Investigator’s tape exposes Bill O’Reilly’s JFK fib

In his best-selling book Killing Kennedy, Bill O’Reilly tells a brief tale of an intrepid reporter — himself — chasing the historical truth of JFK’s assassination in south Florida. But the story itself is a fiction, as O’Reilly reveals here in his own voice.

JFK reality check for Bill O’Reilly

In the annals of the JFK assassination story, rife with CIA and FBI malfeasance, O’Reilly’s fanciful anecdote might seem trivial. It is not the saddest feature of a book that manages to ignore all of the high-quality JFK assassination scholarship of the last two decades.

But as O’Reilly’s yarn is presented as fact in USA Today and the Fort-Worth Telegram; as his book dominates the best-seller charts; and as a credulous National Geographic embarks on making a documentary of Killing Kennedy, O’Reilly’s credibility matters.

In O’Reilly’s account, the dramatic incident happened on March 29, 1977. The Fox News talk show host was then a 28-year-old television reporter in Dallas seeking to make a name for himself by investigating a popular subject that media elites habitually disdained: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Working in Dallas at a time when Congress re-opened the JFK investigation in the mid-1970s, O’Reilly scored some real scoops, especially about a man named George de Mohrenschildt. A Russian emigre who moved in both European high society and the American underworld, de Mohrenschildt would have made a splendid character in a Graham Greene novel, except he was a real living CIA asset involved in the suspicious events that would culminate in JFK’s murder on Dallas on November 22,1963.

De Mohrenschildt was good copy. He was probably the only person on the planet on friendly terms with both the family of First Lady Jackie Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of killing her husband. De Mohrenschildt may not have been a paid CIA employee, but as JFK investigators closed in on him, he expected CIA assistance. In September 1976, he wrote to CIA director George H.W. Bush seeking help for his “hopeless situation.” Bush, the only CIA director to become president, ignored him, while privately telling CIA colleagues they had a slight acquaintance. De Mohrenschildt’s testimony to the House Select Committee on Assassinations was expected to be explosive.

O’Reilly spins the story with third person modesty in Killing Kennedy (p. 300), calling himself “the reporter.” He wrote that he

“traced de Mohrenschildt to Palm Beach, Florida and travelled there to confront him. At the time de Mohrenschildt had been called to testify before a congressional committee looking into the events of November 1963. As the reporter knocked on the door of de Mohrenschildt’s daughter’s home, he heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide of the Russian, assuring that his relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald would never be fully understood.

By the way, that reporter’s name is Bill O’Reilly.”

It’s a vivid story and well told. It’s also mostly imaginary. In fact, the reporter named Bill O’Reilly was in Dallas, Texas, on that day.

Gaeton Fonzi

Investigator Gaeton Fonzi was a reliable source for an intrepid young reporter named Bill OReilly

The truth can be heard on a cassette tape made by Gaeton Fonzi, a congressional investigator who was O’Reilly’s most reliable source on the JFK story. Fonzi wrote about that day in his 1993 memoir, The Last Investigation: “About 6:30 that evening I received a call from Bill O’Reilly, a friend who was then a television reporter in Dallas,” wrote Fonzi, who died in August 2012. In Fonzi’s account, O’Reilly told him that he had just received a tip that de Mohrenschildt had committed suicide.

A recording of three phone conversations between Fonzi and O’Reilly on March 29, 1977, confirms Fonzi’s account. Fonzi’s widow, Marie Fonzi, shared the tape with JFK Facts.

“Gaet liked O’Reilly and did lots to help him,” Marie Fonzi said in an email. “He hired him in the early ’70s when editor of Miami Magazine at $25 a month to write movie reviews. He wrote letters of reference for him and was instrumental in getting him his first TV shot.” But she adds, “I knowO’Reilly was in Dallas” on March 29, 1977. “There is no question about it.”

O’Reilly is right about one thing. He was indeed pursuing George de Mohrenschildt in March 1977, but he did not reach his doorstep in Palm Beach on March 29, 1977, and he 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 as he calls Fonzi to break the news.

