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Why Bill O’Reilly Is Wrong About Fact Checking

31 Mar

Bill O'Reilly cartoon DonkeyHotey/flickr

Many public figures feel that they deserve a free pass from the public or even professionals, such as private investigators, when it comes to fact-checking their past. But in reality, celebrities — such as newscasters, authors, politicians, and CEOs — all too often enjoy the benefits of notoriety thanks to fabricated backgrounds and achievements.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly fancies himself a maverick. He’s built a career on the notion that he is a beacon of trust — that he bravely stands up for the truth in an age of journalism largely skewed by subjectivity and partisan politics.

So it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that when NBC anchor Brian Williams was suspended for making false claims about events during his coverage of the Iraq War in 2003, O’Reilly had a veritable field day.

In addition to blasting the current state of American journalism and the liberal media’s culture of deception, O’Reilly suggested that controversies such as this one should incite the public to take a closer look at other possible “distortions” found in left-leaning news outlets.

But now, in light of recent allegations that O’Reilly may have embellished information about his own exploits during his coverage of the Falklands War back in 1982, he’s starting to change his tune a bit, as Mother Jones explains.

Shifting the Focus

Since giving his initial response to Williams’ suspension, O’Reilly has subtly shifted his criticism from the media to Internet critics and private investigators. O’Reilly shared his new stance on the Williams scandal on Jimmy Kimmel Live! last month, as Politico reports.

“Every public person in this country is a target,” he explained. “With the Internet — you know what it is, it’s a sewer. And these people delight in seeing famous people being taken apart. I just think it’s wrong. I mean, we’re human beings just like everybody else.”

What O’Reilly fails to grasp is that people like him are not, in fact, “just like everybody else.” Journalists make their living based upon a perceived level of integrity. We operate under the assumption that they are intelligent and credible sources through which we can garner reliable information about events unfolding around the world.

Consequently, it should come as no surprise that, when events arise that call into question a journalist’s integrity, whether they are news-related or personal, those events will and should have an effect on that particular newscaster’s job security.

Who Should Be Judged?

At this point, some might make the argument that Bill O’Reilly is more editorialist than journalist, and should therefore not be judged within the same set of moral guidelines as someone like Brian Williams. But this line of thinking leads us down a slippery slope.

O’Reilly and Fox News have manufactured a perception of a supposed liberal bias in the mainstream media and turned it into a big profit. The network and its shows were never intended to be “fair and balanced,” as their slogan so righteously claims, but rather, as fodder for staunch conservatives in desperate search of programs that suffer from the same kind of tunnel vision that they do.

As far as Fox and O’Reilly’s business model is concerned, credibility doesn’t seem to be an important component.

In essence, Fox News presents itself as a legitimate news source, yet maintains that it’s exempt from scrutiny because its shows feature commentators, not newscasters. So where do we draw the line?

Many public figures feel that they deserve a free pass from the public or even professionals, such as private investigators, when it comes to fact-checking their past. But in reality, celebrities such as newscasters, authors, politicians, and CEOs all too often enjoy the benefits of notoriety due to fabricated backgrounds and achievements.

All the more reason why reliable PIs, like ours at Integrated, should be retained to conduct a detailed and thorough background check. Before you hire or elevate someone in your company to another position, make sure you know who you’re working with.