Diary

Myra Adams: Exclusive interview with Bill O'Reilly re-posted from Washington Examiner

Authors Note: I thought my RedState friends would be interested in reading this exclusive interview with Bill O’Reilly about the “Killing Reagan” controversy with George Will questioning the book’s historical accuracy. The interview also addresses the future of the ‘Killing’ series, Reagan on amnesty, and O’Reilly’s belief that Reagan was one of our greatest presidents.  The interview was conducted by phone on November 13 and posted November 14 on Washington Examiner.

O head shot

Bill O’Reilly has hosted FOX News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” since 1996. On weeknights, “The Factor” attracts more than five million viewers, making it the most popular show on cable news.

O’Reilly is also a prolific author. In 2011, after five best-selling books and a memoir, O’Reilly and co-writer Martin Dugard began writing about history in what has developed into the bestselling “Killing” series. Killing Lincoln was first, followed by Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, Killing Patton, and most recently, Killing Reagan.

This week, and every week since its release in late September, Killing Reagan has ranked #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction — only dipping once to #2.

Interview begins here:

Adams: When you and Killing Reagan co-writer Martin Dugard first conceived of the book, was one of your objectives to separate the man from the myth?

O’Reilly: All the Killing books are written from a point of view of telling the reader, showing the reader, what exactly happened in the framework of what story we are telling — they are not biographies.

People who have read the Killing books, and I don’t believe George Will has read the book, I could be wrong but I don’t believe he has read them … people who read the Killing books understand that they are not a cradle to grave exposition of the subject.

So we are writing Killing Reagan, basically saying the man was almost killed — what happened to him physically and mentally after that — not what he did at Reykjavik not any of that — and that is where the point of view comes in on all the Killing books.

Adams: Can you elaborate on the following statement you made by naming names or providing more detail?

“George Will regurgitates attacks on the book from Reagan loyalists who tried to get the book Killing Reagan spiked even before it was published because they wanted a deification of the president, not an honest look at him.”

O’Reilly: When we were drawing close to finishing writing the book we looked around to get a couple people to fact check, a couple people who were very familiar with the subject — we do this on all the books — so we came across a couple people in California. Martin Dugard is the guy who basically heads that up and sent them the book.

And one of them basically said, I don’t want you to do any editing, after she saw the product that has anything negative to say about Ronald Reagan. OK, and we said fine. Annalise somebody was her name.

Then Dugard started to get a few calls from Chris Cox, former congressman from California, who I mentioned on the program, and Gov. Pete Wilson was another, saying that you better not say anything negative about Ronald Reagan.

Then I got a message from somebody at 21st Century Fox in the hierarchy, saying I hear you are writing a hatchet job on Ronald Reagan. I am not going to do an intercompany exposition, but it absolutely happened and of course we said it was not true — Killing Reagan is a laudatory book, but it is an honest look at the president and what happened to him after he was shot.

So pressure was put upon us, and we did not succumb to that pressure, and the book came out.

Adams: Are you actively tracking down the elusive James Cannon memo that is central to George Will’s criticism and referred to in Cannon’s 2011 New York Times obituary that reads:

“When Mr. Baker became chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, Mr. Cannon helped him analyze White House operations. One finding was that members of Reagan’s staff had been signing his initials on policy papers without his knowledge.”

Do you believe that the Cannon memo still exists or has it been destroyed?

O’Reilly: We believe that it has either been destroyed or it is being harbored somewhere. The reason that we did not put it in the book was because we did not think it was going to be a big deal at all since everyone knows that it was written. There has never been anyone disputing that there was a physical memo written by James Cannon.

So this is all insane, this whole thing is.

But after the attacks began then we started to do a full-court press and see if we could find it and we cannot. So obviously this is extremely troubling, very strange. I have to tell you that I did not red flag it when we were writing the book because I did not think anyone was even going to bring it up.

We did not believe that any of this was going to be controversial at all.

And if you did read the New York Times obituary of James Cannon he obviously wrote it and it was reported on by Washington Post and a number of other organizations.