“We just got a call from de Mohrenshildt’s lawyer saying he committed suicide in Miami today,” the caller  says — just as O’Reilly was quoted in Fonzi’s book.”You hear anything about it?”

Fonzi tells the caller (obviously someone he has a working relationship with) that he had tried to find de Mohrenschildt at a residence in Palm Beach at 11:30 that morning and was told he wasn’t home.

“So as far you know he’s still alive?” the reporter asks. Fonzi wants to know when the caller received the tip.

“We just got the call twenty minutes ago,” the caller says.

“That’s 6:30 here,” Fonzi says, indicating that he understands the reporter is calling from a different time zone. Fonzi tells the reporter he’ll check out the story and get right back to him.

Fonzi then calls de Mohrenschildt’s house, and gets the runaround from a man answering the phone (a police investigator already called to the suicide scene). He hangs up. and  The phone rings again.

“Bill?” Fonzi opens.

“Yeah,” the caller responds.

Fonzi tells Bill he cannot confirm de Mohrenschildt is dead. Like a good reporter, Bill says he has been trying to run down the story by telephone from Texas. “I checked every medical examiner from Satellite Beach to Key West,” he says, “and there’s no report on this.” He says he’s going to keep working on the story and he asks Fonzi to call him if he learns anything. He hangs up.

Fonzi makes a flurry of calls to his sources in Florida and confirms the story. Then O’Reilly calls for a third time.

“Gaeton,” the caller says. “Bill O’Reilly.” Fonzi shares some details of the story, and O’Reilly tells him his travel plans. “I’m coming down there tomorrow,” he says. “I’m coming to Florida.”

Fonzi tells him to get in contact when he arrives.

“I’m going to take a night flight if I can,” O’Reilly says, “but I may have to go tomorrow morning.”

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. In making up this story for Killing Kennedy, he slighted the truth of his own professionalism.

Which tells you something about the state of popular history and JFK’s assassination as the 50th anniversary of that formative moment approaches next fall. I’m not going to say Bill O’Reilly is liar, just because I sometimes disagree with his politics. His fib isn’t an outrage. It’s sad.

In 1977 O’Reilly pursued the JFK story with rare tenacity. He found reliable sources like Gaeton Fonzi who tried to pierce the veil of secrecy that certain CIA officers tried to draw around their own knowledge of Oswald. In 1991 O’Reilly, reporting for Inside Edition, told the troubling story of David Atlee Phillips, a high-ranking “psychological warfare” specialist who was reportedly seen in the company of Lee Harvey Oswald.

It was tough piece. It was fair. It was balanced. The younger O’Reilly dared to air the sort of well-reported JFK story that timid editors inside the Beltway avoid for fear they might be labelled “conspiracy theorists” or “anti-CIA,” lethal epithets in the struggle for influence.

Now the wildly successful O’Reilly has let down conservative (and liberal) readers who look to him for a skeptical voice about dubious Big Government claims. He never mentions Fonzi, the source who introduced him to the subject and whose memoir is both passionate and careful. O’Reilly has joined the lofty yet lazy elite media consensus that he once had the temerity to flout. Now he too says JFK was killed by a lone nut, not his enemies.

Marie Fonzi says she doesn’t know if her late husband would have responded to Killing Kennedy. He “might just shake his head in sorrow that his friend Bill had sold out,” she wrote. “Or … he might get really angry,” which he rarely did.

One thing is certain: The young Bill O’Reilly had the nerve to call and report. The current Bill O’Reilly has the impulse to avoid and embellish. In one little fib, O’Reilly reveals how he abandoned fact-gathering in favor of myth-making.

As for the JFK documentarians at National Geographic, this might be a good time to hire an extra fact checker.

———–

AUDIO HIGHLIGHTS Bill O’Reilly explains where he was and what he was doing on March 29, 1977.

1.  ”We just got a call from de Mohrenschildt’s lawyer”

2.  ”I checked every medical examiner from Satellite Beach to Key West”

3.  ”I’m coming down there tomorrow. I’m coming to Florida.”

