Isn’t it a little strange that Bill O’Reilly is suffering a scandal for lying?
The growing list of charges against him appear to be true, of course. But he’s been getting key facts wrong on air for decades, a trend his critics have closely tracked for much of his career. The falsehoods haven’t merely been tolerated by Fox News; O’Reilly has been elevated to the most iconic figure the network has ever produced—that he brings in $100 million in ads doesn’t hurt.
The scandal is strange not because he’s yet to be shamed off the air, but because he’s sinking into hot water for doing what he’s always done.
Coming so quickly after Brian Williams lost his NBC anchor job for his own falsehood about war-time experience, the timing for this new wave of scandals is pretty bad for O’Reilly. Blood in the water, new charges of lying haven’t been refuted so much as they’ve been met with more lies.
For a journalist, that’s a damning indictment.
But O’Reilly transcends mere journalism, as made evident by the fact that he hasn’t received the slightest slap on the wrist for this ongoing series of transgressions. He’s a commentator, an entertainer, and a world-class rage salesman who has a mile-long history of professional wrongs.
This isn’t a vague criticism; it’s provable by looking at objective fact and comparing it to O’Reilly’s words. In fact, outlets like Media Matters have made a full time job out of catching as many lies as they can.
Here, we report 99 falsehoods from Bill O’Reilly (not an exhaustive list). You decide what was a lie and what is merely a tendency to shout and repeat things when corrected. O’Reilly is a pro at both.
- O’Reilly bragged repeatedly he won two Peabody Awards hosting Inside Edition in the 90s. He won zero.
- O’Reilly bragged that, woops, he actually had won a Polk Award hosting Inside Edition. He won zero of those, too. To be specific, the show did win that award—a year after O’Reilly stopped hosting.
- O’Reilly then said he never claimed to have won a Peabody Award. He actually did make that claim, repeatedly, using the award as proof that Inside Edition was not a tabloid show but very good journalism. He later admitted to making the original Peabody claim, but now he just says the Peabody guys are unfair liberals.
- Repeatedly claiming he’s “an average guy,” O’Reilly has claimed that he “came from nothing” and “you don’t come from any lower than I came from on the economic scale.” Actually, O’Reilly’s mother has repeatedly talked to the press about regular vacations the family took to Florida, that O’Reilly went to private school and college, and that they lived in an affluent New York suburb.
- In 2006, O’Reilly boasted that he gets 6 million viewers every night. He got 2 million then. Today, he’s posting “huge numbers” because he’s addressing the Argentina controversy—so he’s getting about 3 million viewers on a night.
- Responding to critics who say Fox News is too conservative, O’Reilly has long claimed to be a “normal guy” and a registered independent. It turned out, contradicting that claim, that he was a registered Republican.
- He insisted that he is really an Independent and that when he registered to vote in 1994, there was no independent option and that he was “somehow assigned Republican status.” In 2004, comedian (now a senator) Al Franken went back and looked at O’Reilly’s voter registration form. Actually, there was an Independent option right next to the Republican box. O’Reilly had chosen Republican and then lied about it for the next decade on television.
- NPR’s Mike Pesca reported O’Reilly’s political registration in 2001 on the radio. O’Reilly called it a “hatchet job” and said, “I’ve never heard of Mike Pesca.” Pesca had interviewed O’Reilly on tape for an hour for the report.
- In 2004, O’Reilly said Iraq was producing chemical weapons in the run up to the 2003 Iraq war. They were not.
- O’Reilly said Al Qaeda was working with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq even after the claims were widely disproven. They were not.
- Early in the Iraq war, O’Reilly started a boycott of French goods in protest of the lack of French support for the war. In April 2004, O’Reilly said “they’ve lost billions of dollars in France according to the Paris Business Review.” Such a publication doesn’t exist, first of all, and trade between the U.S. and France actually increased in the time between the war’s beginning and that statement. O’Reilly continued to brag about that “successful” boycott for years afterwards.
- In an attempt to explain European opposition to the Iraq war, he said European media—the U.K., in particular—consists of state-controlled organizations led by liberal governments that deliver anti-American “propaganda.” In the U.K., meanwhile, the BBC was struck hard by controversy because they published reports embellishing the threat Iraq posed that misleadingly promoted the war—the same errant tale championed by the Bush administration. The chairman resigned.
