Bill O’Reilly And America’s Reporting Of The Troubles

Volunteers of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army preparing for an attack, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1989
Volunteers of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army preparing for an attack, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1989

Do you remember the days when editors or producers working in the newsrooms of New York, Washington or Los Angeles would contact their London-based “European correspondent” and ask him – or more rarely, her – to cover a high-profile story connected to the conflict in “Northern Ireland”? Throughout the late 1960s to early 1990s most American reporting in relation to the Long War consisted of items recycled from the British press, the journalistic neutrality of the transcribed pieces dependant on how long the recycler had been resident in Britain (the opinions and terminology usually revealed the ones who had “gone native” in the UK bureaux). For TV correspondents a simple head-and-shoulders report to camera filmed outside a well-known London landmark, with a few cut-away shots from Irish media or the archives, usually appeased the requirements of the network folks back home. However every now and again some hotshot, up-and-coming editor or producer in the States would take it into his or her head to uncover the “real facts” about the conflict in the north of Ireland, and with a heavy heart the veteran journalist would be forced to make the arrangements to leave his comfy Islington home and fly over to Belfast.

Such trips rarely yielded anything notable since most US journalists coordinated their visits with resident British officials in the “last colony” beforehand (and if they didn’t the British intelligence services soon warned their beleaguered colleagues across the Irish Sea of potentially unwelcome foreign guests). In a majority of cases the press officers of the so-called “Northern Ireland Office” (NIO), in co-operation with the British military and paramilitary PR people, had touring reporters wrapped in bubblewrap from the moment they stepped off their planes at the joint military-civil airport at Aldergrove (now Belfast International Airport). The journos would be whisked off to the once dilapidated Europa Hotel (“the most bombed hotel in the world!”, they would be informed just to add a further air of excitement to the whole occasion) where, if it was the 1970s or early ‘80s, they would be plied with copious amounts of food and drink (and drugs and prostitutes, should their inclinations run that way) over the course of two or three days; and all at the UK tax-payers expense.

Inevitably there would be the mandatory tour of a nearby fortified police or military base coupled with a ride in the back of an armoured-jeep around the slightly safer streets of North Belfast, and if the reporter was lucky perhaps a flight by helicopter-gunship over what the British termed “bandit country”, a propaganda-savvy description for those rural regions controlled by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army (in reality most of the flights were a quick hop around counties Antrim or Down, well away from the “front”). Occasionally, when the visiting American press correspondents got too inebriated and hungover to produce any copy of their own, the NIO officials would be helpful enough to supply some ready-written materials which could be faxed on to their Stateside bosses, before the reporters returned to the placidity of London dinner-parties and shopping on Oxford Street. So worked US  journalism during the first two decades of the “Troubles” (at least for the hackier end of the market; those with airs and graces were sometimes given the red carpet treatment at Stormont Castle).

Volunteers of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army on patrol, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1989
Volunteers of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army on patrol, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1989

I was reminded of all this following reports of the possible (if unlikely) downfall of the American conservative media demagogue Bill O’Reilly. Amidst a swirl of allegations and counter-allegations in relation to his journalistic career comes this from the Washington Post:

“In his 2013 book, “Keep It Pithy,” the Fox News host recounted, “I’ve seen soldiers gun down unarmed civilians in Latin America, Irish terrorists kill and maim their fellow citizens in Belfast with bombs.”

But in light of a week-long controversy surrounding other comments that O’Reilly has made about his career, those statements bear closer examination.

O’Reilly traveled to Northern Ireland in 1984 to research a book about the Troubles, according to Fox News. The book was never finished, and it’s not clear whether he covered the conflict for any news organization. At the time, he was working for a Boston TV station, WCVB, but his then-boss, Philip S. Balboni, said that O’Reilly covered only local news and did commentary for the station.

O’Reilly didn’t mention seeing any terrorist bombings in Northern Ireland during a radio interview with syndicated host Hugh Hewitt last week. Instead, he told a milder story: “We went on a raid in Divis Flats with the police. And it was a pretty intense situation. There was stuff being thrown, arrests being made, all of that.”

Were you in fear of physical harm?” Hewitt asked.

No, O’Reilly replied.

The long-since-demolished Divis Flats were infamous in western Belfast, occupied primarily by poor Catholic residents. The housing complex was considered a stronghold of the separatist Irish Republican Army and was the scene of many police raids during the decades of the Troubles.

Asked about O’Reilly’s statements Friday, a Fox News spokesman said that O’Reilly was not an eyewitness to any bombings or injuries in Northern Ireland. Instead, he was shown photos of bombings by Protestant police officers.”

Which, given what we know about how US journalists reported on the “Troubles”, is far more believable. Those who sought to report outside the British propaganda machine were few and far between.

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25 comments

  1. I haven’t read this one yet.
    So my comment relates to the pictures, only.
    And cconsidering that the IRA got most of their M16’s in the 1970’s they did well to hold onto the one’s in the pictures until as late as 1989…and beyond most likely.
    Also the picture on the main page, with the guy holding up the M16..Looks like a Browning Heavy Machine gun…3 Inch and are those other guns HK’s ???? which are pointing in the air???

    1. Yep, Oz, taken from a publicity shoot by (P)IRA, c.1980s. Mostly American-supplied weapons, assault rifles (M16s, and at least two AR18s rather than HKs?) and one M2 Browning. Here is a close-up. Most of the combat uniforms are ex-US military fatigues.

  2. For a country that takes overt pride in having broken free from Great Britain nearly 240 years ago, the US certainly has been more than happy to assist the former “Mother Country” in oppressing other colonies, hasn’t it?

    1. In some cases unfortunately true. One remembers the Irish delegations at the post-WWI peace conferences seeking recognition from the US led by President Woodrow Wilson and the latter’s refusal to jeopardise his diplomatic and military alliances with Britain by meeting them. Realpolitik came first, no matter how many Congressmen at home demanded action.

      The peculiar nature of US reporting on the conflict in the north-east of Ireland is not unique, and there are many reasons for it. However the stories that survive from the period of the 1970s and ’80s – of American journalists being wined, dined and in some cases blackmailed by British officials during expeditions to Belfast – are legendary.

      Of course when they did try and set off on their own more often than not the legal guns were brought out against them.

  3. As I have said before, and will no doubt have to say again, I don’t have a huge amount of empathy with the Unionist people of Norn Iron, and it is undoubtedly true that in some alternative history science fiction history of Ireland (does anyone on this site read Harry Turtledove novels by the way?) maybe the place would be a better place without them. However, they exist, are there, have been for four centuries, and they are primarily descended from people who frankly had themselves very little option but to move from southern Scotland and the English borders, cos, well, the alternative was starving to death.

    I remember some yrs back logging onto a Noraid website in the U.S. – among the comments were “Get out of my country you Irish b******ds:, which was signed “Chief Running Bear, the reservation, Utah. Quite witty I thought.

    As i have also probably said before, there was probably no “”anti-colonial struggle” I can think of in which the insurgents were fed, watered, housed (at the UK taxpayer’s expense, natch) given dole money and healthcare and whose kids were sent to college by tax money paid by the people in England that they murdered, and making huge sums of money from smuggling: and these days, obviously, dumping diesel in the water supply.

    It would be interesting to see how, hypothetically Vladimir Putin would have dealt with Slab Murphy and the people of Crossmaglen had he been British PM in the eighties.

    1. “…..It would be interesting to see how, hypothetically Vladimir Putin would have dealt with Slab Murphy and the people of Crossmaglen had he been British PM in the eighties.,,..”
      =====================================#

      As long as we are playing “what If…”
      Neither Vlad Putin..nor any other Soviet/Russian leader would have allowed a 50 Year sectarian misrule..You remember that??? Don’t you??
      So in your never never land lets compare like with like.
      Vlad Putin..would also have never closed down the Belfast shipyards…And there would have been Thousands of Catholics given jobs there..instead of the disgusting sectarian practices that DID go on there.
      If it wasn’t for soldiarty and the EU Poland would have kept it’s shipyards open too..Which employed Ten’s of thousands.
      So…If your going to attribute things been done different under different rulers.
      Well Let’s be having no Orange sectarian scumbags..and let’s have an industrial policy that doesn’t just reward Bankers..at the expense of other industrial jobs.
      Looks nice from where I’m sitting..
      But you keep the flame burning for voodoo economics.
      And you missed out on the biggest benefactors of the Brit State..the W**ker Bankers !!!!
      And I don’t see them queueing up to pay tribute aka Their Taxes to the Queen either.

      1. Neither Vlad Putin..nor any other Soviet/Russian leader would have allowed a 50 Year sectarian misrule.
        —————
        LOL – Looks like that you’re one of those “useful idiots” who naively believe that the USSR was a socialist paradise.
        Not only they did allow that – they ENCOURAGED it – and they still do.

        The USSR was a Russian Nazi country where non-Russians were 2nd class citizens and people who survived commie persecutions (like my grandparents) were 3rd class citizens.

        After the occupation the soviets confiscated property from many Latvian families, deported them to Siberia and gave their property to Russians who immigrated from the USSR.
        (That’s how socialists acquire wealth, because they don’t know how to generate it themselves)

        And later they built new apartments and gave them for free to immigrants while the locals had to live in dorm rooms or multiple families had to share a single apartment.
        The country was a big open air prison and they didn’t let anyone out – unless you were a high-ranking party member – visiting any non-Warsaw pact country legally was out of the question.
        People also didn’t have any human rights and the police were allowed to do anything they pleased – search property without a warrant, arrest anyone and beat them up, etc.

