Bill O’Reilly’s ‘Killing’ Machine: Pyrotechnics and Possible Plagiarism

| March 4, 2013

When typing “Did Bill O” on Google, here are the first options that appear in the auto-complete drop-down menu:

 Did Bill O’Reilly: …go to Harvard/ …have an affair/ …get Divorced/ …punch Santa Claus/ …dodge the draft/ …molest an intern/ …wrote [sic] Killing Lincoln.

We’re going to go with the affirmative to all of them, though the last one is certainly up for debate.

O’Reilly, a former high school history teacher in the 1970s, prefaces Killing Lincoln with a special note to his readers: “The story you are about to read is true and truly shocking.” No stranger to hyperbolic posturings, however, the fact that the statement isn’t entirely factual isn’t shocking. Upon reviewing O’Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard’s book, the National Parks Service, which manages Ford’s Theatre, banned it from one of its bookshops citing ten different errors, one of which was repeated multiple times within the book.

The right-wing talk show host came under scrutiny from historians and book critics — several noting the mentions of President Lincoln in the Oval Office, which wasn’t even constructed until forty-four years after his assassination.

 Eric Foner, a prominent historian, author, and DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, didn’t mince words in an interview with The Washington Post: “I would not be surprised if there were historical errors as [O’Reilly] is better known as a TV polemicist than as a scholar.” And Jackie Hogan of Christian Science Monitor called Killing Lincoln “sensationalized, suggestive, and overly simplistic.”

There are three pull-quotes touting praise for Killing Lincoln on the book’s website. One is from crime thriller novelist Nelson DeMille, another is from Vince Flynn whose genre is described as political thriller fare, and the third is from Newsweek — though frankly we’re not exactly sure the following quote was intended as praise:  “If Grisham wrote a novel about April 1865…it might well read like Killing Lincoln.”

The writing duo’s follow-up, Killing Kennedy, which was published in October 2012 by Henry Holt and Company, has also come under criticism, but this time more over style than factual inaccuracies. The authors this go-round seemed to have overcompensated with factoids to the point of tedium — from the wheelbase of the president’s car in Dallas (at 156 inches) to the exact angle that the car turns onto Dealey Plaza (120 degrees), to the wattage of the bare light bulbs in the depository building (60-watts) etc.

Janet Maslin’s review for The New York Times narrowed in on Killing Kennedy’s around-the-bin-and-back-again mauvey grandiloquence, even pointing out the book’s shameless “word-mangling.” Not content to mention an elephantine libido in the room, Killing Kennedy goes balls-out with:

 “The president’s voracious sexual appetite is the elephant that the president rides around on each and every day while pretending that it doesn’t exist.”

 And as Maslin points out, the authors’ daft drivelings just keep on coming: In one scene the authors write that Kennedy is walking through a party as a young girl half the president’s age, draped in a plunging neckline, looks at him coyly from across the room.

And who is that seductive little strumpet, the reader wonders? It was none other that the figure in the Mona Lisa (the painting was on loan to the White House at the time), and the young woman “looking on” is Lisa Gherardini, da Vinci’s model. O’Reilly and Dugard write:

 “But Lisa Gherardini has been in the grave for almost five centuries. There is no way she can be shot dead

The same cannot be said of the president.

That is why the Secret Service never lets down its guard.

Not yet, at least.”

 Ironically, while O’Reilly’s detractors have been holding his feet to the factual flames since Killing Lincoln, he’s apparently not to blame for the errors. His literary flourishes and ramblings, however, are quite another story.

 According to an interview in USA Today, the self-proclaimed “champion bloviator” doesn’t consider himself a historian, saying it is “not my discipline.” Dugard, who also co-penned a book with churn-‘em-out James Patterson, is responsible for “most of the research,” the article stated. Meanwhile, all that colorful wordplay is apparently O’Reilly’s forte — or fault. “No pinheaded stuff,” the sexagenarian said. “Just roar it through!” Indeed.

O’Reilly claims that people who “don’t get” him are simply “jealous” of his success; he has, according to his publisher, sold over 2 million copies thus far, and that’s no small potatoes. However, it should be duly noted that it is not his brilliant writing, rather it’s his built-in conservative following and his new “killing so-and-so” brand that stuffs the till. (Killing Jesus is slotted for September 2013 publication. For the uninitiated, we’re going to tell you where you can read the source material: it’s called the New Testament. You’re welcome.)

And just to be sure where he stands as a “populist” storyteller, he even dismissed two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Caro, saying, “to get through 800 pages, you either have to be retired or on vacation for six weeks.” O’Reilly slicks it up in florid details — a bit like a right-wing David McCullough, if the Pulitzer Prize-winning McCullough were an untalented blowhard. 

And now things could take an even darker turn for the Killing machine. The conservative website recently reported that the “killing” series bears an uncanny similarity to former New York Daily News writer Jim Bishop’s three popular books: The Day Lincoln Was Shot, The Day Kennedy Was Shot, and The Day Christ Died. While you certainly can’t steal an idea, and Bishop is even acknowledged in Killing Kennedy, side-by-side readings are underway to verify the books’ veracity.

 The fact checkers at reached out to Dugard for comment, who responded that it was all “an amazing coincidence” and “[c]ool, but completely coincidental.” O’Reilly was unavailable for comment.

Last week on The O’Reilly Factor, the host, in his trademark inflammatory italics, weighed in on how he believes history will judge President Obama. In between mocking the fecklessness of actual presidential scholars, the news host — now armed with two books that bear his name — is expected to be taken seriously. If hubris hasn’t destroyed enough of American culture, and loosened the threads of our society, now shoot-em-up celebrity-driven glitz has supplanted the relevancy of academia. No further proof is needed than when O’Reilly significantly trampled above Caro on The New York Times Best-seller List; the coming charge of the Four Horsemen was deafening.

The history Be-Dazzler himself ignored most of the twenty categories that the Sienna College Research posed to 238 presidential scholars, historians, and political scientists to compile their list for the best to worst presidents. None of that “pinhead” stuff for O’Reilly, who claimed, according to, that the president’s demeanor, relationship with the press, charisma, etc. wouldn’t matter. “Just the facts,” he said.

 It doesn’t matter to the talk show host that Obama currently ranks fourteenth overall among his predecessors, O’Reilly sees it differently:

 “Previous presidents like Van Buren, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover all got hammered because of perceived bad economic policies. The fact is that right now Barack Obama is in that historical category. And that’s a fact.”

Punctuating your diatribes with “just the facts” does not make your rant factual — especially if the “facts” were just passed along for you to gild and glitter, as appears to be the agreement between the co-authors. And how Dugard acquired those facts is now being called in question.

But let’s look at what we’ve just learned: Bill O’Reilly is not a historian and his presidential musings should not be respected as such; and he and his colleague may or may not be plagiarists; but based on his aforementioned didactic and floral excerpts from Killing Kennedy, the right-wing pundit is certainly one hellava shitty writer. And that’s a fact.


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