- O’Reilly claimed that former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean wanted to pull out of Iraq “immediately” in 2004. Actually, Dean said, “I think it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the long run. Now that we’re there, we’re stuck there, and the [Bush] administration has no plan for how to deal with it, and we cannot leave because losing the peace is not an option. We cannot leave Iraq.”
- O’Reilly claimed President Bush never said “mission accomplished” regarding the Iraq war. Bush said that in 2003, never mind standing in front of an enormous “Mission Accomplished” banner on an aircraft carrier for a world-class photo op.
- O’Reilly claimed the Iraq war was France’s fault because the country never pushed for weapons inspections. In fact, they did.
- O’Reilly said the Dixie Chicks had “never recovered” from the protests that followed their famous criticism of George Bush over the Iraq War. Meanwhile, they had the top-selling album in the country, the top-selling tour in the country, and won a Grammy.
- In 2005, O’Reilly said “the secular progressive movement would like to have marriage abolished … that’s what this gay marriage thing is all about.” While it was clear even back then that this was a lie about the marriage equality movement, with broader legalization we can now look to 252,000 same-sex married couples as even clearer proof that marriage equality has always been about equality and not abolishment.
- O’Reilly claimed that gay marriage killed straight marriage, particularly pointing to heterosexual marriage rates falling in Sweden after same-sex marriage was allowed in 1995. Actually, Swedish marriage rates rose following the passing of the law. Marriage rates are falling in the U.S., but it’s been dropping since well before any gay marriage law was passed in America.
- O’Reilly said that, legally, gay marriage makes polygamy legal. After over 252,000 same sex marriages in the U.S., we’re still waiting on the man with “27 wives” O’Reilly talked about.
- When O’Reilly was accused of stoking hatred that led to Dr. George Tiller’s murder by an anti-abortion activist, O’Reilly said he never called Tiller a “baby killer.” He did, repeatedly.
- He said the reason “many, many, many” of the Hurricane Katrina victims didn’t leave New Orleans before the storm was because they’re “drug addicted” and “thugs” who wouldn’t leave without a fix. Actually, many victims were poor and owned no vehicles. Reasons for staying vary, but drug addiction was never a significant contributor.
- He said no one on Fox News ever claimed Obamacare would send people to jail for not paying health coverage bills. They did.
- O’Reilly claimed Obama never ordered the military to assist during attacks on Benghazi. Obama did.
- In a 2014 interview, Obama said that people believe verifiably false conspiracy theories about Benghazi because “folks like you [O’Reilly] are telling them that.” O’Reilly denied it—but, of course, he pushed the conspiratorial narrative.
- He claimed poverty has gone up in the last half century despite the federal government spending “trillions” on “social engineering.” Wrong—poverty is down.
- He said “the only reason to use marijuana is to get high.” Actually, it’s used for medical purposes in much of the United States. Marijuana helps to subdue pain for arthritis sufferers, for instance, or stop seizures in other individuals, including children.
- Annoyed with legalization in Colorado, O’Reilly claimed the Denver Post “actually hired an editor to promote pot.” They hired an editor to report, not promote.
- O’Reilly claimed no one but Fox News covered White House Communications Director Anita Dunn saying Mao Zedong was one of her favorite political philosophers. Lots of other media covered it, though perhaps not as hungrily as he would have liked.
- He claimed Obama failed to prosecute an easy voter-intimidation criminal case against the the New Black Panther Party because they didn’t want to charge minorities with violating civil rights. Actually, the Bush administration did that.
- O’Reilly lies about taxes a lot. In an argument about taxes on the rich being too high, he said tax rates in New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles were much higher than what they actually were.
- He said France and Germany taxed citizens at 80 percent. Actually, that’s double the tax rate.
- In the lead up to the 2004 election, O’Reilly claimed the U.S. exported more goods than it imported “because everybody wants our stuff, and we’re not wild about snails.” That’s another snipe at France. In fact, we had a trade deficit, including with France.
- O’Reilly made up a quote saying that liberal financier George Soros wanted his elderly father dead. Actually, Soros didn’t say that.
- He claimed Democrats lost voters in the 2004 presidential election over its gains in 2000. Actually, Democrats gained 5 million voters.
