Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
The New York Times set off a Clinton bomb when it revealed Monday night that Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state, used a personal email account instead of a government account for all of her official business. The newspaper reported that Clinton had turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department—yet only after her aides had vetted the massive collection of emails and decided which ones to give to the agency. And it noted that the probable 2016 candidate "may have violated federal requirements that officials' correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record."
Ka-boom. Another round in the Hillary wars. Her Republican antagonists pointed to this as a sign of Clinton antipathy toward transparency. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza quickly penned a piece headlined, "Hillary Clinton's Private Email Address at State Reinforces Everything People Don't Like About Her." Clintonistas rushed to her defense. Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton outfit, zapped out talking points: She had followed State Department precedent with regard to the use of email; she knew her emails sent to State Department officials at their official accounts would be retained; she has fully cooperated with State Department requests to produce her emails; and Colin Powell used his personal email account when he was secretary of state. Some pro-Clinton observers pointed out that the federal regulation instructing government employees to "not generally use personal email accounts to conduct official agency business" was not issued until September 2013, months after Clinton had left Foggy Bottom.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress has been covered as a spectacle orchestrated (perhaps in a misguided fashion) by the conservative GOP-Likud alliance to undercut President Barack Obama's effort to reach a deal with Iran limiting that government's nuclear program. But this stunt did highlight a significant aspect of the the ongoing debate over Iran—Netanyahu's position is extreme and unworkable: Iran should yield completely, or there will be war.
The ongoing negotiations between the United States and its allies and Iran have been a tough slog. But at the heart of the issue is a simple point: Will Iran be allowed to engage in any enrichment of uranium? Iran insists it is entitled to pursue a nuclear program, if only for civilian purposes. Netanyahu contends that if Tehran retains any nuclear program, there will be a risk that it can develop nuclear weapons with which it can threaten Israel's existence. Obama's aim is to impose severe restrictions on Iran's nuclear program to limit any ability to produce a nuclear bomb—and to ensure that if there were to be an Iranian breakout from an agreement that it would still take Tehran some time to make a bomb. Obama wants to minimize greatly the risk of Iran going nuclear; Netanyahu wants to eliminate the risk.
Throughout the controversy set off by a recent Mother Jonesarticle about Bill O'Reilly's mischaracterizations of his wartime reporting experience, the Fox News host has angrily insisted that "everything" he has said about his journalistic track record has been accurate. But his accounts have been contradicted by O'Reilly's former colleagues and other eyewitnesses—and, it turns out, by O'Reilly's own reporting at the time. Mother Jones has obtained the CBS News report O'Reilly filed at the end of the Falklands war. It makes no reference to the dramatic and warlike action—soldiers "gunning down" Argentine civilians with "real bullets"—O'Reilly has claimed he witnessed.
CBS News today posted its reports from Buenos Aires at the end of the Falklands war, in response to a request from Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who has been seeking to counter reports that he mischaracterized his wartime reporting experience. But rather than bolstering O'Reilly's description of the anti-government protest he says he covered as a "combat situation," the tape corroborates the accounts of other journalists who were there and who have described it as simply a chaotic, violent protest.
On his Monday night show, O'Reilly broadcast clips from the CBS video and maintained that the footage proved "I reported accurately the violence was horrific." But the issue has not been whether violence occurred at the demonstration. O'Reilly had previously claimed this protest—triggered when Argentines angry at the ruling junta's surrender to the Brits in the 1982 war gathered near the presidential palace—was a massacre, with Argentine troops gunning down civilians. O'Reilly has relied on that description to support his claim that he was in a "war zone…in the Falklands." The video does not show civilians being mowed down.
O'Reilly, who was reporting on the protest as a correspondent for CBS News, has asserted that during the demonstration, Argentine soldiers fired into the crowd with "real bullets" and slaughtered "many" civilians. As he put it in a 2009 interview, "Here in the United States we would use tear gas and rubber bullets. They were doing real bullets. They were just gunning these people down, shooting them down in the street."
Mother Jonesreported that O'Reilly's account of the protest was at odds with media reports from the time, which made no mention of troops firing real bullets into the crowd or civilians killed:
Dispatches on the protest filed by reporters from the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and UPI note that thousands did take to the street, setting fires, breaking store windows, and that riot police did battle with protesters who threw rocks and sticks. They say tear gas was deployed; police clubbed people with nightsticks and fired rubber bullets; reporters were assaulted by demonstrators and by police; and a photojournalist was wounded in the legs by gunfire. But these media accounts did not report, as O'Reilly claims, that there were fatalities.
On Sunday, CNN reported that seven of O'Reilly's former CBS colleagues disputed his claim that Argentine soldiers had fired live rounds at civilians. They also questioned O'Reilly's assertion that this protest constituted "combat" and occurred in a "war zone." Former CBS correspondent Eric Engberg, who wrote a lengthy Facebook post debunking O'Reilly's Falklands claims, said Buenos Aires "was not a war zone or even close. It was an 'expense account zone.'" And Richard Meislin, the former New York Times reporter whose account of the protest was selectively quoted by O'Reilly on a Fox News show on Sunday, noted on Facebook, "As far as I know, no demonstrators were shot or killed by police in Buenos Aires that night. What I saw on the streets that night was a demonstration—passionate, chaotic and memorable—but it would be hard to confuse it with being in a war zone."
Last week, after Mother Jonespublished an article by Daniel Schulman and me reporting on Bill O'Reilly's mischaracterizations of his wartime reporting experience, the Fox News host replied with insult, denial, threatening rhetoric, and bombast.
