If there is one thing I have learned in a lifetime of journalism it is that journalists exaggerate.
When I started in this business in California I knew a lot of British foreign correspondents who loved to entertain with ripping yarns from postings they had worked in.
They were wonderful tales, all the better for being embellished over the occasional liquid lunch.
I never thought any less of them. It almost goes with the territory.
One thing you learn in this business is that there is no objective truth in many instances, merely one person’s opinion of it.
The only other breed that match or surpass them are politicians, who exaggerate for very good reasons – to impress those very same journalists who then call them on that exaggeration.
If I had a dime for every Irish, British or US politician who exaggerated his/her role in the Irish peace process I’d be a rich man.
When your job is to know and get known exaggeration becomes an intrinsic part of that and you will see examples every day – if such and such gets elected the world will end or this exclusive is the most incredible exclusive in the history of journalism.
The latest guy in the crosshairs is Fox News titan Bill O’Reilly, who is accused of exaggerating his part in covering the Falklands/Malvinas war.
What he actually covered, it seems, was a pretty tame protest that took place against the Argentine junta at the time
Here is O'Reilly’s description of the riot: “The camera went flying. I saved the tape because it was unbelievable tape. But I dragged him off the street because he was bleeding from the ear and had hit his head on the concrete. … The sound man is trying to save the camera … And then the army comes running down and the guy points the M-16. And I’m going, ‘Periodista, no dispare,’ which means, ‘Journalist, don’t shoot.’ And I said, ‘Por favor.’ Please don’t shoot…Then the guy lowered his gun and went away.”
Here is what a fellow CBS employee at the time remembered Erik Engberg: “The only place where such an injury could have occurred was the relatively tame riot I have described above. Neither [Larry] Doyle, who would have been immediately informed of injury to any CBS personnel, nor anyone else who was working the story remembers a cameraman being injured that night.
No one who reported back to our hotel newsroom after the disturbance was injured; if a cameraman had been ‘bleeding from the ear’ he would have immediately reported that to his superiors at the hotel.”
This allegation on O’Reilly’s part, alleges Engberg, is “not credible." O’Reilly has written in his book “No Spin Zone” that “many were killed” in the post-surrender protest. In fact nobody was.
No big deal to be honest. Just the usual bit of chest-thumping by a foreign correspondent at the time. If it wasn’t Bill O’Reilly no one would have paid attention subsequently.
Brian Williams, of course, is the poster boy for such exaggeration claiming he was in a helicopter that was shot at when flying into Iraq. In fact he was in a following-on helicopter that took no fire.
Williams and O’Reilly subsequently became famous which is why their stories have become the stuff of legend now as if they are the only journalists who ever exaggerated.
I am here to tell you dear reader they are not. Such is life.