- O’Reilly claimed Bush won the 2004 election because Independents chose the Republican. Actually, Independents voted Democrat.
- He claimed the Bush tax cuts didn’t create a budget deficit, and that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the real reason behind the budget issues. Actually, Bush hit a deficit before 9/11 or any war began.
- O’Reilly claimed that Hillary Clinton didn’t go to a single funeral or memorial service of a 9/11 victim. Not true. Further, as senator of New York at the time, Clinton took on the causes of first responders and won the endorsement of two NYC firefighters unions for her support.
- O’Reilly said that illegal immigrants were “biological weapons” that killed more people than 9/11. Shortly thereafter, he claimed he never said that.
- Talking about Fox’s biases, O’Reilly said, “There is no talking points. There is no marching order. It doesn’t exist.” Go watch Outfoxed.
- He said Fox News has more liberals than conservatives on air. Well, that flies in the face of common sense—and this study from around the same time O’Reilly made that assertion. Newer studies aren’t much kinder.
- One of O’Reilly’s signature moments was screaming at the son of a 9/11 victim on air and then repeatedly claiming the son, Jeremy Glick, was a 9/11 truther who blamed America for the attacks. In fact, Glick said he believed that American support for the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s laid the groundwork for Al Qaeda. There’s a difference, and Glick was right.
- O’Reilly said Bush didn’t oppose the creation of the 9/11 commission. He did.
- O’Reilly likes to say there is a War on Christmas. To support that, he claimed red and green clothes—Christmas colors—had been banned by a public school in Texas run by “fascism.” That was not true.
- Talking about the War on Christmas, O’Reilly claimed Circuit City was owned by Indians. It was never owned by Indians.
- Did someone say War on Christmas? O’Reilly claimed that a public school changed the lyrics to “Silent Night” in order to secularize it. Actually, it was an entirely new song written on the old tune, changed by the former president of Ronald Reagan’s church and performed in churches around the country.
- O’Reilly said Best Buy banned the phrase “Merry Christmas.” They didn’t.
- O’Reilly claimed the income tax originated with Karl Marx. Actually, it existed before Marx was born.
- During the Bush years, O’Reilly said the Clinton tax rates were higher than at any point since World War II. That’s wrong; taxes had been higher numerous times throughout the latter half of the 20th century.
- O’Reilly claimed Jane Fonda turned notes smuggled by U.S. prisoners of war over to the Vietnamese. False.
- In 2005, O’Reilly said the Bush administration was not engaging in torture. He pointed to a State Department report on human rights that criticized torture—except in the U.S. In any event, we can be sure now that torture took place.
- In 2006, O’Reilly said there was no evidence the U.S. used electric shock torture. There was evidence then, and there is evidence now.
- O’Reilly also claimed that Geneva Convention protections apply only to uniformed soldiers fighting for a recognized country, as opposed to stateless terrorists. That’s not true. The Geneva Convention applies to everyone.
- When O’Reilly gets things wrong, he’s exceptional at talking about how right he is. When he claimed federal housing assistance rose 1,400 percent from Clinton to Bush, he was off by 1,378 percent. When he was called out on it, he said “these are hard numbers.”
- In 1986, Dick Cheney voted against a resolution calling to free Nelson Mandela from prison. Cheney has repeatedly said it’s because Mandela ran a terrorist operation, but O’Reilly has contradicted Cheney, saying that vote was cast in order to protect poor South Africans from sanctions.
- One of O’Reilly’s favorite targets is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He’s famously stated that the ACLU supports pedophiles and a child’s “constitutional right to have sex with adults.” This is not at all what the ACLU does.
- O’Reilly claimed that the “liberal” Boston Globe didn’t cover the rape of a 9-year-old girl. They did.
- O’Reilly claimed that Hillary Clinton can “write anything off” against the Bill Clinton presidential library, thus giving her access to vast funds. Actually, the library’s finances are handled by the government.
- Making the case that the Democrats went over the line in their questioning of the Bush administration, O’Reilly claimed that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) questioned Condoleeza Rice’s “respect for the troops.” Actually, Boxer questioned Rice’s “respect for the truth.”
- O’Reilly claimed that Bush’s tax cuts meant that “federal tax revenues will be more this year than at any time during the Clinton administration.” Actually, the year 2000 had the highest inflation-adjusted revenue until 2013.
