Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly has spent the last few weeks fighting off charges that he lied or exaggerated about his personal involvement in dramatic historical events. He has been challenged on claims the he reported from “a war zone” during the Falklands conflict, that he was attacked with rocks and bricks during the Los Angeles “Rodney King” riots, that he saw nuns murdered in El Salvador and that he was present when a key witness in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy committed suicide.
In each case, the 65-year-old host of the flagship Fox News program The O’Reilly Factor appears to have at least stretched the truth and in some cases simply fabricated his tall tales.
While most of these revelations have surfaced just this year, first in a Mother Jones Magazine article and subsequently via the media watchdog site Media Matters, O’Reilly’s documented history of stretching the truth for purposes of making himself look good goes back much farther than the past month or two.
As recently recalled by the news site Talking Points Memo, in 2001 Bill O’Reilly was caught in an apparent lie — or at the very least, distortion — about winning a prestigious broadcasting award.
Before he won the job he has held for almost 20 years hosting his nightly Fox News broadcast, O’Reilly hosted the syndicated nightly show Inside Edition from 1989 to 1995 — one of the leading programs in the then-popular genre known as “tabloid TV.”
But in 2001, an author and comedian named Al Franken — who later became a United States Senator from Minnesota, the position he still holds — noticed that O’Reilly had made repeated claims that his Inside Edition show has won the prestigious Peabody Award, one of the highest honors in Broadcast journalism.
In fact, Franken discovered, O’Reilly even appeared to say that Inside Edition won the coveted broadcasting prize not just once, but twice.
“It seemed strange to me, but he was so adamant,” Franken said at the time. “I thought back and figured maybe ‘Inside Edition’ won a Peabody for its story ‘Swimsuits: How Bare Is Too Bare?’ or maybe for its three-part series on the father of Madonna’s first baby.”
When Franken contacted O’Reilly to confront him about the claim, the Fox News star backtracked, saying that he simply misspoke — even though Franken had evidence that O’Reilly made the Peabody claim on several different occasions.
O’Reilly told Franken that Inside Edition had won a Polk Award, a different journalism honor, not a Peabody.
That claim by O’Reilly turned out to be true — except that Inside Edition won its Polk Award after Bill O’Reilly quit the program in 1995, for reporting that he was not involved in at all.
O’Reilly then went on to claim that Franken was making up his story — that he, O’Reilly, had never claimed to have won a Peabody with Inside Edition.
But when O’Reilly and Franken appeared on a panel discussion together at a 2003 publishing convention, Franken came prepared to counter O’Reilly’s denial. The future U.S. Senator read aloud from broadcast transcripts in which O’Reilly made his Peabody claim.
O’Reilly’s response was to shout down Franken, demanding that he “shut up.”
Soon after that confrontation, Fox News sued Al Franken, claiming that the title of his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look At The Right, infringed on a Fox News trademark over the phrase “fair and balanced.” But Fox News lost the suit.
Watch the full “shut up” encounter between Bill O’Reilly and Al Franken in the video above.
[Image: Jason Merritt/Getty Images]