I have read most of the Killing series of books and know that O’Reilly and Dugard can put together compelling stories. I did find a few questionable assertions in the other books (like putting Lincoln in the Oval Office before it existed), but I was disappointed to find many in this one.
Although it has been said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts, I suppose everyone is entitled to their own version of the facts. My version differs with the authors’ on at least ten occasions. Others have found at least thirty factual errors.
What disturbed me more than factual errors was the obvious negative slant to both opinion and fact in this book. The writers savage Nancy Reagan and attack Ronald Reagan unmercifully long after he is able to defend himself. Bill O’Reilly professes to be a conservative, so I was more than a little surprised that he turned left in this book about one of the greatest conservative leaders of the last century.
Anyone who has heard Bill on television or radio knows that he is egocentric. He doesn’t try to hide it. He knows a lot and is extremely popular and successful, and has come to the conclusion that he knows a lot about almost everything. With that level of narcissism, it is easy to see how he could conflate rumors and unverified sources into facts in his own mind. I.e. “It’s true because it is in my book.” Well no, not really.
Reagan himself said, “It’s not that our liberal friends are ignorant, it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” Ironically, Reagan’s statement applies to the authors of a book about him.
I really had a hard time with the inclusion of salacious and unproven rumors. For what purpose? One tells of then Governor Reagan sitting next to an attractive eighteen-year-old at poolside. Years later, the young lady “suggested that intimacy soon followed.” In the next sentence the authors admit that “his personal behavior as governor was so exemplary that few questioned his clearly stated traditional values”. So why even mention an unfounded, malicious rumor?
I found examples like this one throughout when the authors used terms like “it was widely known” when describing a negative trait or behavior of Reagan or Nancy. Widely known by whom? They also attribute thoughts and feelings (mostly negative) to the First Couple that could only be known by them.
When George Will questioned Bill’s facts and research in a column and on television, O’Reilly turned red in the face and his hands shook as he called Will a hack. I thought of one word—caught. When Will asked why he did not ask some of Reagan’s closest advisors about some of his assertions, he said it was because “they had skin in the game”. Seriously? How is it then that O’Reilly used sources not only with skin in the game, but with axes to grind?
If they insisted on putting in the unproven negatives, why not balance it out with a few unproven positives? Although there is no bibliography, the authors did list sources in the back of the book. Of the fifteen magazines and newspapers listed, twelve are either left or hard left.
As a writer, I do understand narrative non-fiction and how authors insert the gist of conversations and conditions (which flowers were blooming as the protagonists take a walk) that could not possibly be known. They do this to advance the story. But this is only ethical when such additions are not clear distortions of facts or rumors designed only to titillate readers. Otherwise, call your work a novel.
Why did they do it? Because the book is called Killing Reagan, so the authors made a decision that the assassination attempt on his life would be the key element. Therefore, the attempt had to be the focus all the way through his term as president and to the end of his days. And it had to have a major impact on his health, his psychology and his mental capabilities. To hell with whether it did or not.
I understand that such events can cause severe traumatic stress. Events like that can permanently affect a life. Other people, however, recover to lead normal lives. The evidence is overwhelming that Reagan fit into the latter category.
O’Reilly and Dugard do give grudging credit to Reagan for bringing the Soviet Union to its knees, but little mention is made of his successes with the economy, major tax reform, and other significant achievements. Why? Because this totally conflicts with the person they portray as a severely damaged, barely competent person who stays in The White House personal residence and watches reruns on television. They seem to imply that Reagan’s achievements were made possible by his wife or by his staff without his leadership. This does not pass the credulity test.
It also conflicts with the other books written by and about Reagan. Did he suffer from the early stages of Alzheimer’s while president? Nobody really knows. If he did, the symptoms were late in his last term and were minor. Did he suffer some of the normal maladies of aging? Probably, but less so than the general population. And occasional short term memory loss was more than offset by the wisdom of his years.
Were any mental problems caused by the shooting? Possibly, but again, nothing that can be proven. Reagan’s diaries were clearly written by a lucid man in complete control of all his faculties. O’Reilly’s book devotes one sentence to the journal he kept as president.
As a writer who wrote books while writing a weekly column, I know the time constraints in trying to do both. Bill does radio and television shows every weekday while maintaining a heavy schedule of personal appearances across the country. It is hard to see how it is humanly possible for him to do this while writing a series of books for adults as well as children. I always assumed he lent his name and celebrity to the covers while Martin Dugard and his staff did the research and writing. I don’t know that to be the case, but common sense says it is.
I am okay with that, I suppose. Many famous folks do the same. However, Bill did write at least one page in the book called The Last Word where he reveals a letter Reagan wrote to close friend and advisor John Koehler. Bill says he includes it to “give Ronald Reagan the last word. He deserves it.” But Reagan’s letter pretty much refutes most of the assertions in this book.
Bill seems to fail to see the irony in that. Reading that part and hearing Bill defend the indefensible assertions in this book while maintaining the book is laudatory of Reagan causes one to wonder if he read the book at all.
I discussed this on KETR. Listen here