“Linchpin” Of Bill O'Reilly's Killing Reagan Was Published 27 Years Ago

Fox's Bill O'Reilly described a meeting of Reagan advisers over concerns about President Ronald Reagan's mental fitness for office as the  “linchpin”  of his book Killing Reagan, but the story was originally published in 1988.

Killing Reagan Includes Story Of Reagan's Inner Circle Trying To Assess If He Was Fit For Office

Killing Reagan: “Reagan Has Passed A Test.”  O'Reilly recounted the story of Reagan's advisers observing him to see if he was fit for office in Killing Reagan:

Today, March 2, 1987, is a good day for Ronald Reagan. Even though his chief of staff has been fired, and the Tower Commission has leveled blame for the Iran-Contra scandal on him, he is in a jovial mood and jokes his way through the Cabinet meeting that his son watches. To the four men observing Reagan, he possesses an easy command of facts while telling his usual anecdotes about his Hollywood days. At lunch the president is even looser, swapping jokes with new chief of staff Howard Baker and looking every bit the most powerful man in the world.

Without knowing that he has done so, Ronald Reagan has passed a test.

There will be no invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.  [Killing Reagan, 2015, p. 249]

Reagan Story Was Published In 1988 Bestseller

Reagan Story Appeared In Landslide. The story about concerns about Reagan's fitness for office appeared in the prologue of the 1988 book Landslide: The Unmaking of the President 1984-1988:

On Monday morning, March 2, Cannon, Baker, Culvahouse, and Griscom gathered in the West Wing of the White House. They planned to watch the president closely, to determine whether he appeared mentally fit to serve. First they observed him from across the room as he chaired a formal cabinet meeting. Then they accompanied him to one of the weekly “issues luncheons,” a free-flowing discussion with members of the White House staff that was also held in the Cabinet Room.


Perhaps Donald Regan's henchmen had exaggerated the president's frailties, he thought. Perhaps they were trying to justify an internal coup, an arrangement whereby the chief of staff would make others believe he had been forced to act as a kind of regent for a disabled president. Could the president they described - the inattentive, incurious man who watched television rather than attending to affairs of state - be the same as the genial, charming man across the table?

What the hell is going on here? Cannon wondered. The old fella looks just dandy.

And, through it all, Ronald Reagan always did. [Landslide: The Unmaking of the President 1984-1988, 1988, p. xi]

Wash. Examiner: O'Reilly Story “It Isn't New.”  The Washington Examiner reported of O'Reilly's book:

It isn't new, nor accurate, however. The 1988 Reagan biography “Landslide: The Unmaking of the President 1984-1988,” by two reporters, opens with the same story, in greater detail, and ends with Cannon recanting his memo. The book also didn't mention any quiz.

It created a firestorm when it was released, and Reagan and former White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater dismissed the suggestion that aides were poised to dump Reagan. [Washington Examiner10/8/15]

Reagan Biographers: O'Reilly Tale Was From Landslide. Reagan biographers Craig Shirley, Kiron K. Skinner, Paul Kengor and Steven F. Hayward criticized O'Reilly's book in a Washington Post PostEverything piece, writing of his Cannon story:

Finally, the most objectionable claim in the book is also a thematic one. The claim is that there was a White House coup in the making due to Reagan's supposed inability to do his job. That claim is based on a deeply flawed memo written by James Cannon, an aide to former Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), called in late in the Reagan years to clean up the mess created by controversial Chief of Staff Don Regan. In the memo, Cannon claimed that Reagan was “out of it” as of his second term, spending his days bemused in front of a television. (As O'Reilly put it in the Daily Caller interview, “Cannon came in and said, 'You know what, a lot of days he's not able to do his job. He doesn't even come down from the residence. He watches soap operas all day long.'” )

In reality, Regan was being tossed out of the White House for his perceived ineffectiveness in the Reagan administration -- for his sizable ego -- and he had aides whose loyalty was to him and not Reagan. Cannon put various assessments by some of Regan's aides in a single, discredited memo. On this single source, O'Reilly and Dugard seem to have based the centrality of the book's thesis. To the Daily Caller, O'Reilly called it the “centerpiece of the book.”

