UPDATE: For additional developments in this story, including new sources and related Media Matters reporting, click here.
Bill O'Reilly has repeatedly claimed he personally “heard” a shotgun blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination while reporting for a Dallas television station in 1977. O'Reilly's claim is implausible and contradicted by his former newsroom colleagues who denied the tale in interviews with Media Matters. A police report, contemporaneous reporting, and a congressional investigator who was probing Kennedy's death further undermine O'Reilly's story.
George de Mohrenschildt was a Russian emigre who befriended Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and testified before the Warren Commission investigating the Kennedy assassination. On March 29, 1977, the same day he was contacted by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, he committed suicide at his daughter's home in Florida. At the time, O'Reilly was a reporter for Dallas' WFAA-TV who regularly reported on stories related to the Kennedy assassination.
O'Reilly has bizarrely inserted himself into de Mohrenschildt's story, claiming in books and on Fox News that he was outside the house seeking to interview de Mohrenschiltd at the time of his death. O'Reilly is under heavy criticism and scrutiny for his false claims about his 1982 Falklands War reporting.
O'Reilly's implausible tale was first flagged by Jefferson Morley in a 2013 post for his website JFKFacts.org. Morley has worked as an editor for The Washington Post, Salon.com, and Arms Control Today, and is a visiting professor at the University of California, Washington Center.
New interviews with former O'Reilly colleagues who say he wasn't in Florida on the day of de Mohrenschildt's suicide and documents obtained by Media Matters bolster Morley's reporting.
In his 2012 best-selling non-fiction book Killing Kennedy, O'Reilly writes on page 300 that as a “reporter knocked on the door of de Mohrenschildt's daughter's home, he heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide of the Russian ... that reporter's name is Bill O'Reilly.”
O'Reilly repeated the tale for the Killing Kennedy audiobook.
The Fox News host repeated the tale while promoting his book and movie special on Fox News. During an October 2, 2012, appearance on Fox & Friends, O'Reilly claimed he “was about to knock on the door where [de Mohrenschildt] was, his daughter's house, and he blew his brains out with a shotgun.” O'Reilly replayed the clip of his 2012 appearance during a November 30, 2014, O'Reilly Factor special before Fox News' airing of the Killing Kennedy film.
O'Reilly's Shotgun Claim Is Implausible And Contradicted By Colleagues And Evidence
Numerous pieces of evidence contradict O'Reilly's claim that he “heard the shotgun blast” that killed de Mohrenschildt.
In comments to Media Matters, two of O'Reilly's former colleagues at WFAA say that his version of events is a lie.
“Bill O'Reilly's a phony, there's no other way to put it,” said Tracy Rowlett, a former WFAA reporter and anchor who worked at the station with O'Reilly. “He was not up on the porch when he heard the gunshots, he was in Dallas. He wasn't traveling at that time.”
Byron Harris, a reporter at WFAA for the past 40 years, agreed that O'Reilly had not traveled to Florida for the story and accused him of stealing his reporting on de Mohrenschildt's suicide from a newspaper.
According to Harris, O'Reilly “was in Dallas. He stole that article out of the newspaper. I guarantee Channel 8 didn't send him to Florida to do that story because it was a newspaper story, it was broken by the Dallas Morning News.”
Both Harris and Rowlett said O'Reilly never mentioned having been present for the gunshot during his time at WFAA.
“I don't remember O'Reilly claiming that he was there. That came later, that must have been a brain surge when he was writing the book,” Rowlett said.
Harris further pointed out that WFAA “would have reported it as some kind of exclusive -- and there was no exclusive -- if O'Reilly had been standing outside the door.”
O'Reilly's claim of having been present when de Mohrenschildt shot himself was also missing from his 1992 Inside Edition report on documents relating to the Kennedy assassination. During that report, O'Reilly told viewers, “moments before he was to be interviewed by House investigators, de Mohrenschildt blew his brains out with a 20-gauge shotgun.”
In comments to Media Matters, Jefferson Morley said O'Reilly's claim of being present for the gunshot is “just not true” and speculated that it was “just part of the pattern, to embellish the story and make it a sexier story.”
He added, “It is what these guys all do, they inject themselves into a dramatic situation. O'Reilly was chasing this story, but he wasn't there, he made it sound like he was more on the scene than he was, it was show business.”
O'Reilly has written about his time at WFAA as being extremely contentious. In his book The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life, he writes that he was “twenty-six going on ten in the worldliness department” when he joined WFAA and describes his colleagues as “ambitious, aggressive journalists battling each other under the strong thumb of an unsympathetic management.” O'Reilly concedes that he made “every possible political mistake” when he got to the station, including “mouth[ing] off to the producers” and making “stupid comments in the newsroom.”
His admitted abrasiveness clearly made an impression on his former colleagues.
According to Rowlett, “It was my experience with O'Reilly that he was less than an honest reporter, generally. He was the most disliked person in our newsroom. He wasn't to be trusted, he was all about Bill O'Reilly, he wasn't about the news.”
Harris painted a similar picture of O'Reilly, saying he was “often not a truthful person” and claiming the Fox News host “was just a jerk, nobody liked him. He was always tooting his own horn.”
A Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office death investigation report about de Mohrenschildt's suicide, a 19-page document that extensively details interviews with numerous relevant parties, makes no mention of O'Reilly. The March 1977 report was posted online by Marquette University Professor John McAdams, who confirmed the document's authenticity to Media Matters and said that a student obtained the original report from the office as part of a class project and gave it to him.
Gaeton Fonzi, as the New York Times wrote in a 2012 obituary, was “one of the most relentless investigators on the House Select Committee on Assassinations” regarding Kennedy's death. Fonzi's memoir and personal recordings show that O'Reilly could not have been in Florida at the time of de Mohrenschildt's death.
Morley also obtained phone conversations between Fonzi and O'Reilly on March 29, 1977, from Fonzi's widow which the former Post editor says show that O'Reilly “certainly did not hear de Mohrenschildt's demise with his own ears. When the fatal shot rang out, O'Reilly was in his office at the WFAA studios in Dallas, Texas, more than 1,200 miles away. The confirmation comes from O'Reilly himself.”
Morley wrote that in the tapes O'Reilly says “he has been trying to run down the story by telephone from Texas” and O'Reilly later states he's coming down to Florida to investigate the suicide further. He concludes: “O'Reilly's utterances prove that he was not knocking on George Mohrenschildt's doorstep as he now melodramatically claims. The truth is more prosaic. O'Reilly got a tip on a hot story, worked his sources to confirm it, and rushed to the scene.”
The Associated Press' March 30, 1977, report about de Mohrenschildt's suicide quoted Palm Beach County Sheriff's Lt. Richard Sheets stating of the death: “At the time of the shooting, he was alone in the house except for two maids who said they did not hear the shot.” The AP report, obtained via the Nexis database, makes no mention of O'Reilly's alleged presence outside the home.