Bill O’Reilly has voiced his support for embattled NBC News anchorman Brian Williams on Late Show With David Letterman, chalking the controversy up to a culture of celebrity sniping. “We have a sport in the United States called ‘Let’s Destroy the Famous Person,’ and that’s what happened to him,” he said. “I think that NBC should bring him back. I think they will bring him back.”
The sentiment signals somewhat of an about-face from the conservative pundit, who took aim at Williams after the anchor admitted to “misremembering” being in a helicopter that was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in 2003. (Williams arrived one hour after a different plane came under fire.)
Following Williams’ apology – and NBC’s subsequent suspension of the newsman upon finding further discrepancies in his reporting – O’Reilly said he thought Williams would not return as an anchor on NBC and used the controversy to target mainstream news and the possible “distortions” they’ve made. “All Americans who love their country should think about what’s happened to Brian Williams and should think about other news agencies that are distorting the facts,” he said, according to Mediaite.
Shortly after that, some of O’Reilly’s own distortions about wartime reporting came to light, which he addressed on Letterman. Previously, Mother Jones detailed a pattern of O’Reilly trumping up his reporting on the 1982 Falklands War between the U.K. and Argentina for CBS, despite the military junta keeping reporters off the islands; two CBS News employees from the time, including the lead reporter on the story, corroborated the Mother Jones story.
O’Reilly subsequently backtracked on the timeline Mother Jones made, according to Tampa Bay Times, claiming, “I never said I was on the Falkland Islands…I said I covered the Falklands War, which I did.” The controversy led to further revelations about O’Reilly’s questionable reporting.
On Letterman, the commentator shrugged it off and claimed his ratings had gone up 20 percent. “We had a controversy there, and we put forth what my side was, they put forth what their side was,” he said. “Folks decided, and it worked out OK for me. I got even more viewers.”
When Letterman asked if O’Reilly had ever fibbed on the air, he said, “Not that I know of.” “What I do is analysis, different from what other people do,” O’Reilly continued. “So I bloviate and give my opinion, as you well know, but it’s not worth it for me to do that…. Our ratings are now as high as they’ve ever been, so I think that [viewers] do trust me and I’m glad that they do.”