It's old news now that Brain Williams of NBC exaggerated his Iraq War story of a helicopter being fired upon by a RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). The event happened in 2003, and Williams spoke of it several times over the next decade, always pointing out that it was a helicopter in front of his that was hit. In fact, the helicopter was ahead of his by an entire hour.
On the ten year anniversary of the incident, however, his story changed somewhat. Here's what he said to David Letterman.
Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground-fire, including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47. We figure out how to land safely and we did.
A very different story, indeed, and he repeated this updated version several times. He claimed he misremembered, but I seriously doubt that. A decade is not near enough time to forget about something like being in a helicopter that took on rocket fire or being in one that didn't. That would be like a running back saying he thought he made the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl a decade ago when it was actually the tight end.
But this is very common, human nature even. We all do it. Over the years we tell stories about what happened to a friend, and somewhere along the journey, it becomes easier and more fulfilling to replace our friend with ourselves. The question is, of course, do we hold journalist and members of the media, whose job it is to report factual events, to a higher standard?
Most people think so, but Bill O'Reilly defended Brian Williams. There might be a reason why. According to an article published by Mother Jones, O'Reilly also tends to, as we say in the South, put a little extra jam on the bread.
In his book, The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America, published in 2001, O'Reilly wrote this:
You know that I am not easily shocked. I've reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands.
And like with Brian Williams, once you twist the facts a little the first time, it becomes easier to do it again. This is from 2003 in an interview with Tucker Carlson:
I've covered wars, okay? I've been there. The Falklands, Northern Ireland, the Middle East. I've almost been killed three times, okay.
And in 2008 he said of journalist Bill Moyers:
I missed Moyers in the war zones of [the] Falkland conflict in Argentina, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland. I looked for Bill, but I didn't see him.
By 2013, his story had morphed even more. Not only was he in the warzone of The Falklands, but he was a hero there as well. While discussing the Boston Marathon bombing, he said:
I was in a situation one time, in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands, where my photographer got run down and then hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete. And the army was chasing us. I had to make a decision. And I dragged him off, you know, but at the same time, I'm looking around and trying to do my job, but I figure I had to get this guy out of there because that was more important.
All of these references by Bill O'Reilly clearly allude to Bill O'Reilly being in the warzone in the Falklands, when in fact he was 1200 miles away in Buenos Aires. There were protests going on in Buenos Aires when O'Reilly was there, but protests do not a warzone make. Even here O'Reilly seems to have exaggerated the events saying there were ten people killed when the records show that no fatalities were reported.
So now the question has become: What is the difference is what Brian Williams did and what Bill O'Reilly did? Or is there a difference at all? You answer might lie in your political posturing.
As for me, it looks like they are both guilty of exactly the same thing. Both guys gave their statements enough spin to make it sound like something happened that clearly did not. But there has been one huge difference, and it came after each of these guys in the media had the validity of their stories challenged.
Brian Williams owned his distortion of the facts. He was humble and apologized. What's more, his network punished him.
Bill O'Reilly has not owned his distortion. He has been arrogant, accusatory, and resorted to name-calling. What's more, his network has supported him.
So as to the question if there is a difference in the Williams incident and the O'Reilly incident, the answer is -- Yes. And it can be summed up in one word: character.