By now it's clear that Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly lied in his 2012 book, Killing Kennedy, about his own connection to the suicide of a key figure in a JFK conspiracy theory. The evidence is irrefutable. Maybe the more interesting question at this point is why. Who lies to connect himself to JFK's murder?
According to nationally recognized author, journalist and JFK assassination expert Hugh Aynesworth -- who really was in Florida where O'Reilly dishonestly claimed to be in 1977 -- the people who make up JFK stories about themselves always turn out to be what Aynesworth calls "second-stringers" and "wannabes."
Lumping O'Reilly among them, Aynesworth explains them as "people whose own wives or husbands wouldn't pick them up at the airport, and suddenly they get a conspiracy theory, and it's on Page One of the paper, and now they are somebody."
The O'Reilly lie about the JFK assassination has been out there for some time. Aynesworth wrote about it in his 2013 book, November 22, 1963: Witness to History. He says he was confident enough of his facts not to worry about any legal challenge from O'Reilly.
"The publisher was saying, 'He's liable to sue you.'" Aynesworth remembers. "I said, 'Unh-unh.'"
The story also has been bruited about on JFK conspiracy blogs and websites since the O'Reilly JFK book came out. It only became news in the last few days in the wake of the Brian Williams debacle at NBC and following a Mother Jones article in which O'Reilly was accused of lying about his own heroism in a war zone.
O'Reilly barely left a footprint in Dallas during a brief stint as a 20-something reporter at WFAA Channel 8 in the late 1970s. I asked SMU emeritus journalism professor Darwin Payne -- another guy who really is known for JFK reporting -- if he remembered O'Reilly from that time.
"I'm sorry to say I don't," Payne emailed back. "I was even surprised a few years ago when I learned that he had been a reporter for WFAA-TV. And by the way, the fact that I didn't remember him seems to say something, for I was very much aware of the TV reporters. In other words, I think I could say that he passed through town without making much of an impression at all."
But the story O'Reilly tells in his book creates quite another impression. It involves a shadowy Russian émigré, George de Mohrenschildt, who lived in Dallas in the early 1960s when JFK assassin lee Harvey Oswald moved to Dallas with his Russian wife, Marina. De Mohrenschildt is said to have befriended the couple.
In 1977 when O'Reilly was at WFAA, the House Select Committee on Assassinations wanted to interview de Mohrenschildt, but he killed himself with a shotgun at his daughter's house in Palm Beach, Florida, before he could be called to testify.
In his book O'Reilly says that he traveled to Palm Beach on March 29, 1977, to "confront" de Mohrenschildt and was there when he shot himself. O'Reilly's account suggests broadly that de Mohrenschildt died that day because de Mohrenschildt or someone else wanted to keep O'Reilly from the truth. Here is the passage:
"In March of 1977 a young television reporter at WFAA in Dallas began looking into the Kennedy assassination. As part of his reporting, he sought an interview with the shadowy Russian college professor who had befriended the Oswalds upon their arrival in Dallas in 1962. The reporter traced George de Mohrenschildt to Palm Beach, Florida, and traveled there to confront him. At the time de Mohrenschildt had been called to testify before a congressional committee looking into 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 Russsian, assuring that this relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald would never be fully understood.
"By the way, that reporter's name is Bill O'Reilly."
Yesterday Glenn Hunter at D Magazine quoted two of O'Reilly's peers at WFAA, revered anchorman Tracy Rowlett and award-winning longtime investigative reporter Byron Harris, saying they know O'Reilly was in Dallas when de Mohrenschildt died. Harris said, "He stole [the story] out of the newspaper." Harris mistakenly attributed the story to The Dallas Morning News.
Actually the scoop belonged to The Dallas Times Herald, where Aynesworth was working. It was his story, he says. He did go to Palm Beach, and he says now there was nobody around the news scene that day named Bill O'Reilly:
"I was there," Aynesworth told me yesterday. "I really was there. I was down there within hours of him shooting himself.
"I didn't see him [O'Reilly] there. I was at the police department or that house for hours, and he just was not there. He wasn't in Florida, I'll put it that way."
The O'Reilly JFK lie is not a matter of he-said she-said. As others have reported already and as Aynesworth pointed out to me yesterday, O'Reilly himself left behind irrefutable evidence at the time that he learned of de Mohrenschildt's death after the fact and via long distance phone call.
Aynesworth, who was in Dallas as a Newsweek correspondent when the assassination happened, has earned recognition over the years as an expert on and debunker of assassination conspiracy theories. He explained to me how O'Reilly created the evidence in 1977 that proves him a liar today.
"The biggest investigator on the House Select Committee that year, 1977, was Gaeton Fonzi," Aynesworth said. "After he died a couple years ago, his wife saved all his tape recordings, and there are three tape recordings of O'Reilly calling Fonzi three times from Dallas that day.
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"The first two times he didn't know for sure, he was trying to confirm that the guy had killed himself. And the third one he said, 'Well, I got to get over there.'"
Hugh Aynesworth probably has more experience than any other person alive today talking to and getting to know people who make up fables about themselves and the JFK assassination. I asked him why he thinks people do it. Who wants to be associated with such a horrible chapter in the first place? And who could be dumb enough to think a flamboyant lie would go unnoticed in the single most minutely scoured and hyper-investigated question in American history?
"Usually they are second-stringers trying to be somebody," he said. "We see it in the Kennedy thing so very much. Hell, I've had five people confess to me that they either shot Kennedy or they were standing with the guy that did it.
"They want to be somebody," he said. "That's the whole key behind it. It's people who are wannabes."