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Hewitt, Corn Square Off on O’Reilly Piece

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Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt and Mother Jones DC Editor David Corn sparred over Corn’s piece on Bill O’Reilly on Monday’s “Hugh Hewitt Show.”

The interview began with Hewitt asking about Alger Hiss, which Corn said he didn’t have an opinion on and didn’t care about.

Hewitt then began asking Corn about his membership in Phi Beta Kappa at Brown University, where Corn graduated from after he transferred from Columbia. Hewitt wondered whether Brown transferred Corn’s credits from Columbia, which Corn said he didn’t know. Hewitt then questioned “you don’t recall how you got it?” to which Corn said “I recall, you know, this is crap. What do you care?” Hewitt argued “it’s about credibility. It happened 30 years ago, right?”  Corn stated “but I’ve never talked about it since then, and I’ve never told stories about how I got it.” Hewitt responded with “it’s actually listed on your bio at Mother Jones.”

Corn then declared  “I haven’t used it, the story, of how I did it. Now listen, I know where you’re going here, Hugh, and I will hang up the phone with you if you don’t want to have an accurate description of what we wrote and what Bill O’Reilly has said, and what he has said about what he has said…We’re talking about statements he’s made in the last couple of years that he claims he hasn’t made, and he says that he hasn’t said, even though we have videotape of him saying it.”

Hewitt then said that he would get to the piece Corn wrote on O’Reilly, Corn dubbed Hewitt’s line of questioning “BS” and said “I’ll do the Bill O’Reilly thing here. I’ll start insulting you and not answering your questions if you don’t play this straight,” adding “I was told you’d play this straight, there’d be no games, and you know, you’re starting right off.” Hewitt countered, “No, actually, I think this goes to memory and 30 year ago events, but you don’t see the connection, so I’ll move on.” Corn argued back, “Bill O’Reilly says his memory is clear. He’s not saying there’s a memory problem.”

The two then sparred over Corn’s departure from Fox, which Hewitt said “it would go to motive as to why you were attacking Fox,” but conceded to Corn “you just established that your motive isn’t that you’re bitter about being fired.”

Corn then began asking if O’Reilly was asked similar salary questions during his earlier interview with Hewitt, which Hewitt maintained was irrelevant because Corn’s article was an attack on O’Reilly, to which Corn stated “it’s not an attack on Bill. Tell me where it attacks Bill.”

Corn raised similar questions when Hewitt asked about Corn’s receipt of the Polk Award,  saying “you didn’t ask Bill O’Reilly about the times he said he had a Peabody and it turned out not to be true.” Hewitt argued that Corn was deflecting and this was “not very courageous, and it’s not very intrepid. You’re not willing to take tough questions that expose it.”

The discussion eventually got onto the claims made by O’Reilly, with Hewitt asking whether an account by a former colleague of O’Reilly’s about his time in Argentina that “Nobody attacked the soldiers.  Nobody attacked the police,” which differs from a CNN report describing rioters “hurling coins, rocks, and even bricks at both police and journalists,” was “a different perspective thing.”

Corn responded “there’s always a question of perspective and of interpretation almost in any human event that happens. But there are sometimes, there still are facts that can be established and not established. When Bill O’Reilly says, as he has said the last few days, I never said I was in the Falklands, and there’s video from two years of Bill O’Reilly saying I was in the war zone in Argentina in the Falklands, in the Falklands, not in Buenos Aires, that is an incontrovertible fact. Now to the point that you talk about with Eric Engberg, you know, he describes the protest the way he saw it. Bill O’Reilly maybe saw it in a different way, but what Bill O’Reilly has said, repeated times, is at this protest, many people were killed, his words, many people were killed when Argentine soldiers gunned down civilians. There is no account of that that shows that. There is videotape that he shot himself, and other CBS people shot that same day, that don’t show Argentine soldiers shooting down people. All the press reporting that we have found that Erik Wemple in the Washington Post and other people have looked at, all say nothing about fatalities. And in fact, yesterday on Howie Kurtz’s show, O’Reilly read an article in which he said, this backs up my claim, backs up my claim, and he starts reading it, and he says one policeman pulled a pistol firing five shots. He ended the sentence there. In the New York Times, it continues, firing five shots over the heads of fleeing demonstrators. That’s not gunning people down. It may be bad. It may be worrisome. You may be fearful of it when you see it, but it’s not what he claimed happened. And today, just hours ago, Rich Meislin, the author, the reporter of the New York Times story that Bill O’Reilly claims backs up his story, put up a Facebook post, and he said no such thing. Bill O’Reilly cut out an important phrase when he read excerpts of my report. And then when he goes on to say as far as I know, no demonstrators were shot or killed by police in Buenos Aires that night. And he goes on to say what I saw in 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. Numerous, and this is me talking now, that was him. Numerous correspondents who were in Buenos Aires for the protests have said over and over again it was not a war zone. Maybe it was worrisome, maybe it was a riot that out of control, but if you covered a protest in Washington during the Vietnam War, in which there was scuffling and bottles thrown and fires set, are you allowed to say that you were a correspondent in the Vietnam War zone?”

He added, “a war zone, if the war zone has any meaning when you say I covered the war zone in the Falklands, if it has any meaning, if words have any meaning, a war zone means where there is a war going on, where people, where war is being fought, where there are, where you have armed combatants engaging. In no sense of imagination is a riot a war zone.”  After Hewitt questioned that definition, the two again got into a spat over the fairness of the interview.

The two got back to definitions of “war zone,” Corn continued, “a combat situation is when there are troops fighting with each other or with armed insurgents or an armed non-state party. That is combat. That is war. A protest with people getting angry and even throwing Molotov cocktails or whatever you want to call them is not combat. It’s not a war zone. It may be a violent situation. He could say I covered violence in Buenos Aires. But he wasn’t in a war zone in the Falklands…and also, he keeps saying, and this is part of why it’s a combat situation in his previous descriptions that he saw, you know, that during this protest, he Argentine military killed many people. They were gunning down civilians with real bullets. That’s what he said. That is not, you know, backed up by any account.”

Hewitt then asked about how Corn would define other situations, such as Northern Ireland or the terror attack in Mumbai. Corn said that if someone was covering the terrorist attack in Mumbai “you were at a terrorist attack,” but wouldn’t say if that, or Northern Ireland, would be a “combat zone,” arguing that such a definition was irrelevant in light of O’Reilly using the term “war zone.”

After some sparring over the objectivity of the interview, and Hewitt asking if Corn was questioning O’Reilly’s reporting in Northern Ireland, which Corn said he was not, the two turned back to Argentina, with Hewitt asking “so Tyler Hicks got one [a Polk Award] this year for being in a war zone. The picture they show of him is on a desert road. There’s a pickup truck in the back. There may be two guys with guns. There’s smoke. Is he in a war zone there?” Corn said he didn’t know where Hicks was, but maintained that O’Reilly was not in a war zone in the Falklands.

The two, again, had a disagreement over whether Hewitt had treated O’Reilly differently than he was treating Corn. After that, Hewitt said “I have a CNN report in front of me that says CNN report from Buenos Aires at the time when O’Reilly was there, said a squad of teargas-armed troops approached a crowd hurling coins, rocks and even bricks at both police and journalists. I wasn’t there. It happened 30 years ago. Like your Phi Beta Kappa, it’s all coming together now, David. You see how I set this up…Nobody can remember the specifics of 30 [years ago].” Corn countered “Bill O’Reilly has said repeated times that when he was there, Argentine troops mowed down, using real bullets, gunned down civilians, and he somehow managed to survive this, and that many people were killed. All that has no backup in any factual account, and other eyewitnesses there, the story you quote, the story that he quotes from the New York Times yesterday, none of that backs him up. He is, so you tell me. You tell me.”

