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December 11, 2015

Killing O’Reilly

Filed under: Ronald Reagan — Peter Arnold

(Note: This blog originally appeared on the Dawson & Associates website.)

A storm of controversy has erupted over Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Reagan. The controversy has engulfed almost every aspect of O’Reilly’s book – the lack of research, dubious use of unnamed sources, and a thesis at odds with extensive eyewitness documentation.

In November, George Will used his syndicated column twice to eviscerate O’Reilly – see here and here.

The book’s theme is that Reagan’s injuries from the March 1981 assassination attempt hastened his mental degradation. Those injuries led to a situation in which, O’Reilly claims, Reagan was increasingly befuddled and detached from reality.

O’Reilly’s thesis about Ronald Reagan simply isn’t supported by the facts and it’s certainly not supported by what I saw firsthand at the White House. From 1986 to 1989, I worked in the White House as a speechwriter to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Peter Robinson, the speechwriter who wrote Reagan’s 1987 Berlin Wall speech (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”) helped me land this position as he was a former Bush speechwriter who had recently been promoted to the President’s team.

My office was in 2013 Eisenhower (at the time, it was simply the OEOB) and during my years at the White House, I often went downstairs to Peter’s first-floor office. Invariably, he would show me examples of Reagan’s edits to the latest speech drafts. These edits were in the President’s distinctive and unmistakeable handwriting style. Some drafts contained mild edits. But usually, the President’s handwritten changes were extensive and detailed.

When I emailed Peter recently, he confirmed the former President’s intent focus on his speeches as a medium through which to wield influence:

Reagan edited his speeches all the time! And he was the best editor I’ve ever had – superb edits. Take a look at Reagan in His Own Hand, the book by Martin and Annelise Anderson…. There are examples of Reagan’s markups on speeches all over the place.

In short, O’Reilly’s book is flat wrong in his contention. The disengaged, confused President that O’Reilly disparages could not have produced the continuous stream of detailed, handwritten edits and improvements that I saw constantly during my White House years.

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