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4 conservative scholars denounce new Bill O’Reilly’s book on Reagan

Historians in the News
tags: Reagan, Bill OReilly, Killing Reagan



“Killing Reagan,” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, is supposed to be abook 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, not to mention countless articles. The sources section does, however, reference long-questionable works, including the sensational 1991 attack by Kitty Kelley — which is clearly incorporated throughout the book — and the 1999 biography by Edmund Morris, roundly criticized for its intermingling of fact and fiction.

To the authors’ credit, the sources section notes the use of excellent archives such as the Reagan Library, the Reagan Ranch Center and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. And yet, the acknowledgment of those archives is somewhat puzzling, given that the archives make clear that Reagan was a far more hands-on, engaged and all-around deeply involved president than many of the partisan accounts alleged in their unfair caricatures of him in the 1980s. Frankly, we had thought that demeaning, flawed caricature — Reagan as the doodling old fool who spent too much time sleeping at Cabinet meetings and watching old movies — had been permanently put to rest by recent scholarship. 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.

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 25thAmendment 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 25thAmendment 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 25thAmendment 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. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post


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