4) All of Gaeton Fonzi’s phone calls that evening, including his three conversations with Bill O’Reilly.

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MORE FROM JFK FACTS: Did Amazon block a challenge to O’Reilly’s lone gunman theory? What Has Bill O’Reilly Learned About JFK?

18 comments

  1. Shane McBryde says:

    This is the kind of thing that ought to be making the evening news. But, of course I have no illusions about that happening. These are spooky, spooky times in which we live. Noam Chomsky, although himself an, ‘Oswald acted alone’ proponent, has it right when he talks about “Manufacturing Consent.” The way in which the media has so skillfully learned to manage and manipulate the public mind. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RO51ahW9JlE&feature=youtube_gdata_player )

    The lead story on NBC’s, “The Today Show,” is an investigation of fake NFL clothing! Followed by an exposé on some football player’s fake girlfriend. Good grief! It’s nothing more than a commercial for the Super Bowl masquerading as, “news.”

    Meanwhile, one of the most high profile, and allegedly most trusted media personalities of the day writes what’s supposed to be an historical account of one the most important events in American history. It’s marketed to children, it’s on the NYT best sellers list, and yet it has no footnotes, and according to the above article it includes an outright fabrication.

    Oh well, at least now I know I better be on the lookout for those fake NFL jerseys. Never mind fake history books by the guy who’s, “looking for you.”

  2. And let’s not forget that George De Mohrenschildt was in contact with Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s office in April, 1963. Scroll down and read that critical memo unearthed by ace JFK researcher Bruce Campbell Adamson: http://ciajfk.com/Doris.html

    George De Mohrenschildt, who was Lee Harvey Oswald’s best friend in Dallas, ran in a circle of Texas businessmen (oil men) and politicians (Lyndon Johnson and GHW Bush) who just hate, hate hated the Kennedys. And there is a lot evidence that Oswald was U.S. intelligence with a fake public persona of a pro-Castro Marxist.

    Btw, LBJ’s military aide Air Force Col. Howard Burris was involved in the Iranian coup of 1953 which was backed by the CIA and American oil companies. And an Air Force general Edward Lansdale has been identified at TSBD on 11/22/63 by two of his peers, Col. Fletcher Prouty and Gen. Victor Krulak. And the head Air Force general of the time, Gen. Curtis LeMay was a rabid Kennedy hater, close to Texas oilmen H.L. Hunt and D.H. Byrd and who [LeMay] called the Kennedys “cockroaches” in his LBJ oral history.

    April, 18, 1963 Letter from LBJ’s top aide Walter Jenkins to George De Mohrenschildt, Lee Harvey Oswald’s best friend in Dallas

    April 18, 1963

    Dear Mr. Mohrenschildt:

    Your letter has come in the Vice President’s absence from the office — the Congress is in its Easter Recess.
    Next week Mr. Johnson will be participating in the Second Manned Space Seminar in the Southwest, in a Forum in West Virginia in mid-week and has other speaking engagements that will take him out of town. Since we are faced with that situation I would like to suggest that you see Colonel Howard Burris, Air Force Aide to the Vice President, when you come to Washington. Should Mr. Johnson happen to have any office hours here during your stay, we will be happy to see if a mutually convenient time can be found for you to meet.

    With warm good wishes,

    Sincerely,

    Walter Jenkins
    Administrative Assistant to
    The Vice President

    Mr. George de Mohrenschildt
    1939-40 Republic National Bank Building
    Dallas 1, Texas
    WJ:MJDR

    • larry wheeler says:

      Oswald was “handled’ by the coup plotters and then plugged in to be the designated patsy. it worked, but once you peel back the layers of deceit one can see the tangled web. there is no way a man with demohrenschidt’s background would befriend a Marxist pro castro defector in texas in the early 60′s. -unless he could be used by them. people have profiles – they are who we are- but 180 opposites don’t hang out and socialize unless it’s an intell operation work. George m. even know bush sr. at the petroleum club in dallas or Houston texas, aint no way this can happen with Oswald in the mix unless it’s a frame up job. last man standing wins.

