Bill O’Reilly broke a bit of Bill O’Reilly news on “The O’Reilly Factor” last night. “Guardians” of the legacy of Ronald Reagan, said O’Reilly on his Fox News program, called his “bosses” in an attempt to “spike” the publication of “Killing Reagan,” the latest in the series of books that the host has churned out in partnership with Martin Dugard.
The host didn’t provide much detail about the appeal to O’Reilly’s supervisors, who include Fox News chief Roger Ailes as well as Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox. He did, however, say that Dugard, a running coach and co-author of “Killing Lincoln,” “Killing Kennedy,” “Killing Jesus,” “Killing Patton” and “Killing Reagan,” had received pre-publication calls from Pete Wilson, the former Republican governor of California, and Christopher Cox, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a White House counsel to Reagan. Those fellows, O’Reilly charged, were “warning us — warning us — not to say anything negative about Mr. Reagan.” We’ve asked Cox and Fox News for comment about these charges.
O’Reilly and Dugard have received a negative review or two for writing negative things about Reagan. In the National Review, Annelise Anderson, who has written extensively about Reagan and is a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, ripped “Killing Reagan” for the lessons it drew from John Hinckley Jr.’s March 30, 1981, attack on the 40th president: “They could have described how his near-death experience gave Reagan renewed confidence in his own goals of revitalizing the U.S. economy and reducing the threat of nuclear war. That it did is supported by evidence in the literature. But the authors don’t make that argument,” writes Anderson.
Four scholars with a total of 19 Reagan books to their credit blasted “Killing Reagan” in an Oct. 16 Washington Post commentary. O’Reilly himself addressed their piece in his show last night, calling it “almost comical — for example, the writers of the story insisting Ronald Reagan was not a ladies’ man when he was a Hollywood star.” More precisely, the commentary wonders about the O’Reilly-Dugard sourcing for the claims that Reagan fooled around a lot. “This kind of shocking material must be clearly sourced,” write the scholars.
The anti-“Killing Reagan” four — Craig Shirley, Kiron K. Skinner, Paul Kengor and Steven F. Hayward — actually advance a number of other, very serious charges against the book, some of them direct factual attacks on the O’Reilly-Dugard history. Contrary to “Killing Reagan’s” contentions, say the scholars, there was no “serious consideration” given to invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Reagan from office after the Hinckley assassination attempt. “What’s so remarkable about the 11 days Reagan spent in the hospital recovering from his wounds,” they write, “is that beyond the standard discussion of temporary presidential disability among some of the president’s closest aides, none of these aides or cabinet members attempted to invoke the 25th Amendment or succession laws.”
O’Reilly is famous for shouting down his book critics. When “Killing Lincoln” fell prey to historical critiques, O’Reilly hammered the “nitpickers who want to hurt the book.” Citing robust sales for “Killing Lincoln” in a 2011 broadcast, O’Reilly said, “We well understand our enemies are full of rage at that success; we also know the media lies at will these days with little accountability. ‘Killing Lincoln’ is an honest book that you will enjoy and learn from.”
On-air statements like that one explain why Ailes once dubbed O’Reilly a “book salesman with a TV show.” Here’s a guy who prays for four-person Washington Post commentaries challenging his historical interpretations. No review is a bad review, especially when some airtime on O’Reilly’s cable news-leading program can be dedicated to showcasing the host-cum-author’s official response. Plus, O’Reilly and Dugard have been releasing these “Killing” books every year; just how historically thorough can they be?
“Killing Reagan” right now sits atop the New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list.