that dedicated news audience keeps tuning into O’Reilly’s show should tell you enough about where America is as a society today. A man who has relentlessly spread misinformation, abuses guests and distorts their words if they disagree with him, has cheerlead the nation into two illegal wars, and refuses to acknowledge ever being wrong should not be allowed anywhere near a news studio. Yet O’Reilly is the man at Fox News, and gets paid a ludicrous amount to propagate his bullshit.
The surge in O’Reilly’s audience tells us that news viewers have literally no interest in knowing the truth – O’Reilly is their guy and they will follow him to the end of the earth, dead nuns, suicidal JFK assassins and all.
It is entirely possible O’Reilly genuinely believes he was in a combat situation in the Falklands, did hear JFK assassin suspect George de Mohrenschildt shoot himself in the head, and was right in front of a bunch of nuns who were executed in El Salvador. But the facts indicate that none of the above happened, and it is most likely O’Reilly invented these stories to make himself look like a tough guy.
Personally, I don’t see a huge problem with this – memory is a funny thing, and the desire to tell a good story can often make the most honest of us exaggerate a little. My dad has a funny story he tells about me while we were living in LA many years ago. There was an earthquake in the middle of the night, and my dad claims he came into my room to find me in my underwear in the closet saying “I don’t know where I am”. This usually goes down well with whoever he’s telling the story to as it’s quite a funny image. The truth is however, that I did know exactly where I was and was trying to find some sweat pants so I didn’t have to leave the house half naked. I actually said “I don’t know where my trousers are,” but then that isn’t quite as good a story.
I’m sure my dad believes that his version of events happened, but I also think his brain has tricked him slightly so that the better story won out and he gets to humiliate me with a good gag every now and then. It is also possible that I have misremembered the event, and my dad’s recollection is accurate (given I’ve almost certainly done the same myself, this is a distinct possibility).
Admittedly, O’Reilly has lied on a much, much bigger scale, and to a huge audience who tune in to watch him report on the news. But the gist is the same, and if O’Reilly wasn’t such a dick then it would be somewhat forgivable.
However, there should be no dispute as to whether O’Reilly was lying about his experiences – he’s pretty much admitted as much about the latest lie involving watching nuns in El Salvador getting shot in the back of the head (at least to the degree that O’Reilly is capable of admitting anything).
In any rational world, this would mean his viewers would slowly start to stop watching his show. Once you know someone has consistently embellished, misremembered and lied about events, it is difficult to take them seriously again. This wasn’t an isolated case with O’Reilly, but a pattern that appears to be getting more and more consistent as his work is examined. For Brian Williams and other reporters found guilty of pathologically deceiving their audiences, it pretty much means the end of their career.
But not for Bill O’Reilly. The more he lies the more his audience loves him. Because unfortunately for all of us, the reality he and his network have created makes lying a pretty valuable commodity.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.