    • Alan Boyd says:

      For a thorough analysis of George DeM’s relationships with Geo Bush Sr and LHO, see Russ Baker’s “Family Secrets”.

  3. Mark Groubert says:

    Nice work Rob. I always wanted to read that letter. When George did show up with his little banker friend Mr. Charles, guess who was in his office that day – yes, LBJ.

    • Notice how Walter Jenkins is hooking De Mohrenschildt with Col. Howard Burris, LBJ’s Air Force attache. Burris was involved in the 1953 Iranian coup … maybe De Mohrenschildt wants a Haitian coup so he can cut exclusive deals with the government.

      That is probably what is going on rather than any JFK assassination-related plotting.

      I do think that Air Force intelligence (see Lansdale & LeMay) was heavily involved in the JFK assassination. H.L. Hunt and D.H. Byrd were very plugged into those Air Force generals for decades and so was LBJ. Charles Cabell, the CIA many who JFK fired was also an Air Force general as well as the brother of Mayor Earle Cabell of Dallas. LBJ knew those men socially & professionally.

  4. Bill Hicks says:

    Bill O’Reilly is a pathological liar. That’s well established and that’s how history will remember him: As a liar.

    • jeffmorley says:

      The Bill Hicks?

      LOL

      • George Simmons says:

        LOL. This video is fantastic. And so true!!

      • larry wheeler says:

        you brought it man!- I went to the museum in 1991 , took the tour, got up to the window, back then it was not glassed in , I got up there ,looked out and realized any assassin firing from that window would take the easier shot firing at jfk coming toward him on Houston street. I voice this to others on the tour and pointed out the tree branches made almost a miracle shot even harder when you had the car coming toward you in clear view – they did not have the zapruder film showing, probably still don’t show it. I got escorted out by security and realized most of these guys hated kennedy, – the grassy knoll tour was free and the truth is found down there.

        • Alan Boyd says:

          The trees would have been much smaller in 1963 and I think there are some other photos of the front of the TSBD which show this. I go to the museum every year whilst on an annual business seminar in Dallas and I have been pleasantly surprised that the bookstore now carries a number of “conspiracy” (i.e. truth) books, including some by Robert Groden and David Wrone’s book on the Z film.

        • Patrick L says:

          This is the first time I’ve seen this point elsewhere, which I had figured out just from the diagram of the motorcade route.I was in the military and have had small arms training. The shot with the limo headed towards the School Book Dep. was dead easy and would have been the shot a LONE shooter would have taken. Not that I believe Oswald shot anyone that day but that’s another deal.

  5. Steven Berry says:

    I believe that there was much more that we missed on that fateful day in 1963…I believe JFK assassination was the attention getter that enabled a new Government to take control of the USA that day in Dallas..A n unelected President that history is proving may well have at the very least known that Kennedy would be murdered in Dallas that day..Lyndon Johnson was a power maniac that would do anything or anyone to get that dreamed for position..He was this close to being indicted for a variety of felony’..and his personal hit man Mac Wallace was probably one of the assassins firing at Kennedy in the Plaza…JFK and the Republic called the United States were both victims of a Coup that day in Dallas.

  6. I picked up O’Reilly’s book while at a store yesterday and went to the index at the back . Except for two pages of inane conversation, I saw no references to the Warren Commission . Nothing about Sylvia Meagre , Peter Dale Scott , Harold Weisberg , Robert Groden , Dr Cyril Wecht , David Talbot , etc . Didn’t check to see if Gaeton Fonzi’s name was in there . But Elvis Presley was there . Maybe that was because of the songs he “stole” from several Blues artists . O’Reilly would be drawn to that . No wonder O’Reilly , as far as I know , hasn’t used an index in his other books. The mis-information continues.

  7. Andrew Gross says:

    Bill-O is nothing more than a slip-shot operator.

