On his program Monday night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly made note of a statement from a former colleague supporting the host in one of the continuing controversies over his credibility. “The far left attacks on my reporting continue — nothing I can do about it,” said the host. “But if you’re interested, the reporter who was with me 38 years ago has put out a statement on my book ‘Killing Kennedy.'”
That statement can be found right here. At issue is O’Reilly’s account of his exploits in covering the suicide of George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian emigre, friend of Lee Harvey Oswald and, thus, a character in the investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In “Killing Kennedy,” O’Reilly penned a mighty boast in characteristic chest-beating fashion about his work on March 29, 1977: “As the reporter knocked on the door of de Mohrenschildt’s daughter’s [Florida] home, he heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide of the Russian, assuring that his relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald would never be fully understood. By the way, that reporter’s name is Bill O’Reilly.”
Not really, according to a growing band of debunkers. Reporter and University of California (Washington Center) visiting professor Jefferson Morley debunked it in 2013. After O’Reilly recently came under fire for tall tales from his reporting in Argentina, Media Matters for America debunked it again, securing input from colleagues of O’Reilly’s at Dallas TV station WFAA who said there was no way the future King of Cable News was in Florida at the time. CNN’s Brian Stelter then disproved O’Reilly’s claim by securing clear audio of a conversation between O’Reilly and a congressional investigator in which O’Reilly pledges that he’s going to travel to the site of de Mohrenschildt’s suicide: “I’m coming down there tomorrow, I’m coming to Florida,” says O’Reilly on the tape. And then Edward Jay Epstein debunked it in Newsweek, writing that he interviewed de Mohrenschildt on the last day of his life and that O’Reilly’s account fails on several levels. The debunkers agree on this point: O’Reilly was more than 1,000 miles away from the de Mohrenschildt suicide at the time that it happened.
Against all that stands the statement from longtime television news reporter Bob Sirkin, who released a statement Monday on the site of Henry Holt and Co., publisher of “Killing Kennedy.” He says that he and O’Reilly had traveled to Florida on the night of March 28 and arrived at West Palm Beach early on the 29th. “We proceeded to the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach,” says Sirkin. (The original is in all caps.) “And uh, that is where George de Mohrenschildt was being interviewed by Edward J. Epstein in an upstairs suite. So with our camera rolling, we knocked on Epstein’s door. When Epstein opens the door, we clearly see de Mohrenschildt sitting in the background at a dining room table.”
After the encounter at the hotel, says Sirkin in his statement, he and O’Reilly split up, with O’Reilly headed to the house in which de Mohrenschildt’s body was found. “It remains preposterous for anyone to claim that O’Reilly and I were not in Florida before, during, and following de Mohrenschildt’s death,” concludes Sirkin.
The version of events on the publisher’s site isn’t the first time that Sirkin has recounted the events of late March 1977. After the death of Gaeton Fonzi, the congressional investigator who served as a source for O’Reilly on de Mohrenschildt, Sirkin wrote about these exploits on a blog about the Kennedy assassination. The story starts the same:
Just hours after landing, O’Reilly and I, along with our cameraman, arrived at The Breakers. We paid a bell hop $25 to get the number of Epstein’s suite. With camera rolling, I knocked on the door. Epstein came to the door and went ballistic! You could see deMohrenschildt, in the background, sitting at a dining room table. Eptstein called hotel security. Within moments, we were all bodily removed from the premises. Just the beginning of our caper!
After that, however, Sirkin’s account differs from the recent posting that’s available on the site of O’Reilly’s publisher. There’s no mention of Sirkin and O’Reilly splitting up or of O’Reilly heading over to the house where de Mohrenschildt committed his last act. Instead, the account says, in part:
The next day, Gaeton Fonzi shows up in nearby Manalapan, Florida carrying a subpoena for deMohrenschildt to appear before the House Committee on Assassinations. The Committee wanted to grill deMohrenschildt on his and Oswald’s clandestine meeting with a CIA operative in Mexico City, about a month before the assassination. But deMohrenschildt never appeared before the committee.Shortly after receiving his subpoena, deMohrenschildt retreated to a bedroom inside a mansion owned by a Mafia connected family from Arizona. He was found dead from a massive shotgun wound to his head. The coroner, to my recollection, couldn’t say for sure that deMohrenschildt took his own life because of the length of the shotgun barrel placed in deMohrenschildt’s mouth. Some story…to say the least!
Is it possible that the two accounts are compatible? Is it possible that Sirkin just added more detail about O’Reilly to his recent statement given the news of the past two weeks? Perhaps. We sent an e-mail to an address that Sirkin has used and also called Pat Eisemann, a representative for Holt. When we asked her if she had any explanation on how to square the two accounts, Eisemann replied, “We don’t. What is on the site speaks for itself.” When we asked another question about the matter, Eisemann repeated those words.
Update 7:40 a.m.: Sirkin has responded to our e-mail as follows:
I didnt include, in my first blog, the fact that O’Reilly and I had split up after leaving The Breakers because of brevity and because I was not with Bill when he claimed to have heard a shot. But rest assured, O’Reilly and I were in Palm Beach and Manalapan before, during and following deMohrenschildt’s alleged suicide. Our WFAA boss, News Director Marty Haag, would NOT have dispatched us to Florida, on the night of March 28, 1977 , to interview a dead man. We went in pursuit of a deMohrenschildt interview!