- Following the recent massacre at Charlie Hebdo headquarters, O’Reilly said France brought terrorism on itself because they allowed “no-go zones” where Muslims don’t let outsiders in. That’s not true.
- O’Reilly then claimed he never said there were no-go zones in France. He said exactly that.
- While opining about black America’s problems, O’Reilly claimed the Irish and African-American experiences were equivalent because both “had to leave” their homelands and came to America “with nothing.” Actually, in case you don’t have a history book on hand, Africans were forced to leave in bondage, kept in slavery for hundreds of years, and then, after the abolition of slavery, were thoroughly and systematically oppressed by legal, economic, and social forces that often persist in some form to this day.
- O’Reilly said the black dropout rate was worse at the end of the Clinton presidency than at the beginning. It was better.
- Criticizing public broadcasting, O’Reilly said PBS is going bankrupt. Actually, PBS’s funding—both public and private—has doubled to about $500 million since O’Reilly first went on Fox in the 1990s.
- While in a rant against public spending, O’Reilly claimed liberal Californians wanted the federal government to pay for plastic surgery for prisoners, particularly pointing to an inmate who had “breast reduction surgery” as a liberal cause that targeted “our money.” Actually, that inmate was having a tumor removed.
- One of the great political attacks of our time was the 2004 Swift Boating of John Kerry, wherein a political group claimed that Kerry lied extensively about his service during the Vietnam War. Actually, Kerry didn’t lie. In any event, O’Reilly claimed the Swift Boaters had little impact in 2004 and that he hadn’t even seen them on cable news. In fact, Fox News (as well as CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC) covered Swift Boaters extensively.
- O’Reilly claimed that Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain Iraq war veteran and a prominent anti-war activist, lied and changed her story about a meeting with President Bush. She didn’t change her story.
- O’Reilly said CNN doesn’t have a single conservative commentator. That’s obviously not true; but even being charitable and looking specifically at the time when O’Reilly first said it—March 2005—commentators Jerry Falwell and Robert Novak said otherwise.
- O’Reilly claimed that courtroom perjury is on the rise because “they’ve done away with” swearing on the bible before testimony. Actually, the bible is still used before courtroom testimony, and there has been no quantifiable rise in perjury.
- While criticizing the 9th circuit appeals court, O’Reilly said they had their cases overturned at a record rate. That’s not true.
- O’Reilly claimed that Thomas Jefferson would have mocked “secular fools” over separation of church and state. Actually, Jefferson famously wrote about his support for that separation.
- During a heatwave in the southwest, O’Reilly said the dozens of dead homeless people could have found “some place to cool off,” but they were “mentally incapable of taking care of themselves.” Actually, the number of homeless outpaced the number of beds available by thousands.
- Arguing about abortion, O’Reilly said a woman’s life could never be in danger during pregnancy. That’s obviously not true.
- O’Reilly claimed most Republicans didn’t want NAFTA. Actually, most voted for it.
- O’Reilly said he wouldn’t call Sean Penn anti-American. A few minutes earlier, he called Sean Penn anti-American.
- O’Reilly claimed he didn’t compare the Koran to Mein Kampf. He did and he continues to do so.
- In 2001, O’Reilly claimed 58 percent of single mothers are on welfare. The number was more like 14 percent, less than a quarter of what O’Reilly claimed.
- In defense of Florida governor Jeb Bush’s education policies, O’Reilly claimed 37 percent of state universities were black. The number was 18 percent, less than half of what O’Reilly claimed.
- In 2001, O’Reilly said the U.S. gave more tax money to foreign countries than any other country. No, Japan gave more then. The U.S. gives more now, somewhat due to the fact that a country we invaded (Afghanistan) receives billions more in aid than any other nation.
- When an army recruiter was murdered in 2009, O’Reilly said CNN didn’t cover the crime except for Anderson Cooper. They covered it, lots more.
- O’Reilly said the cause of global warming is “guesswork.” Scientists disagree.
- O’Reilly said that, unlike Viagra, “birth control is a choice, not a medical condition.” Aside from the fact that doctors say pregnancy is a medical condition, birth control is used to treat a range of other medical conditions as well.