  8. Bill O’Reilly’s book just is a Warren Commission re-hash, a discredited report being passed off as “history”. Oswald wasn’t a loser kicked out of the Marines. He left over a controversial “hardship” and his discharge was changed later.

  9. darwin says:

    Is anyone surprised that O’Reilly is a lying scumbag? Or that actually his ghost writer is.

  10. Louis says:

    I found OReilly’s claim quite incredible and don’t doubt he is capable of “embellishing” the truth. I suspect he has been telling this account for many years without anyone complaining. His book seems more like a basic introduction to Kennedy and does not make any real effort to present any theories. It is a very easy read but offers nothing new.

    For myself, I accept Oswald as the lone gunman and believe he was fully capable and self motivated to commit the assassination. But I also believe there could be much more to be known. IMHO the FBI certainly at a minimum failed to protect Kennedy and the Warren Commission treaded lightly with regards to the FBI’s handling of Oswald’s files! Not surprising since the commission’s members were picked by LBJ and Hoover. Oswald’s attempt on General Walker together with George De Morhenschildt’s awareness of Oswald’s feelings towards Walker and knowledge of the scoped rifle are concerning. For me it is more plausible that Oswald’s attempt on General Walker was passed on to the CIA or FBI by George De Morhenschildt and reached Hoover who decided to keep it from the Dallas police with the hope that Oswald, on his own initiative, would kill the President. Hoover was facing mandatory retirement and JFK did not intend to allow him to stay on. An LBJ presidency would ensure Hoover retaining his most powerful position as director of his beloved Bureau. Hoover might even have rationalized it as necessary for national security that he remain at the helm of the FBI. He was arguably the most powerful man in Washington, in a position to control access to information and was certainly willing to use it to his advantage. Despite the Warren Commission’s attempt to minimize it, the FBI’s failure to consider Oswald a suspect in the Walker incident was either a colossal incompetence or intentional. It seems absurd that De Morhenschildt, after learning of Oswald’s scoped rifle on April 14th,would not have thought Oswald may have shot at Walker 4 days prior. It immediatly entered his mind since he joked about it while at the Oswald’s. De Morhenschildt’s anti communist background, intelligence connections and involvement with the Dallas Russian community would have made him a likely informer. The FBI employed thousands of such “assets” at the time. It seems reasonable to presume he would have at least passed this info regarding Oswald’s rifle on to “someone”. That it never came to the attention of the Dallas police is disturbing and perhaps even telling. Recall the purported exchange between FBI agent Hosty and Dallas police Lt. Jack Revill detailed in Revill’s memorandum written within hours of the shooting in which he states Hosty told him the FBI believed Oswald capable of the assassination (but never believed he would do it). The Warren Commision chose to accept Agent Hosty’s denial that he said that. Even without De Morhrenschildt the FBI should (would?) have wondered who took the shot at Walker, a nationally known and controversial right wing extremist, and Oswald would be an obvious suspect whose name should have been provided to Dallas police (as well as the secret service prior to Kennedy’s Dallas trip). They were well aware of his political views as well as his violent nature and activism. The timeline is at least interesting…

    April 10:Walker shooting

    April 14: De Morhenschildt’s visit Oswald’s and notice scoped rifle (and joke about Lee shooting at Walker before departing)

    April 23: LBJ makes public announcement published the next day in Dallas newspaper about Kennedy visiting Dallas.

    I would not rule out the possibility that the mafia or some others also had a desire to kill Kennedy but it does not mean they were connected to Oswald.

    It is possible I suppose that Oswald’s psychological profile made him a likely and willing assassin, which could have been foreseen and manipulated but I think it more likely he acted independently but with the knowledge (and approval) of Hoover. I don’t believe our government would want it known if Hoover had intentionally left Oswald alone to potentially commit the assassination. It would be a tremendous blow to public confidence and eclipse Watergate and perhaps even Viet Nam as national disgraces. Hoover also had tremendous influence as would LBJ. But as to other shooters from the grassy knoll…well there certainly is still an audience for such theories just as there is an industry anxious to feed it.

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