Bob Sirkin has specific recollections about the time he spent with reporter Bill O’Reilly in late March 1977, when they both worked at Dallas TV station WFAA. Late on the night of March 28, said Sirkin in a long chat with the Erik Wemple Blog, he and O’Reilly flew from Dallas-Fort Worth to West Palm Beach on now-defunct Braniff International Airways. As he tells it, the pair had traveled in pursuit of an interview with George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian emigre and a fascinating character in the re-opened investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“Bill and I were working on various aspects of the Kennedy assassination cover-up,” recalls the 69-year-old Sirkin.
According to Sirkin’s narrative, he and O’Reilly arrived in Florida in the wee hours of March 29 and promptly made their way to the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach along with cameraman Frank Eberling. Through some classic reportorial enterprise — sliding a tip to the bellhop, that is — Sirkin says he got the room number where investigative reporter Edward Jay Epstein was allegedly interviewing de Mohrenschildt. The group went to the room and knocked. “Epstein comes to the door, sees the camera and just goes ballistic. We could see de Mohrenschildt sitting in a kitchen table in the background,” says Sirkin.
Footage of de Mohrenschildt in that room, says Sirkin, was included in the resulting WFAA report. Following the encounter at the hotel, O’Reilly and Sirkin parted ways as they sought to pursue the story. O’Reilly’s assignment was to check out the home in Manalapan where de Mohrenschildt was staying.
And that’s where controversy enters. In his book “Killing Kennedy,” O’Reilly claims that he was front and center for an extraordinary event: “As the reporter knocked on the door of de Mohrenschildt’s daughter’s 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.”
De Mohrenschildt did indeed kill himself that afternoon at the Manalapan home. But did O’Reilly hear the shot as he knocked on the door?
Sirkin: “All I recall is that he mentioned something about hearing what he thought was a shotgun blast.”
As noted on this blog and many other places, there’s a mound of evidence to the contrary: O’Reilly didn’t appear in the death investigation report; a journalist who was there said he didn’t see O’Reilly; people at the house didn’t see a stranger around; and so on.
Of course, those debunking considerations cannot compete with those first exposed in 2013 by journalist and professor Jefferson Morley, who found tapes of O’Reilly talking with congressional investigator Gaeton Fonzi in the aftermath of the suicide. After they discuss de Mohrenschildt’s fate, O’Reilly says, “I’m coming down there tomorrow. I’m coming to Florida” — leaving the sharp impression that he was in Dallas, not at the front door, at the time of de Mohrenschildt’s demise.
So there’s a question for Sirkin, not to mention O’Reilly. How to square the notion that O’Reilly was in Florida yet told Fonzi that he’s “coming to Florida”? “I have no explanation for it,” says Sirkin, “other than to say that possibly they have that tape confused with a call that O’Reilly made to Fonzi from Florida….I don’t understand myself how that tape jibes with the facts as I know it.” Sirkin wasn’t with O’Reilly when he made the alleged trip to the house and he cannot attest to his having heard the shot. He merely vouches that he and O’Reilly were in the area before, during and immediately after the suicide.
Now for Eberling, the cameraman who rode around with O’Reilly and Sirkin. Well, he tells a Breakers story that corroborates the scene laid out by Sirkin. “I have a specific recollection of walking down the hall,” says Eberling, who now teaches film at Palm Beach State College. And this specific recollection corroborates what we know about the King of Cable News: “O’Reilly knocked on the door,” continues Eberling, “a guy opened the door about three to four inches and I was still maybe a step behind O’Reilly. What I recall seeing was the door opening a crack and I think O’Reilly stuck his foot in the door and I remember this guy screaming.” Eberling says he doesn’t recall getting a clear shot of the interior of the room with his 16mm camera, nor does he know who was inside the room.
Here’s the key, though: Eberling believes that incident occurred after de Mohrenschildt’s death, not before it. “I can’t say with absolute certainty but that is my recollection,” says Eberling. “Since de Mohrenschildt was dead and they were there in town, the thinking was, ‘What can we do to make this trip worthwhile?'”
Epstein might have something to say about this. After all, it is he who sustained a rude intrusion from O’Reilly & Co. during a hotel interview, at least in Sirkin’s telling. “Do I recall a break in to my room? Did I record it in my diary? No. Do I know sirkin or o’reilly? Would I allow any such intrusion? No,” wrote Epstein in an e-mail to the Erik Wemple Blog. Epstein checked with his long-ago research assistant, who also doesn’t recall the incident.
The King of Cable News himself helped to propel this latest chapter in the vetting of his journalistic record. On his program last night, O’Reilly steered viewers to Sirkin’s statement on the site of “Killing Kennedy” publisher Henry Holt Co. In the segment, O’Reilly said, “One footnote — as you may know, the far left attacks on my reporting continue. Nothing I can do about it, but if you are interested, the reporter who was with me 38 years ago has put out a statement on my book ‘Killing Kennedy.’ It is posted on HenryHolt.com. Type in ‘Killing Kennedy’ and scroll to the media section, whatever that means. Henry Holt is my publisher.”