        And they also practised unidirectional “bilingualism” – only the Latvians had to learn 2 languages and most immigrants treated our language and its speakers with utter contempt.

        And after we regained independence the streets weren’t littered with Russian corpses, we allowed them to keep their property and only required them to learn the local language – oh the horror.
        (Unlike the IRA – we didn’t blow up a single bomb in areas with many Russian speakers – yeah we’re such weirdos)

        1. Janis.
          In Ireland we had all that under the Brits for Centuries.
          Only difference is the Russians allowed each of the Countries occupied under the USSR to have jobs.
          Polish Shipyards..Hungry was I think the electronics centre…etc..etc.
          You also say the in your Country was an open air prison…nobody was allowed out.
          In Ireland very few were allowed stay.
          And the Brits destroyed the Irish Merchant class..to keep it that way.
          In short the Russkies allowed/ordered each of it’s satellites to industralize..The Brits wanted dependanacy for it’s colonies.
          And it DIDN’T want to have to compete with it’s colonies for market share.

          Did you know that in 1922 Treaty…The Brits warned the Irish NOT to create a large Navy.
          When you think of it..WTH were they worried about??
          Still that little fact..Tells you a great deal about the Brits and their attitude to the Irish.

          1. Yeah – jobs that paid you worthless money (it was not convertible to real money like USD or GBP) that you would then try to spend at shops that had very little variety of goods and there were constant shortages of EVERYTHING – even the most basic necessities.
            People had to either get what they needed from their friends who worked at shops or warehouses or to simply steal it themselves.

        2. “The USSR was a Russian Nazi country where non-Russians were 2nd class citizens and people who survived commie persecutions (like my grandparents) were 3rd class citizens.
          After the occupation the soviets confiscated property from many Latvian families, deported them to Siberia and gave their property to Russians who immigrated from the USSR.”

          Absolutely. I agree with you, Jānis.

          But then again Latvians were not the nicest of people either. Look up the Einsatzgruppen reports (the Stahlecker Report, in particular) to see how merrily Latvian auxiliary police helped their German occupiers in contributing to the Final Solution.
          Between 22 June, 1941 to 15 October, 1941 – “In Latvia up to now 30,000 Jews were executed in all. 500 were made harmless by pogroms in Riga.”
          Notice that, Jānis – 30,000 Jews “up to now”. God knows the total Latvians contributed to the Holocaust. Let’s hope your grandparents who survived commie persecution did not contribute to Nazi persecution.
          Latvian history did not begin with Soviet occupation. So, spare us your condescension.

          1. Their actions weren’t sanctioned by the Latvian state, because it was destroyed by the soviets in 1940 and didn’t exist in 1941.

            No one persecuted the Jews in Latvia before WW2.

            And most of us deeply despise the Nazi collaborators who participated in the holocaust.
            I don’t feel guilty for their crimes at all, because I believe in personal responsibility not collective guilt.

            1. Jānis, in no way would I suggest you feel guilty. It’s not your fault.
              But does it matter whether that shameful past was justified by the State or not? It happened and Latvians (and other Baltic peoples) were responsible. Irrespective of the influences, they partook in one of the greatest crimes ever.

            2. Wouldn’t say I was an expert on Lithuanian history, but from what I understand from speaking to a few Baltic emigres over the years, the Latvians started massacring the local Jews BEFORE the Germans rocked up in 1941. Indeed many of them volunteered to join in with the Wehrmacht.
              I am not a “Holocaust Denier” I would accept that the historical evidence suggests it happened. But the reason that the Jews were so unpopular in the Baltics was, by all accounts their very close collaboration with the Soviet occupation forces.

              The % of the Jews in Latvia who joined the Soviets in 41, and helped them to wipe out the opposition movement , helped em arrest the anti-Soviet resistance, was just phenomenal.

              Also, the number of senior Communists within the Soviet Union who were Jews is simply extraordinary. Kamenev, Trotsky, Zinoviev etc etc. A large % of Eastern Europeans came to regard Communism and the Jews as almost synonymous: the hatred that the people had for the Communists was sometimes hard to distinguish from anti-semitism: and if they were not regarded as Communists or secret police informers, they were seen as loansharks: or indeed, in many cases, informers AND loansharks.

      2. If Republicans rejected the British State, why didn’t they also reject British social security, British child benefit, British college grants, the NHS etc? Just askin’.

        I remember many moons ago having a conversation with a friend of mine in London, himself of Irish extraction, a wheeler dealer with fingers in plenty of pies, who in the early nineties invested heavily in the Belfast housing market in the hope that The Peace Process might result in a property price increase in the area. I asked him, somewhat naively, how exactly one went about collecting rent on the Falls or Shankill. He just laughed and said: “None of my tenants has a job: it all just comes straight from the DHSS. It’s when one of em occasionally DOES get some work and stops claiming that you have to worry, cos by then years of having the taxpayer do it for them means they regard not paying for accomm as a basic human right.”