Who discredited the memo? Cannon himself, as he related in the 1988 book “Landslide,” by Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus. He doubled back after writing the memo, saying Reagan was fit as a fiddle. [WashingtonPost.com, 10/16/15

O'Reilly Cited Landslide In The Sources Section Of His Book. O'Reilly wrote:

What follows is a brief list of the many books, magazines, and newspapers that we used in the writing of this book. Much thanks to the world of Google Books, which allows writers to research a library's worth of great reference works without leaving the home office. These meanderings drew in a number of other historical figures and unchronicled events. Hundreds of books, magazine articles, and newspaper stories were bookmarked and cross-referenced as we wrote. We have chosen to list the ones most crucial to this research. The books include: All the works of Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Andersen, and Martin Anderson, particularly Reagan: A Life in Letters and Reagan, In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America; Edmund Morris, Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan; Kitty Kelley, Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography; Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus, Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984- 1988; [Killing Reagan, 2015]

On Media Tour, O'Reilly Called Story The “Linchpin” Of The Book And Suggested It Was New Information

O'Reilly Said Meeting Was Most Compelling Discovery. From a September interview with The Daily Caller:

TheDC: What was your most compelling discovery?

O'Reilly: Well, the centerpiece of the book is the meeting that Reagan's advisers held with James Cannon, who was commissioned to investigate Reagan, and whether he was still up to the job. This was in his second term as he kind of went downhill. That is just a fascinating thing that he was almost removed because he sometimes couldn't do the job. Then he made this almost miraculous comeback that we attribute to the Soviet Union and his desire to bring down that “evil empire.” It's an amazing turnaround. That I think was the most startling thing. Vice President Bush didn't even know about it, but they commissioned Cannon. Cannon came in and said, “you know what, a lot of days he's not able to do his job. He doesn't even come down from the residence. He watches soap operas all day long.” So we put that in and once we had that, that was the centerpiece of the book. [The Daily Caller, 9/28/15]

O'Reilly Cited Meeting As “Most Dramatic Part Of The Book.”  From an Inside Edition interview:

Bill O'Reilly spoke to INSIDE EDITION about the claims in his newly-published best-selling book, Killing Reagan.

“That is the most dramatic part of the book -- that his own guys are not sure he can carry on in his second term,” he said. “He's given a quiz -- doesn't know he's taking it. Global events. He passes it and they all breathe a big sigh of relief.” [Inside Edition10/7/15]

O'Reilly: “When We Were Researching This And We Found Out That He Was Within A Whisper Of Being Removed From The Presidency And Nobody Knows That.”  From an interview O'Reilly did with Glenn Beck: 

BILL: No, it did. Because the shooting changed his physiology and his psychology. You're shot at that level and you almost die, you get that kind of trauma, you're never the same. Never the same. And because of his age, he -- his recovery time while it seemed on the surface was miraculous, it really wasn't. So that he would be in and he would be out. But I'll tell you why, when we were researching this and we found out that he was within a whisper of being removed from the presidency and nobody knows that, and the story is so dramatic, and then after he passed the test that they gave him, he made a miraculous comeback mentally because of the Soviet Union. And we go through that. And it's all weaved together. But the book I think is fascinating for anyone who cares about Ronald Reagan. [GlennBeck.com, 9/28/15]

O'Reilly Called Meeting The “Linchpin Of The Book.”  From an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you square your theory with -- I remember reading when it came out just a couple of years ago, “The Reagan Letters.” And over the course of the presidency, they show a man who was still a clear, at times brilliant, writer. He seemed to be there.

O'REILLY: There's no disparaging, because on his good days, he was all of that. But it was the bad days that people didn't know about. And there came a point in the second term where they might have removed him. Baker was the chief of staff. James Cannon investigated whether the president could still carry out his duties. And then there was this -- and that's the linchpin of the book -- this meeting. Reagan came down and they actually gave him a quiz. And if he hadn't passed it, they were going to move against him.

Unbelievable (INAUDIBLE)...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Play that out.

So what if he didn't pass?

What would have happened?

They wouldn't have moved (INAUDIBLE)...

O'REILLY: I think they would have moved.


O'REILLY: They spent a lot of time on this investigation and James Cannon complied a lot of data about Ronald Reagan and his failure to lock in on Iran-Contra and other things that were happening. And they were very concerned.

And they loved him. And they were so relieved when he took over. And I believe it was the communist thing that brought him back. [ABC, This Week10/4/15]

O'Reilly's Books Have Repeatedly Been Criticized For Shoddy Scholarship

Notre Dame Professor On Killing Jesus:  “The Holy Spirit May Have Inspired 'Killing Jesus,' But He Didn't Fact-Check It.”  In a piece for CNN's Belief Blog, Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, highlighted “five things Bill O'Reilly flubs” in his 2013 book, Killing Jesus:

Bill O'Reilly's “Killing Jesus: A History” is the best-selling book in the world right now. But it's far from flawless.

