Leading Reagan historians take on Bill O'Reilly's Killing Reagan

Bill O’Reilly and his “co-author” Martin Dugard have the ability to sell millions of books, so it matters a lot what they have to say in their latest collaboration, Killing Reagan.  I have not read the book, but some leading Regan historians who have raise some serious alarms about the unflattering claims made in it.  Writing in the Washington Post, AT contributor Paul Kengor is joined by Craig Shirley, Kiron K. Skinner, and Steven F. Hayward in pointing out the problems.

First, general sourcing:

“Killing Reagan,” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, is supposed to be a book of new scholarship on the Reagan presidency. Instead, it restates old claims and rumors, virtually all of which have been discredited by the historical record.

In this best-selling book, there are no endnotes, no bibliography, no long list of interviewees and only a smattering of footnotes. There is a section titled “Sources,” but it is only two-and-a-half pages long. It includes about two dozen sources, but that is not adequate for a subject, Ronald Reagan, who has been the focus of thousands of books and articles and who was one of the most consequential political figures of the 20th century. The works of three of us are not noted at all, and between the four of us, we have written 19 books on Reagan[.]

There are a lot of problems with some of the the sources that are employed:

Unfortunately, “Killing Reagan” shows that the old misinformation (if not disinformation) still remains with us, like a demon that cannot be exorcised. It regurgitates and resurrects much material that we had thought (and hoped) was dead and done.

For example:

There are small and large mistakes throughout “Killing Reagan.” Repeatedly, Ronald Prescott Reagan is referred to as “Ron Jr,” a minor matter but a revealing one. The book states that Reagan’s radio broadcasts of the late 1970s were once a week, but they were delivered five times a week. There are dozens of Kelley-type references to horoscope readers, astrologers, an imperious Nancy running the country and generally a persistent, clueless and oblivious Ronald Reagan — addle-brained, out of touch, dangerously uninformed. The most common word used to describe Reagan is probably “confused.”

A large part of the storyline refers to the erroneous contention that there was serious consideration about removing Reagan from office via the 25th Amendment after John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate him in 1981. What’s so remarkable about the 11 days Reagan spent in the hospital recovering from his wounds 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. Former Attorney General Ed Meese, who was not interviewed for this book but who served as Reagan’s closest aide and friend for many years, was dismissive of the allegation about the 25th Amendment as utterly and completely false. We four have interviewed Meese often, and some of us have talked to him about this book and its sourcing.

It speaks volumes that none of the hundreds of former Reagan White House staffers has stepped forward to corroborate the story. Reagan’s national security adviser, Richard V. Allen, told us flatly that “Killing Reagan” is “garbage.” Allen was also there the day Reagan was shot, but again, neither O’Reilly nor Dugard spoke to him. They list only four people interviewed, including Lesley Stahl — a CBS journalist who was not a primary source and who was always extremely dismissive of Reagan’s cognitive abilities.

As far as Reagan’s mental acuity, which this book presents as nose-diving very early in his presidency, only in 1994 did Reagan’s doctors at the Mayo Clinic find evidence of Alzheimer’s, six years after he left office, and they issued a statement at the time stating such. By all accounts, the hundreds of people who interacted with Reagan on a daily basis found a bright, erudite and engaged man.

There are other elements of the book that suggest a hit piece.  Given Bill O’Reilly’s vast visibility, it behooves him to face his critics squarely and give ample airtime to these historians.

Bill O’Reilly and his “co-author” Martin Dugard have the ability to sell millions of books, so it matters a lot what they have to say in their latest collaboration, Killing Reagan.  I have not read the book, but some leading Regan historians who have raise some serious alarms about the unflattering claims made in it.  Writing in the Washington Post, AT contributor Paul Kengor is joined by Craig Shirley, Kiron K. Skinner, and Steven F. Hayward in pointing out the problems.

First, general sourcing:

“Killing Reagan,” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, is supposed to be a book of new scholarship on the Reagan presidency. Instead, it restates old claims and rumors, virtually all of which have been discredited by the historical record.

In this best-selling book, there are no endnotes, no bibliography, no long list of interviewees and only a smattering of footnotes. There is a section titled “Sources,” but it is only two-and-a-half pages long. It includes about two dozen sources, but that is not adequate for a subject, Ronald Reagan, who has been the focus of thousands of books and articles and who was one of the most consequential political figures of the 20th century. The works of three of us are not noted at all, and between the four of us, we have written 19 books on Reagan[.]

There are a lot of problems with some of the the sources that are employed:

Unfortunately, “Killing Reagan” shows that the old misinformation (if not disinformation) still remains with us, like a demon that cannot be exorcised. It regurgitates and resurrects much material that we had thought (and hoped) was dead and done.

For example:

There are small and large mistakes throughout “Killing Reagan.” Repeatedly, Ronald Prescott Reagan is referred to as “Ron Jr,” a minor matter but a revealing one. The book states that Reagan’s radio broadcasts of the late 1970s were once a week, but they were delivered five times a week. There are dozens of Kelley-type references to horoscope readers, astrologers, an imperious Nancy running the country and generally a persistent, clueless and oblivious Ronald Reagan — addle-brained, out of touch, dangerously uninformed. The most common word used to describe Reagan is probably “confused.”

A large part of the storyline refers to the erroneous contention that there was serious consideration about removing Reagan from office via the 25th Amendment after John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate him in 1981. What’s so remarkable about the 11 days Reagan spent in the hospital recovering from his wounds 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. Former Attorney General Ed Meese, who was not interviewed for this book but who served as Reagan’s closest aide and friend for many years, was dismissive of the allegation about the 25th Amendment as utterly and completely false. We four have interviewed Meese often, and some of us have talked to him about this book and its sourcing.

It speaks volumes that none of the hundreds of former Reagan White House staffers has stepped forward to corroborate the story. Reagan’s national security adviser, Richard V. Allen, told us flatly that “Killing Reagan” is “garbage.” Allen was also there the day Reagan was shot, but again, neither O’Reilly nor Dugard spoke to him. They list only four people interviewed, including Lesley Stahl — a CBS journalist who was not a primary source and who was always extremely dismissive of Reagan’s cognitive abilities.

As far as Reagan’s mental acuity, which this book presents as nose-diving very early in his presidency, only in 1994 did Reagan’s doctors at the Mayo Clinic find evidence of Alzheimer’s, six years after he left office, and they issued a statement at the time stating such. By all accounts, the hundreds of people who interacted with Reagan on a daily basis found a bright, erudite and engaged man.

There are other elements of the book that suggest a hit piece.  Given Bill O’Reilly’s vast visibility, it behooves him to face his critics squarely and give ample airtime to these historians.