        1. Because, John, they paid taxes directly or indirectly under the authority of the British state. So why shouldn’t they seek access to the education, health and social security services of the state they, through no wish or desire of their own, are born into? They are Irish in Ireland living under the colonial rag-end of the British state in Ireland. As well ask why African-Americans who claim institutional racism on behalf on the American state, or wider American society, don’t refuse state-paid education, health, etc. It is a nonsense argument.

    2. Some fair points, John, and the “Chief Running Bear” comment was a good one. And, yes, I have read the Harry Turtledove alternative history series and quite enjoyed them despite their sometimes schlocky style. He is something of a guilty pleasure 😉

      A quick response on the “dumping diesel in the water supply” allegations which have so spectacularly backfired on some Fine Gael and Labour TDanna in recent weeks, not to mention the Irish/Sunday Independent gang (notorious “security” correspondent Jim Cusack seems to have gone into meltdown mode following his very public humiliation by the Garda Commissioner and SF).

      From Anne Campbell writing for the Argus newspaper, unwittingly featured on the Indo website:

      “Gardai ‘have no information or intelligence to support the assertion that the Provisional IRA still maintains its military structure and confined its criminal activities to fuel laundering, cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting’ according to a letter received by Sinn Fein from the office of the Commissioner Noreen O’Sullivan.

      The letter was received by the party in the wake of allegations by Sunday Independent journalist Jim Cusack that illegal cigarettes have become ‘one of the IRA’s main sources of income, along with fuel laundering’ and alleged the Provos still retains their military command structure.

      And last month Mr Cusack claimed that fuel launderers, linked to the Provos, were dumping toxic diesel sludge into waterways that feed into the reservoirs that serve the drinking water supply to Dundalk and North Louth.

      Tests by Irish Water showed that the water coming from taps in Dundalk was clean and safe to drink.

      Louth TD Gerry Adams said Sinn Fein’s justice spokesperson, Padraig MacLochlainn, wrote to the commissioner after Mr Cusack made the allegations about the illegal cigarette trade.

      A letter received last week from the Commissioner’s Private Secretary on behalf of Commissioner, O’Sullivan said: ‘An Garda Síochána hold no information or intelligence to support the assertion of Mr Cusack that ‘the Provisional IRA still maintains its military structure and confines its criminal activities to fuel laundering, cigarette-smuggling and counterfeiting.

      The letter goes on to say the Independent Monitoring Commission in 2009 confirmed that the IRA structures were disbanded, that some former members were engaged in crime for personal gain but without sanction or support; and this was based on briefings from An Garda Síochána, the PSNI, and UK police and security agencies in the UK and America.

      Mr Adams said: ‘There have been ongoing efforts by some journalists and political leaders to demonise border communities in North Louth, South Down and South Armagh.

      ‘They have also sought to blame republicans on criminal activities which Sinn Féin has stood firmly against.

      ‘The letter from Commissioner O’Sullivan disproves these spurious claims. Sinn Féin is working with the Garda and PSNI against criminality of all kinds.”

      Mr MacLochalinn said: ‘The letter from the Garda Commissioner contradicts the claims of the small number of journalists who have pedalled bogus accusations about republicans.

      ‘It is a clear rejection of other allegations, including the disgraceful claim that republicans were poisoning the water system for Dundalk’.”

      Ouch!

      1. The Garda HAVE to say all this bull, – I am sure through gritted teeth – cos that’s how you keep your job. If you say anything else you will be jeopardising The Peace Process ™ How can you hit me with The Peace Process in me arms? – also if you actually try to do any police work in that area, there is a good chance you will meet the fate of the gallant Adrian O’Donoghue. It is utterly inconceivable that the men who murdered him were operating without the at least tacit support of Slab & co.

        I remember years back attending a lecture by Liam Kennedy, the history prof at Queens – originally from Kilkenny. Someone afterwards asked him some questions during which he used the dread phrase “Parity of Esteem” Kennedy grunted and said “Jesus, is that the buzzphrase these days? I think parity of lack of esteem might be more appropriate.”

    3. It would be interesting to see how, hypothetically Vladimir Putin would have dealt with Slab Murphy and the people of Crossmaglen had he been British PM in the eighties.
      ———————
      It’s easy to answer that.
      Just like he dealt with his political opponent Boris Nemtsov a couple of days ago. He would simply have them killed.

  4. Feisigh leat, Bill. Just another lying American journalist. May they all rot in the theological place of eternal punishment! Or like one of my friends once said, may the fleas of a thousand camels infest his privates.

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