Howard Baker held a press conference or talked to the press — maybe it was not a formalized conference — and mentioned it.

So I don’t know what the hell is going on.

Adams: George Will, in his Washington Post opinion piece headlined, “Bill O’Reilly makes a mess of history,” was critical of you in that while writing the book, you did not interview Reagan’s top advisors, most notably, Ed Meese, Jim Baker and George Shultz.

Will wrote: “O’Reilly now airily dismisses them because they ‘have skin in the game.’ His is an interesting approach to writing history: Never talk to anyone with firsthand knowledge of your subject.”

What is your response to Will’s criticism specifically about your “interesting approach to writing history?”

O’Reilly: I don’t think George Will has read any of the Killing books. Did we interview General Patton’s family? No. Did we interview members of the Kennedy family? No. That is because we do, Dugard and I do what we call investigative history. And we don’t interview people with skin in the game or emotion in the game or people who would spin it one way or the other, positive or negative — because it does not help our storytelling ability.

Now that is common throughout all five books.

So, this guy Will, he does not know what he is talking about, he has no blanking clue, and what we put in the book is always sourced. No anonymous sources are used, EVER — everyone is named unlike almost every history book on the market that are full of anonymous sources, but we don’t do it.

Again it was a hatchet job from the beginning (George Will’s Washington Post opinion pieces) and George Will has an agenda. We all know what that agenda is because the man he works for, Fred Ryan, is head of the Reagan Library Foundation and along with a group of people, did not want the book published. Ah, how interesting is that?

(Note: Frederick J. Ryan Jr. is Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of the Washington Post.)

Adams: This was not mentioned in your book, but given that Reagan granted amnesty to 3.2 million illegal immigrants in 1986 do you think that he still could win the presidential nomination in today’s Republican Party?

O’Reilly: Not with an amnesty program he couldn’t, but I don’t think President Reagan at this point in history would want amnesty. And he did say that the way he handled the situation back in the ’80s he believed was a mistake, now, after the fact.

Ronald Reagan was a man with good intentions. I think he understood that immigrants coming to the United States were almost lured here by lax border policies and by big business and agriculture that would hire them and that there was some responsibility on behalf of the government and business that would allow these people to come here illegally. And that he did what he thought was the right thing to do.

That is what we, Dugard and I, admire about Ronald Reagan, he did what he thought was right. He did it with the air traffic controllers as I talk about in the book, and what he meant by “mistake” was that they did not secure the borders, quite simple. If the borders were secured after the Reagan amnesty then we would not be in the mess we are in today.

But to answer your question directly, yes, he still would have won the nomination.

Adams: What do you think is the reason why Reagan has been so deified by Republicans?

O’Reilly: Because he was one of the greatest presidents, and Dugard and I make that quite clear in the book. He is in the top ten. In our lifetime he is the best Republican president by far, Eisenhower would be second place, I suppose.

And so Republicans looking for effective leadership have to look at the record, and the record says that Ronald Reagan indeed walked the walk and accomplished amazing things after he took office — by turning the economy around and by defeating the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union — he accomplished it, period.

Adams: Will you tell Washington Examiner readers the subject of your next book in the Killing series or is Reagan the end of the line?

O’Reilly: Three more Killing books are in the works. I can’t say what the titles are because then people will undercut them. When we announced Killing Jesus a month later there was a book called Killing Jesus, and that is a true story. So we cannot announce the titles because that might happen again.

But we are happy with the Killing series, these are extraordinary books, even the Washington Post, which has really gone out of its way to try to harm Killing Reagan acknowledges that they are enormous best sellers. Associated Press says that by far, they are the bestselling history books in the world, which they are.

So everything on that front is great, but George Will should be ashamed of himself.

Adams: Bill, on behalf of Washington Examiner readers, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.

Myra Adams is a media producer and political writer. She was on the 2004 Bush campaign’s creative team and the 2008 McCain campaign’s ad council.  Follow her on Twitter @MyraKAdams. Contact Myra at  [email protected].