Bill O’Reilly’s latest installment in his franchise series of “Killing” books gets two thumbs down from George Will:
Donald Trump is just one symptom of today’s cultural pathology of self-validating vehemence with blustery certitudes substituting for evidence. Another is the fact that the book atop the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list is a tissue of unsubstantiated assertions. Because of its vast readership, “Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency” by Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly and his collaborator,, Martin Dugard, will distort public understanding of Ronald Reagan’s presidency more than hostile but conscientious scholars could.
Styling himself an “investigative historian,” O’Reilly purports to have discovered amazing facts that have escaped the notice of real historians. The book’s intimated hypothesis is that the trauma of the March 1981 assassination attempt somehow triggered in Reagan a mental decline, perhaps accelerating the Alzheimer’s disease that would not be diagnosed until 13 years later. The book says Reagan was often addled to the point of incompetence, causing senior advisers to contemplate using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove him from office. Well.
Will goes on to demolish the book’s principal contention that the assassination attempt in 1981 exacerbated Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease. He also challenges the book’s scholarship, or lack of it, and criticizes the Fox News pundit for failing to contact many of the principals in the Reagan administration:
Ed Meese was, from Sacramento to Washington, Reagan’s longest-serving adviser. George Shultz was Reagan’s confidant and secretary of state. James Baker served Reagan as chief of staff and treasury secretary. None was contacted in connection with the book. Scores of Reagan’s White House aides would have shredded the book’s preposterous premise, which might be why they were not interviewed.
[Christopher] Cox put the book’s publisher in touch with Annelise Anderson, who, with her late husband Marty, a longtime Reagan adviser, has authored and edited serious books about Reagan. She was offered $5,000 and given just one week to evaluate the manuscript. Having read it, she declined compensation, saying mildly, “I don’t think this manuscript is ready for publication.”
The book’s perfunctory pieties about Reagan’s greatness are inundated by its flood of regurgitated slanders about his supposed lassitude and manipulability. This book is nonsensical history and execrable citizenship, and should come with a warning: “Caution — you are about to enter a no-facts zone.”
Plus, of course, nobody killed Reagan.