Hewitt then asked whether, if any reports were unearthed showing that protesters were killed in Buenos Aires, that would make Corn’s story fall apart. Corn said “it depends what the circumstances were,” and that Hewitt was dealing in hypotheticals, and “everything that we’ve said, every eyewitness account that has come, that from then and that has come forward in the last two days, none of it backs them up.”

Hewitt argued “you can’t prove a negative, David, you can’t prove this story. People proved Brian Williams wasn’t in a helicopter that got shot down. That’s the problem…”

Corn countered, “You, actually, you have a protest that was widely covered by probably dozens of journalists. There were five journalists just from CBS alone or so there. But other networks, and the Latin American press as well. And nobody says, nobody says that the Argentine troops were gunning down people. So yeah, so if Bill O’Reilly says you know what, while I was there, while I was there, there was, I saw a nuclear blast…” Hewitt responded that “you don’t know and I don’t know if the Argentine military killed. There’s no evidence that they did. The Argentinian military, though, was the most ruthless in the world.”

The two then discussed the war of words over Corn’s piece, and Hewitt said he was “stunned” by O’Reilly calling Corn a “guttersnipe”

Hewitt then argued “look, David, here’s my view on this. This is all a big joke. The world’s going to hell in a hand basket. ISIS is marauding, and we’re trying to figure out if someone misreported or exaggerated a riot 30 years ago? Honest to God, do you people not realize the world is going to hell and you’re covering this nonsense? That’s my point. And that’s in the Washington Examiner today.” Corn shot back “Hugh, your false outrage here is belied by the fact that you just spent 30 minutes on this when you could have spent 30 minutes on ISIS.”

The two then debated Corn’s reporting on the Mitt Romney 47% tape, which Hewitt maintained was relevant “in the context of reading his story about Bill O’Reilly, which is advocacy journalism from the left, and that you are intent upon, in many instances, destroying people of the right. And that’s okay. That’s the game. You’re an advocate journalist like I’m an advocate journalist,” and that Corn was bringing up old material. Corn disagreed, arguing O’Reilly’s statements from the 80s mattered “because Bill O’Reilly has continue to talk about this from 1982. He has said it again after the Boston Marathon, gosh, the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, or the second day, whenever it was, he has a guy talking about how heroic the guy was, the photographer, in getting pictures from the Boston Marathon, and you know, all praise to a fellow who does that. And Bill O’Reilly says well, I’ve got a story, too. I was in a war zone in the Falklands…”

The interview then circled back to Corn’s position on Alger Hiss, which Hewitt maintained spoke to Mother Jones‘ credibility, a point Corn disagreed with. Hewitt then tried to go back to Corn’s academic credentials, and asked “can you send me your transcripts?” Corn maintained he didn’t have them in front of him because they were from several decades ago, to which Hewitt countered, “yeah, but the accounts upon which you were relying are all manufactured in the present about events 30 years ago.” Corn responded, “the Venona Papers, they came out before 30 years ago. You’re citing those. So I don’t see the problem here.” And “this is what people do when they do history or journalism. You look at the material the best from the time, because indeed, Hugh, you are correct. Memories are imperfect. So you go back to the source material and you get first-hand accounts from what happened at the time. And so if someone now says well, 30 years ago I was in the middle of a firefight, and you go back and you look at the account from the time, and they all say something that wasn’t a firefight, then that person’s memory is the least, you know, reliable source. But if they keep insisting it’s true, and they tell those stories in pursuit of a larger goal to steal valor from someone who’s covering the Boston Marathon, as Bill O’Reilly might have done two years ago, well then you’ve got it all wrapped up, don’t you, Hugh?”

Hewitt then returned to CNN’s report from Buenos Aires at the time of O’Reilly’s time there, which Corn maintained was just Hewitt repeating himself. Hewitt then asked “I have a different question. You do know about the Venona Transcripts then?” Corn took issue with this question, and hung up.

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett


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