On a Thursday segment of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," host Bill O'Reilly directed a debate over crime and immigration in Sweden. On one side of the issue was a Swedish newspaper reporter Anne-Sofie Naslund, who argued against the notion that immigration was making her country dangerous. On the other side was a man named Nils Bildt, who was identified onscreen and verbally as a "Swedish defense and national security advisor."
Mr. Bildt argued that immigration had led to considerable social problems in Sweden, and said that the country's liberal leanings meant that people who shared his opinion on the subject were being "viewed as outsiders."
But it turns out that Bildt may be even more of an outsider than the show seemed to indicate. Swedish officials in the Swedish Defense Ministry and Foreign Office said that they had never heard of Bildt, and that he was not associated with any part of Sweden's government.
"We have no spokesman by that name," Marie Pisäter of the Ministry of Defense told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
The segment was the second time in under a week that a strange political happenstance in the United States left many Swedish officials scratching their heads. The first was a comment by President Trump during a rally in Florida which seemed to imply that a terrorist attack or immigrant-related had happened the previous day in Sweden, even though nothing of the sort had been reported.
"We've got to keep our country safe. You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden," Mr. Trump said at the time. "Sweden, who would believe this?"
Bildt echoed many of Trump's worries about immigration policy during the Thursday segment, speaking about crime and "socially deviant activity" in Swedish cities related to the influx of migrants into the country.
Bildt's appearance comes at a time of increased scrutiny of the "fake news" phenomenon on both sides of the political aisle, where inaccurate or outright false information is spread by media outlets with potentially negative consequences, particularly on the internet. While there is no evidence to suggest the Thursday misidentification of Bildt was an attempt to mislead viewers in any way, many experts have expressed concern over the tendency for people to accept falsehoods based on their preconceived biases. As the Christian Science Monitor's Story Hinckley reported in December:
“This is exactly what psychology literature on the topic would say. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable, so we expose ourselves to select information so we feel good about ourselves,” says Clare Wadel, research director at First Draft, a nonprofit that advocates for truth in the digital sphere. “When people on Facebook write ‘My sources say…’ it proves they are not looking for objective truth in the middle. Sources that are ‘mine’ will give me information to reaffirm what I already think.”
Critics blame the bait-and-click revenue system of today’s news for pushing the line between real and fake news. They also point to Facebook for allowing these stories to trend on news feeds around the world, misinforming voters at a crucial time, though both Facebook and Google now say they are taking steps to address the issue.
“The problem is that we are too credulous of news that reinforces our predispositions and too critical of sites that contradict them,” says Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth University in Hanover, N.H.
According to Dagens Nyheter, Nils Bildt was born Nils Tolling, who emigrated to the US in 1994 and changed his name in the early 2000s. Allegedly, Tolling was convicted of assaulting a law enforcement official, public inebriation, and obstruction of justice while living in Virginia and sentenced to a year in jail in 2014.
Bildt, however, disputes this claim.
"Had I spent a year in prison, I would think I would remember it," Bildt told The Washington Post.
Responding to the controversy, Bildt said that he had made it clear that he was a US-based, independent analyst, and that Fox News had chosen the "Swedish defense and national security advisor" descriptor.
"Sorry for any confusion caused, but needless to say I think that is not really the issue," Bildt said in a statement to the website Mediaite. "The issue is Swedish refusal to discuss their social problems and issues."
Bildt is apparently a founding member of Modus World LLC, a consulting firm based in Washington, Brussels, and Tokyo, according to the Washington Post. As of the time of writing this article, however, the Modus World website appears to be inaccessible.
Robert Egnell, a professor of leadership at Swedish Defense University, says he was in a master's degree program in war studies with Bildt at King's College London. Engell says Bildt was an odd choice for the program.
"He is in not in any way a known quantity in Sweden and has never been part of the Swedish debate," he said. "He has not lived in Sweden for a very long time and no one within the Swedish security community (which is not a very big pond) seems to know him."
David Tabacoff, the executive producer of "The O'Reilly Factor," defended the booking.
"Our booker made numerous inquiries and spoke to people who recommended Nils Bildt and after pre-interviewing him and reviewing his bio, we agreed that he would make a good guest for the topic that evening." Mr. Tabacoff said in a statement.