A hundred years from now, when future historians are rooting around the monumental life and times of Ronald Reagan, they will begin with his two auto biographies, Where’s The Rest of Me? and An American Life.
They will then move on to Lou Cannon’s five excellent books covering various aspects of Ronald Reagan’s life. Then, they will turn to the books edited by Marty and Annelise Anderson and Kiron Skinner, A Life In Letters and In His Own Hand, two wonderfully long books of chosen letters of the Gipper. They also wrote a book of Reagan’s radio broadcasts, also important.
Other important books will include those by Stephen Hayward, Paul Kengor, Ed Meese, Nancy Reagan and, if I am lucky, my books on Reagan.
But they will never, ever pick up or waste time with Bill O’Reilly’s new error strewn book, Killing Reagan. Fortunately, many who were alive and who worked for Reagan and many historians have stepped forward to denounce the book as “garbage,” as Reagan’s favorite national security advisor, Dick Allen called it.
I go out of my way to say that Dick was Reagan’s favorite national security advisor because O’Reilly ridiculously called Al Haig his favorite. If he was such a favorite, then why did Reagan fire him shortly into the first term? Haig was there as a sop to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. He was their cat’s-paw and to get them on Reagan’s side publically as he rejected Nixonian détente with the Soviets.
The day Haig left, Reagan derisively wrote in his diaries, “The only disagreement we had was who was president.” Never ever did Reagan express anything approaching a kinship with Haig.
It’s not just one error of fact. There are literally dozens of errors, made up stories, canards, prevarications in Killing Reagan. He writes that Reagan spent his days watching soap operas. Really? History shows otherwise, including ushering in the most sweeping tax reform in 30 years in his second term and spending hours going toe to toe with Gorbachev, bringing about the first real reduction in nuclear arms since the beginning of the Cold War. And there were big speeches, big ideas, big campaigns, big legislation, big debates, all in his supposedly befuddled second term.
When future historians are researching Reagan, they will go to the National Archives at the Reagan Library and Foundation in Simi Valley, Calif., where the papers of Ed Meese and Mike Deaver and others are. They will go to the Hoover Institute where the papers of Peter Hannaford and others are stored. They will go to the Reagan Ranch where other papers, including those of his fan club, are kept. They will find in each a bright and erudite and sophisticated man, all through his presidency. They will find no records of Reagan watching soap operas all day, nor records of Nancy Reagan running the White House or foreign policy, or acting as her husband’s gatekeeper.
Others, so far, who have denounced the O’Reilly book include the estimable historians Skinner, Hayward and Kengor. So, too, has Ed Meese, Reagan’s closest aide and friend from Sacramento to Washington; John Heubusch, head of the Reagan Library and Foundation; Frank Donatelli, Reagan’s White House Political Director and longtime campaign strategist; Allen, Reagan’s National Security Advisor; A.B. Culvahouse, Reagan White House Counsel; and, of course, George Will, who knew Ronald and Nancy Reagan as well as any conservative columnist and better than most, save the legendary Bill Buckley.
Thus, we have these historians and Reagan experts all arrayed against the O’Reilly book. But that’s not enough. (He also lifted heavily and mistakenly from my books including falsely claiming that Nancy Reagan knew about the purloined Carter briefing books in the fall of 1980, or that Stu Spencer told me he thought that Reagan thought Jimmy Carter was a “little shit,” but not that he called Carter that, as O’Reilly falsely claims.
But I digress.
So far, not one of the thousands of Reagan White House aides has come forward to corroborate O’Reilly’s retelling of history. If O’Reilly was even close to the truth, wouldn’t there be just one staffer to come forward and support Killing Reagan?
So, who you going to believe? Bill O’Reilly or the lying eyes of 1,000 people who worked up close and personal with the Gipper?
If Bill O’Reilly wrote the facts of Ronald Reagan, wouldn’t he be invited to speak at the Reagan Library, or the Reagan Ranch, or Eureka College, or the Hoover Institute, or the Buckley Center at Yale? He hasn’t and he won’t. The silence is deafening.
Reagan biographers and historians are often asked about this or that, and they find themselves fixing history, often. Washingtonian Magazine recently mistakenly wrote that Reagan himself moved the inaugural platform from the East Façade of the Capitol to the West in 1981 when in fact the decision had been made months earlier by Senator Mark Hatfield, to save money and to accommodate more people. Reagan, in this instance, was simply the lucky beneficiary of Hatfield’s decision.
But we find ourselves cleaning up bigger messes, too. Like O’Reilly’s book. George Will wrote that O’Reilly has “made a mess of history.”
Craig Shirley is a Reagan biographer, having written four books on the Gipper including his newest, Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan.