Occasionally I turn on Fox News. There is something about the way it is so brazenly partisan that fascinates me.
To someone who occasionally under appreciates the enforced neutrality of the BBC and the general objectivity of our other broadcast media (yes, even Sky News), Fox News is a useful way to reset my critical compass.
There is no-one as odious, sanctimonious and downright unpleasant as Bill O’Reilly. America is an incredible country of opportunity. It is politically and culturally diverse and its landscapes and cityscapes can be awe-inspiringly beautiful. Its people are a remarkable testament to optimism and hard graft. O’Reilly, however, is the caricature that misinforms so many British and European views of Americans.
His bigoted ignorance and his resort to insult to ‘win’ arguments make for entertaining current affairs television. He also encapsulates the fantasy of that small, but vocal and influential section of the population who are angry, middle-aged, wealthy white men: gun-toting, church-going, apple-pie loving, R&B listening, testosterone-driven conservatives who cloak their prejudices (and insecurities) beneath a trumpeting of values and freedoms that they hate extending to those who are not like them.
Unpleasant as these characteristics are to many, none disqualify you as a journalist. What does destroy your credibility, however, is screwing around with the truth.
Bill O’Reilly has been caught with his metaphorical pants down and it is not a pleasant sight.
Like veteran NBC news anchor Brian Williams, he has apparently lied about his experiences as a ‘war’ reporter, including in El Salvador and the Falklands War. It was this latter assertion that prompted me to write, as his coverage has the potential to influence the views of our closest ally on that conflict and how it was conducted.
This article in Mother Jones started off the furore. Subsequent reports in the Washington Post reveal quite how serious O’Reilly’s position is. More recent reports still are suggesting that Fox has stopped defending O’Reilly.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer man.
The USA is a liberal democracy and, like Britain, proud of its raucous, chaotic free press. And so it should be. But truth should not be a casualty of war in a liberal democracy, particularly amongst those who claim to uphold the torch of press freedom. We have to be able to have confidence in those who report on what is happening in government and between governments.
If these revelations result in the final dispatch of Bill O’Reilly, both our democracies will be stronger for it.