Fox News Bill O’Reilly has long been a controversial media figure, though the last week has been an especially awkward time for the conservative host. Specific claims he made about his work covering the Falklands war, for example, have struggled under scrutiny. Soon after, the public learned that O’Reilly’s claims about the suicide of a JFK assassination figure also appear to be, at best, suspect.
But perhaps the most striking angle to this story deals with claims O’Reilly made about seeing nuns murdered in El Salvador. If you missed last night’s show, Rachel’s segment on this stood out for me in part because of O’Reilly’s explanation.
First, a little backstory. Soon after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, O’Reilly spoke on the air about the nature of evil. “I don’t think a lot of people understand,” he said. “My mother, for example, doesn’t understand evil. When I would tell her, ‘Hey, mom, I was in El Salvador and I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head,’ she almost couldn’t process it. She couldn’t process it.”
In reality, while Catholic nuns were executed during El Salvador’s civil war in December 1980, O’Reilly could not have seen them get shot – he was not in El Salvador in December 1980. He arrived in the country the following year.
Since there’s no way O’Reilly could have seen what he claims to have seen, Fox News gave “The Rachel Maddow Show” a statement from O’Reilly, which read as follows:
“While in El Salvador, reporters were shown horrendous images of violence that were never broadcast, including depictions of nuns who were murdered. The mention of the nuns on my program came the day of the Newtown massacre. The segment was about evil and how hard it is for folks to comprehend it. I used the murder nuns as an example of that evil. That’s what I was referring to when I say, ‘I saw nuns get shot in the back of head.’ No one could possibly take that segment as reporting on El Salvador.”
That’s a pretty remarkable response for a couple of reasons.
First, we’ve reached a curious point at which O’Reilly is parsing the meaning of the word “see.” When the Fox host said he “saw nuns get shot,” he apparently meant he saw pictures of nuns who were shot, and according to O’Reilly, those two sentiments have identical meaning.
And second, while O’Reilly says he only brought up the murders in El Salvador in the context of Newtown, that doesn’t explain why he said seven years before Newtown, “I’ve seen much worse behavior on the masculine side than the feminine side in my life, all right? I’ve seen guys gun down nuns in El Salvador.”
It does not appear that O’Reilly saw guys gun down nuns in El Salvador.
Check out last night’s segment for more on this story, including Rachel’s interview with David Corn.