Bill O’Reilly clarifies claim he saw nuns executed in El Salvador

Michael Walsh
Bill O'Reilly of CBS News on July 2, 1980. (CBS/Getty Images)

Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly continues to defend his reputation passionately and with attitude — just the way his audience expects.

O’Reilly disputes new allegations that he lied about witnessing the execution of nuns while reporting from El Salvador.

He brought up the deaths on at least two occasions: “The Radio Factor” on September 27, 2005, and “The O’Reilly Factor” on December 14, 2012.

In the first, O’Reilly said, “I’ve seen guys gun down nuns in El Salvador.” In the second, he said, “I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head,” according to Media Matters.

The politically progressive media watchdog pointed out on Wednesday that Salvadorans had raped and murdered three American nuns and a lay worker in December 1980. But O’Reilly did not arrive in the country until the following year, according to his own timeline of events.

In “The No Spin Zone,” O’Reilly writes that he arrived in El Salvador to cover the conflict several weeks after he was promoted to CBS News correspondent in 1981.

O’Reilly responded that he was referring to seeing photographs, not the actual executions.

“While in El Salvador, reporters were shown horrendous images of violence that were never broadcast, including depictions of nuns who were murdered,” he said in a statement to Mediaite.

O’Reilly expanded upon why he brought up the pictures during his TV program on December 14, 2012, the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“The segment was about evil and how hard it is for folks to comprehend it. I used the murdered nuns as an example of that evil,” the statement reads. “That’s what I am referring to when I say ‘I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head.’ No one could possibly take that segment as reporting on El Salvador.”

The statement, however, does not address the claim on his radio program about seeing “guys gun down nuns.”

On Thursday, Media Matters President Bradley Beychok released a statment saying O'Reilly’s explanation comes “right out of his playbook” as a misinformer.

“Instead of either just acknowledging that he was wrong or backing up his claim to have witnessed nuns being executed,” he said, “his response sidesteps the issue entirely and never backs up his original claim.”

On Tuesday, the liberal group issued another report, based on a JFKFacts.org blog post from 2013, questioning whether O’Reilly repeatedly lied about hearing the gunshot blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

O’Reilly says on March 29, 1977, as a young journalist for a Dallas TV station, he tracked down George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian man who knew Lee Harvey Oswald and had been contacted by congressional investigators, at his daughter’s home in Palm Beach, Fla.

As O’Reilly arrived at the door, he says, de Mohrenschildt committed suicide by shooting himself.

This version of events appears in O’Reilly’s book “Killing Kennedy” and has been repeated on his television program.

But Jefferson Morley, a visiting professor at the University of California, who runs JFKFacts.org, says on that day O’Reilly was in Dallas, more than 1,200 miles away. To demonstrate his point, Morley embedded audio clips he says are from a phone conversation between O’Reilly and Gaeton Fonzi, a congressional investigator.

The claim has not fractured O’Reilly’s relationship with the book’s publisher.

Henry Holt and Co. “fully stand behind Bill O’Reilly and his best-seller ‘Killing Kennedy,’ and we’re very proud to count him as one of our most important authors,” spokesperson Pat Eisemann said in a statement.

The conservative pundit, who thinks of himself as a patriotic “culture warrior” pitted against secular progressive “pinheads,” does not pull punches when responding to critics.

“I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat,” O’Reilly told a reporter covering the dispute over his honesty for the New York Times.

The heightened interest in O’Reilly’s credibility arose from allegations that he lied about his experiences in Argentina to bolster his credibility as a war correspondent, as Brian Williams of “NBC Nightly News” had done regarding Iraq.

But, as Time magazine and others point out, O’Reilly’s indignant rejoinders contrast sharply with Williams’ on-air apology and subsequent silence.

On “The O’Reilly Factor” Monday night, he aired archival footage from the protests outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, which he had previously characterized as a “war zone.”

After showing the footage, O’Reilly said, “I want to stop this now. I hope we can stop it. I really do.”