The Holy Spirit may have inspired “Killing Jesus,” but he didn't fact-check it.


Apart from the methodological problems, the entire book is written in the style of a novel, not a history book. We hear the thoughts of Herod as he orders the execution of the male children of Bethlehem, for instance. It's entertaining, but it's historical fan fiction, not history. [CNN.com, 10/4/13]

Sunday School Teacher Writing At Conservative Site WND Found “No Fewer Than 133 Historical Errors” In Killing Jesus. In a piece for right-wing website WND, Jim Moseley, “a teacher of adult Sunday school” and author of “dozens of books about the Bible,” strongly criticized Killing Jesus. Moseley argued that O'Reilly and Duggard managed a “landmark achievement” by failing “to get a single date right in the life of Christ” :

In a recent “Talking Points” broadcast on Phil Robertson, Bill O'Reilly made a number of assertions about Christian theology, which came as a complete surprise to me, a practicing Christian and a teacher of adult Bible studies. O'Reilly cited as his authority the fact that he had written a book about Jesus.

Curious, I reviewed the Kindle edition of “Killing Jesus” by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. Far from establishing O'Reilly's credentials as an authority on Christianity, I found this popular book contains no fewer than 133 historical errors.

The book also contains multiple internal contradictions. For example, with stimulating originality, the authors contend that the day after Wednesday, April 4, 30 AD is Thursday, also April 4 (sic), 30 AD and that the day after that is Friday, April 7, 30 AD.

O'Reilly and Dugard present an innovative chronology of Jesus' life without taking any account of the interplay between the Jewish, Julian and Gregorian calendars, which is essential to this task. They fail to get a single date right in the life of Christ. Not one. It is a landmark achievement. [WND, 12/25/13]

A Ford's Theatre Employee Recommended Killing Lincoln Not Be Sold In Museum Bookstore Due To Factual Inaccuracies. In 2011, Rae Emerson, an employee for Ford's Theatre, recommended that Killing Lincoln not be offered for sale in the Ford's Theatre Museum bookstore due to numerous factual errors. (The book remained available in the theatre's gift shop.) Salon reported:

A reviewer for the official National Park Service bookstore at Ford's Theatre has recommended that Bill O'Reilly's bestselling new book about the Lincoln assassination not be sold at the historic site “because of the lack of documentation and the factual errors within the publication.”

Rae Emerson, deputy superintendent at Ford's Theatre, which is a national historic site under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, has penned a scathing appraisal of O'Reilly's “Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever.” In Emerson's official review, which I've pasted below, she spends four pages correcting passages from O'Reilly's book before recommending that it not be offered for sale at Ford's Theatre because it is not up to quality standards. [Salon, 11/11/11Media Matters1/14/15]

History Professor Criticized Killing Lincoln For Flimsy Sourcing And Promoting “An Old Canard Debunked Long Ago By Serious Historians.”  In a review of Killing Lincoln for The Washington Post, University of New Hampshire history professor Ellen Fitzpatrick wrote:

“Killing Lincoln” also resurrects an old canard debunked long ago by serious historians: that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was involved in the plot to kill Lincoln, in the hope that he might ascend to the presidency. There is no credible evidence to support such an assertion, nor do O'Reilly and Dugard provide any. (In fact, “Killing Lincoln” offers no direct citations for any of its assertions. In a three-page summary under the heading “Notes,” the authors assure readers that they have consulted “hundreds” of sources; they list the secondary sources they have relied on.)

The authors acknowledge that although “clues . . . point to Stanton's involvement . . . no concrete connection has ever been proven.” In the next sentence, however, they conclude “circumstantially, he was involved” -- a rhetorical conceit that enables the authors to have it both ways. In fact, they repeatedly raise the discredited theory, hinting broadly that Stanton might have betrayed his president, hastening a downward spiral of events that changed the nation “forever.” The purported consequences of Lincoln's death are never really elaborated upon. [Washington Post, 11/7/11]

Historians And General Patton Biographers Criticized O'Reilly's Killing PattonIn interviews with Media Matters, several historians and biographers of General George S. Patton criticized the conspiracy theory in O'Reilly's Killing Patton that the World War II general was assassinated as part of a plot by Joseph Stalin. [Media Matters, 10/2/14