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Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly, what’s the difference?

Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly, what’s the difference?

Why did Brian Williams have his career suspended over “misremembering” one story, while Bill O’Reilly is making a career out of doing the same thing?

“Seek truth and report it.”

The code of ethics for journalists is founded on honesty, integrity and accurate reporting. When a trusted journalist breaks this code, their reputation is instantly tarnished and their career is immediately scrutinized.

When a journalist chooses to tell a good story over telling an accurate one, they are consciously breaking the code of ethics they agreed to abide by. It is only fair to question them and look at their accuracy with a critical eye, right?

When nighttime news anchor Brian Williams broke this code in February, he experienced this backlash first hand as many were quick to call him out. His career, which spanned over 20 years, was put on hold due to him “misremembering” certain facts.

No one was quicker to call Williams out faster and more aggressively than political pundit Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly urged his viewers to “think about other news agencies that are distorting the facts” because deception is out there.

Ironically, though, O’Reilly has faced multiple accusations of distorting the facts and reporting less-than-accurately on several major news stories, including lying about reporting in a war zone and being attacked during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

O’Reilly’s tall tales have been documented, so why wasn’t he held to the same journalistic standard as Brian Williams? It comes down to public opinion and what they’re reporting on.

O’Reilly has made a career out of controversy, flame wars and aggressive behavior. He is not considered a “serious” journalist because he’s a pundit on Fox News, a station known for biased reporting, inflammatory stories, and pandering to a conservative audience hell-bent on lampooning liberals.

If O’Reilly “misremembers,” who cares? He still got the facts mostly right. O’Reilly is not responsible for informing the whole public, just the small portion who rely on Fox News for their daily dose of right wing reporting.

Williams on the other hand, is the lead anchor for a national, nightly news broadcast. He was the unbiased, dog-loving, benevolent authority who was welcomed into our living rooms five days a week. For Williams to break our trust was devastating and unexpected.

We, as a public, put our good faith in Williams. We did not put our good faith in O’Reilly.

It may not be right, but Bill O’Reilly is not held as accountable for his lies because we don’t view him as an authority on journalism. Even though O’Reilly is still misleading the public and breaking the code of ethics, it’s almost expected he do so. Bill O’Reilly is controversial, while Brian Williams is not.

Williams is expected to be truthful and accurate, asking the same of O’Reilly would almost be expecting too much. O’Reilly does not have the same status and character as America’s news anchor—O’Reilly’s rapport with the nation is frayed, provocative and controversial.

While Brian Williams may never again hold the same reputation because of his actions, it is only because he had the reputation to protect.

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Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly, what’s the difference?