Weekend open thread: Frauds and hoaxes

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center have uncovered damning evidence that fossil fuels companies paid a scholar to produce research casting doubt on whether human activity is causing climate change. Justin Gillis and John Schwartz report for the New York Times that Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics,

has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.

Now that NBC News has suspended anchor Brian Williams for six months over untruthful accounts of his experience as an embedded reporter in Iraq, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is under a new level of scrutiny. He has falsely claimed to have reported on the Falklands War from a “war zone” and now won’t answer questions about the matter. Journalist Eric Jon Engberg remembers things differently from O’Reilly. Excerpts from his account are after the jump. I will be shocked if Fox News disciplines one of its stars. UPDATE: Multiple former CBS correspondents have spoken out to “challenge O’Reilly’s depiction of Buenos Aires as a ‘war zone’ and a ‘combat situation.’ They also doubt his description of a CBS cameraman being injured in the chaos.”

The Des Moines Register’s chief politics correspondent Jennifer Jacobs published a story on Friday headlined, “Joni Ernst targeted by hoax ‘news’ reports.” Her primary example was this post on the National Report website, titled “Joni Ernst: Vaccines Should Be Outlawed As They ‘Manipulate Brains,’ Make People More Liberal.” Many people circulated the vaccine story on social media, unaware that it came from a satirical website. But satire is not the same thing as a hoax. A “hoax ‘news’ report” is more like when Jacobs used her position at the Des Moines Register to suggest that Bruce Braley had claimed to be a farmer–a charge that played into Republican campaign narratives but made no sense to anyone who had ever heard Braley’s stump speeches or read his official bio.  

From a Facebook post by Eric Jon Engberg:

I can provide some eyewitness information on this matter because I was one of the correspondents in Buenos Aires with O’Reilly and the rest of the rather large staff of CBS News people who were there “covering” the war. To begin with “covering” is an overstatement of what we were doing. [David] Corn is correct in pointing out that the Falkland Islands, where the combat between Great Britain and Argentina took place, was a thousand miles away from Buenos Aires. We were in Buenos Aires because that’s the only place the Argentine military junta would let journalists go. Our knowledge of the war was restricted to what we could glean from comically deceitful daily briefings given by the Argentine military and watching government-controlled television to try to pick up a useful clue from propaganda broadcasts. We — meaning the American networks — were all in the same, modern hotel and we never saw any troops, casualties or weapons. It was not a war zone or even close. It was an “expense account zone.” […]

Within a couple of days of [O’Reilly’s] arrival the British Army and Marines had completed their land assault on the Falklands capital and forced the Argentines to surrender. The Argentine public, who had been living under a murderous, corrupt military government for years, were driven into the streets of their capital by rage over the loss of a war they had been repeatedly told their army was winning. As night fell after the surrender statement, several thousand people gathered in the streets around the presidential palace to protest. All the members of the CBS reporting staff and all the two-person camera crews we had in Buenos Aires were sent in to the street. I believe there were four or five crews. The reporters, as I remember, were O’Reilly, Chuck Gomez, Charles Krause, Bob Schieffer and myself. Somewhere it has been reported that O’Reilly has claimed he was the only CBS News reporter who had the courage to go into the street because the rest of us were hiding in our hotel. If he said such thing it is an absolute lie. Everyone was working in the street that night, the crews exhibiting their usual courage. O’Reilly was the one person who behaved unprofessionally and without regard for the safety of the camera crew he was leading. […]

O’Reilly has said he was in a situation in Argentina where “my photographer got run down and hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete and the army was chasing us.” The only place where such an injury could have occurred was the relatively tame riot I have described above. Neither 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 part of O’Reilly’s Argentina story is not credible without further confirmation, and O’Reilly should identify the cameraman by name so he can be questioned about the alleged injury.

The gunfire reported by O’Reilly is equally suspicious. One of our camera crews reported that they believed the Argentine police or army had fired a few rubber bullets at the crowd. That was the only report we received of weapons being fired that night. The crowd had been confined to a relatively small area around the president’s palace. It wasn’t like there were protests going on all over the city. I did see soldiers armed with rifles on guard around the presidential palace. But they did not take aim at the crowd and I heard no gunfire. No one I talked to as the crowd was breaking up told me they heard gunfire. O’Reilly’s claim that the army fired weapons into the crowd is not supported by anyone’s recollection. Had that happened, I believe, the riot would have escalated into an uncontrollable attack on government buildings all over the capital. Nothing like that happened. Actually, the military chiefs, yielding to the public outcry over the war’s outcome, were willing to give up their offices, which they did the next day.

I am fairly certain that most professional journalists would refer to the story I have just related as “routine reporting on a demonstration that got a little nasty.” O’Reilly, in defending himself yesterday against Corn’s “Mother Jones” piece, said “We were in a combat situation in Buenos Aires.” He is misrepresenting the situation he covered, and he is obviously doing so to burnish his credentials as a “war correspondent,” which is not the work he was performing during the Falklands war. I don’t think it’s as big a lie as Brian Williams told because O’Reilly hasn’t falsely claimed to be the target of an enemy attack, but he has displayed a willingness to twist the truth in a way that seeks to invent a battlefield that did not exist. And he ought to be subject to the same scrutiny Williams faced. He also ought to be ashamed of himself.

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