Insult: He called me a "liar," a "despicable guttersnipe," and "garbage."
Denial: Though the story included video of O'Reilly stating he had been "in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands," O'Reilly insisted, "I never said I was on the [Falklands] island, ever."
Threatening rhetoric: In one of his many comments to other reporters (while continuing to ignore the questions we sent him before publication), O'Reilly declared that I deserve "to be in the kill zone."
Bombast: O'Reilly proclaimed, "Everything I said about my reportorial career—EVERYTHING—is accurate."
And that was just in the first 24 hours. Eventually, O'Reilly added another element to his arsenal: proofiness.
After nearly a day of hurling invective, O'Reilly opened his cable show Friday night with a monologue that assailed me as a smear-meister. But he also tried to win the day by producing documents that, he asserted, showed how he had been unfairly tarred. "In what I consider to be a miracle," he declared, "I found this CBS internal memo from 33 years ago praising my coverage" of a protest in Buenos Aires that happened just as the 1982 Falklands war ended.
Our article had pointed out that O'Reilly's later accounts of this protest—which he called a "combat situation"—contained significant contradictions with the factual record. He has claimed that soldiers fired into the crowd, that "many" people were killed, and that "I was out there pretty much by myself because the other CBS correspondents were hiding in the hotel." (The Mother Jones article said nothing about how O'Reilly covered the protest at the time.)
Yet O'Reilly's dramatic account is disputed by media reports of the time and by other journalists who were there—including, CNN reported Sunday, seven CBS staffers who were in Buenos Aires at the time. (Former CBS News veteran Eric Engberg posted a particularly scathing recollection of O'Reilly's short stint in Buenos Aires as a CBS News correspondent.)
So what did the "miracle" memo say? It apparently was from the CBS news desk in New York City, and the note expressed "thanks for a fine piece." It showed, in other words, that O'Reilly covered the protest—which no one disputed—and it addressed none of the issues in question.
But wait, O'Reilly found another document in his basement—a letter he sent to a CBS News executive: "The crews were great…The riot had been very bad, we were gassed, shot at, and I had the best vantage point in which to report the story." Again, the document showed what no one had disputed—that the protest turned ugly, and that police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd—but it provided no information backing up O'Reilly's claim that soldiers gunned down civilians and "many" were killed.
"We have rock solid proof that David Corn smeared me," O'Reilly concluded. Not really.
On Sunday, O'Reilly, speaking by phone, was a guest on Fox News' MediaBuzz, which is hosted by the network's in-house media reporter, Howard Kurtz, and he brandished a new piece of proof: a New York Times article. The story, by Richard Meislin, chronicled the protest, and O'Reilly read several paragraphs that described the violence in Buenos Aires. We cited this article in our story, and it does not say anything about soldiers shooting into the crowd, or anyone being killed. Its only reference to police or military violence is this one line: "One policeman pulled a pistol, firing five shots over the heads of fleeing demonstrators." Nothing in the story matches O'Reilly's description of soldiers mowing down protesters. (The Times dispatch did say, "Local news agencies said three buses had been set ablaze by demonstrators and another one fired upon." It did not attribute those shots to soldiers or police, and the sentence suggests this violence was committed by protesters.)
But here's the tell: As O'Reilly read from the Times story, when he reached the line about a cop "firing five shots," he omitted the rest of the sentence: "over the heads of the fleeing demonstrators." He jumped straight to the next sentence, hoodwinking the audience, for with this selective quotation, he had conveyed the impression that at least one cop had been firing on the protesters. He had adulterated his supposed proof.
Later in the show, Kurtz gently asked O'Reilly, "You've have said you covered a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands War, you said the war zones of the Falkland conflict in Argentina. Looking back, do you wish you had worded it differently?" O'Reilly replied:
No. When you have soldiers, and military police, firing into the crowd, as the New York Times reports, and you have people injured and hurt and you're in the middle of that, that's the definition, all right.
Only that is not what the New York Times reported. O'Reilly was citing an article that disproved his point to prove his point.
And the reporter of that Times story, Richard Meislin, weighed in after the show to say O'Reilly had misled the audience about this article. On Facebook, Meislin wrote:
Bill O'Reilly cut out an important phrase when he read excerpts of my report from The Times on air Sunday to back up his claim that Buenos Aires was a "war zone" the night after Argentina surrendered to Britain in the Falklands war…
When he read it on Howard Kurtz's Media Buzz show, O'Reilly left out that the shots were "over the heads of fleeing demonstrators." As far as I know, no demonstrators were shot or killed by police in Buenos Aires that night.
What I saw on the streets that night was a demonstration—passionate, chaotic and memorable—but it would be hard to confuse it with being in a war zone.
There may be more proofiness to come. During Kurtz's show, O'Reilly announced that on his Monday night show he expected to air the footage that he and his crew gathered during the Buenos Aires protest. If he does, there's no doubt the video will present a protest that turned ugly. (Our article included video from the CBS News report on the protest—which did feature some of the footage that O'Reilly and his camera crew obtained—and that entire segment showed no troops or police firing on the protesters and slaughtering Argentines.) But unless the video O'Reilly presents on his program shows soldiers shooting into the crowd and massacring civilians, it will not likely bolster O'Reilly's case.
That doesn't mean he won't cite it as proof he's been wronged. That's how proofiness works. The assertion is more important than the evidence itself.