- O’Reilly once said “no lies have been told about anyone” on his show. (See above and below.)
- G. Gordon Liddy organized the famous Watergate burglaries. He’s also fundraised for John McCain, and McCain accepted his money. During the 2008 presidential race, O’Reilly claimed McCain and Liddy “have nothing to do” with each other. That’s false, not only because of the fundraising but because Liddy interviewed McCain multiple times, even during that very campaign.
- O’Reilly claimed that then-Sen. Barack Obama did not cast a vote condemning MoveOn.org ads that targeted Gen. David Petraeus and defended John Kerry. Obama did.
- O’Reilly said “no law is going to prevent a woman from giving birth [sic] when she’s raped or has incest. No law. Ever.” He meant abortion, as clarified by this next sentence: “…if there’s incest, if there’s violence in your home, you can go to the courts and they’ll decide whether you can have the abortion, not your parents, OK? Every law says it.” Here are two laws that do that.
- O’Reilly claimed no prisoners died because of abuse at Abu Grahib. Manadel al-Jamadi died.
- During a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, O’Reilly said the New York Times editorial board wouldn’t criticize Israel because “American Jews are liberal.” They had already written three such editorials here, here, and here.
- In 2008, O’Reilly claimed the Times cut 25 percent of its workforce because of criticism received for publishing an article about terrorism financing. They cut 2 percent, and the supposedly direct connection between the article and the cut was pulled from thin air.
- O’Reilly claimed Bush didn’t prohibit White House attorneys from appearing before Congress if transcripts were recorded. Bush did just that.
- When O’Reilly saw a 2006 poll saying 53 percent of Americans viewed Hillary Clinton favorably, he said the poll wasn’t scientific. O’Reilly isn’t a statistician (he’s touted unscientific polls himself) and this poll was scientific.
- In 2006, O’Reilly said the National Security Agency (NSA) never tapped domestic phone calls. We already knew—and the White House admitted—that they tapped domestic phone calls without a warrant at that point but the rest of pandora’s box was yet to be opened.
- O’Reilly said Mary McCarthy, a former CIA agent who leaked information to reporters, was accused of leaking information about the agency’s secret Eastern European prisons. She was never formally accused of that by the CIA, and the Washington Post maintains that while she did leak information to them, it had nothing to do with secret prisons. Instead, she reportedly leaked information about the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan by the CIA.
- O’Reilly said former Mexican president Vincente Fox used his nation’s army to traffic drugs across the border to the U.S. That never happened. Under Fox, Mexico used its army to fight a violent war with cartels.
- O’Reilly said New York City teachers are told to ignore students who curse them out. As a former New York City student, I know that’s not true. But if that’s not enough, New York’s public discipline code explicitly points out punishment for obscene language.
- O’Reilly claimed Democrats took money from Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist famously convicted in in a vast corruption scheme in 2005. Actually, only Republicans received contributions from Abramoff.
- O’Reilly claimed renewable energy was a waste of time because “God controls the climate.” He’s also said “nobody can control the climate except God, so give a little extra at mass.” That’s goes against what modern science has concluded: Human beings contribute to climate change.
- Criticizing attempts to bring diversity to Christmas, O’Reilly said Santa Claus is white based on the myth’s roots in medieval Greece. But Bill, Santa isn’t real.
- One of the most vast and mind-bending lies O’Reilly has ever told came just this week. Nose pointed squarely up, O’Reilly said that he doesn’t believe in personal smears and that he doesn’t condone hate and “guttersniping” that implies politicians like Bush and Obama don’t want to serve their country. Very high-minded. While O’Reilly didn’t invent the TV smear, he raised it to a lucrative art. During the Bush administration, he targeted anti-war politicians with exactly this kind of personal smear. In one glaring example from the height of the Iraq war, he said, “Nancy Pelosi and her acolytes, people who like her, they want us to lose in Iraq. They want there to be chaos in Afghanistan. They want this. They’re rooting against their own country.” He also compares political opponents to Nazis pretty damn often.
Very high-minded indeed.
Photos via World Affairs Council of Philadelphia/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III.
Correction: This story previously misidentified who said that former Mexican president Vicente Fox had used his nation’s army to traffic drugs across the border to the U.S. It was O’Reilly, not President Obama.<