O’Reilly’s JFK assassination fib

The Fox host fabricated a story about hearing a shady associate of Lee Harvey Oswald commit suicide

Topics: Media Criticism, Bill O'Reilly, Bill O'Reilly Killing Kennedy, JFK, kennedy, Fox News,

Bill O’Reilly’s bestselling book on the JFK assassination, “Killing Kennedy,” partly follows the travails of O’Reilly himself as a young reporter trying to uncover the truth behind the president’s death. As author and former Salon politics editor Jefferson Morley highlighted this week, however, O’Reilly’s firsthand accounts appear lacking in the truth department.

In an incident detailed in the book (and flagged by media outlets including USA Today) O’Reilly claims he was tracking down an interview with George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian expat with possible CIA connections who was friends with Lee Harvey Oswald. Investigators looking into the JFK assassination were seeking information for de Mohnrenschildt when he reportedly committed suicide in 1977. According to “Killing Kennedy,” O’Reilly was on the Russian’s doorstep when he heard “the shotgun blast that marked the suicide.”

But as Morley pointed out this week, this was pretty much dramatic baloney:

[O'Reilly's] is 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.

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.

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Perhaps most bizarrely of all, and a detail not missed by Morley, O’Reilly recounts his fantastical mission to de Mohrenschildt’s doorstep entirely in the third person, calling himself “the reporter.” But perhaps the linguistic dissonance O’Reilly places between his current self and the young reporter he used to be is appropriate. As Morley notes:

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.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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