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 revealed in his own voice in an audio recording first published on JFK Facts.
CNN’s Brian Stelter picked up on the story, and I explained what really happened.
In the annals of the JFK assassination story, rife with CIA and FBI malfeasance, O’Reilly’s fanciful anecdote might seem trivial. But O’Reilly’s yarn was accepted as fact by reviewers in USA Today and the Fort-Worth Telegram; His book dominated the best-seller charts for months; and a credulous National Geographic made a documentary of Killing Kennedy. O’Reilly’s credibility matters and on this point, he clearly mistated the facts of his own actions.
A dramatic tale
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 other reporters 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 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 was not 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 [Emphasis added] 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.
Where O’Reilly Really Was
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 and then with CNN.
“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 know O’Reilly was in Dallas” on March 29, 1977. “There is no question about it.”