There’s so much gravitas in the news – net neutrality, Netanyahu’s impending visit, ISIS smashing ancient relics, the ticking Homeland Security shutdown clock – that I hesitate to bang again on Bill O’Reilly.
But I will, because the latest Bill material is welcome comic relief. And there’s a cautionary lesson here about the toxic mix of journalism and show biz.
Forget Bill’s lies about being in a war zone that was, in truth, 1000 miles away. Far more priceless is his claim – which he wrote in several books, and has since repeated on various Fox News shows – that in 1977 he knocked on the door of a house where a friend of Lee Harvey Oswald was staying, and supposedly, at that very moment, the friend inside killed himself. Bill’s exact words, from a book published in 2013: “As I knocked on the door, I heard a shotgun blast.”
Wow, is that cinematic or what! The young TV reporter from WFAA in Dallas was in Palm Beach, Florida, on the cusp of interviewing George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian who had indeed befriended Oswald prior to the JFK assassination…but the guy, hearing the knock, decides to blast his brains rather than face Bill’s mic.
Problem is, three former colleagues in Dallas said this week that Bill was nowhere near Palm Beach when the suicide occurred. And that’s just for starters.
Tracy Rowlett, a WFAA reporter back in ’77, said: “(Bill) was in Dallas. He wasn’t traveling at that time.” Byron Harris, another reporter, said: “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.”
By the way, Dallas and Palm Beach are 1200 miles apart. In 1982, Bill and the Falkland Islands war zone were 1000 miles apart. I detect a pattern here. The next time Bill says that he covered an historic event, grab a map, draw a 1000-mile radius, and try to pinpoint where Bill really was.
Anyway. The ex-colleagues’ remarks are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. When WFAA aired its story in ’77 on de Mohrenschildt’s suicide, there was zero mention of any reporter standing on the doorstep. Had Bill actually been there, that would’ve been played as an exclusive. In truth, the person who was readying to interview de Mohrenschildt – who had an appointment with the guy that very day – was Gaeton Fonzi, an investigator working for the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
Fonzi, in his ’93 autobiography, wrote about the suicide incident. Did he see Bill on the doorstep? Did he run into Bill that day in Palm Beach? Hardly. Try not to laugh:
About 6:30 that evening (of the suicide day), I received a call from Bill O’Reilly, a friend who was then a television reporter in Dallas. “Funny thing happened,” he said. “We just aired a story that came over the wire from a Dutch journalist saying the Assassinations Committee has finally located de Mohrenschildt in South Florida. Now de Mohrenschildt’s attorney, a guy named Pat Russell, he calls and says de Mohrenschildt committed suicide this afternoon. Is that true?”
But the clincher, as if we need another, is the ’77 Palm Beach County Sheriff’s report. If someone had been perched on the doorstep at the moment of suicide, rest assured that person would’ve been interviewed for the report. But read it for yourself. Do a Control-F search for “O’Reilly” and see what comes up.
What’s noteworthy this week, about this particular O’Reilly lie, is his silence. The outing of his Falkland Islands lie prompted him to slime his CBS News colleagues and threaten an inquiring New York Times reporter – delighting the Fox News brass, which knows that Foxfans and trolls dismiss facts as liberal concepts. But Bill has said squat about the JFK stuff, and Foxflaks have referred press queries to Bill’s publisher (even though he has repeated the lie on Fox & Friends and The O’Reilly Factor).
Bill’s defenders think we should give him a pass because he’s just “show biz.” Sally Quinn, the former Washington Post maven and reputedly a friend of Bill’s, says: “O’Reilly is an entertainer and everything he does is totally subjective…Lighten up, everybody.”
Oh please. That’s almost as bad as Bill’s bull.
If you’re proferring opinions, then it’s fine to be “totally subjective.” But there’s no excuse for inaccuracy. You can’t claim to be somewhere, when in fact you were 1000 miles away; you can’t claim to have heard a gunshot, when in fact you read it on the wires 1200 miles away. Even show biz journalists (a hoary contradiction in terms) should be held to a factual empirical standard.
But hey, let’s give Bill a little credit. He has yet to say that he saw JFK from his perch on the grassy knoll.
This month marked the start of my 10th year as an online political columnist. So far, 2300 posts. Thanks for reading!