D&A Senior Advisor Peter Arnold
A storm of controversy has erupted over Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Reagan. The controversy has engulfed almost every aspect of O’Reilly’s book – the lack of research, dubious use of unnamed sources, and a thesis at odds with extensive eyewitness documentation.
The book’s theme is that Reagan’s injuries from the March 1981 assassination attempt hastened his mental degradation. Those injuries led to a situation in which, O’Reilly claims, Reagan was increasingly befuddled and detached from reality.
O’Reilly’s thesis about Ronald Reagan simply isn’t supported by the facts. Neither O’Reilly nor his coauthor ever went to The Reagan Library to conduct their research. However, they did use material from Kitty Kelley’s 1991 Nancy Reagan biography. As Jay Leno might put it, “Well, what are the odds of that?”
For anyone not convinced that this book is seriously flawed, I offer the following: From 1986 to 1989, I worked in the White House as a speechwriter to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Peter Robinson, the speechwriter who wrote Reagan’s 1987 Berlin Wall speech (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”) helped me land this position as he was a former Bush speechwriter who had recently been promoted to the President’s team.
My office was in 2013 OEOB and throughout those years, I often went downstairs to Robinson’s first-floor OEOB office. Invariably, he would show me the latest examples of Reagan’s edits to proposed speeches. The edits were in the President’s distinctive handwriting style. Some drafts contained only mild edits; but frequently, the President’s handwritten changes were extensive and detailed.
When I emailed Peter recently, he confirmed the former President’s intent focus on his speeches as a medium through which to wield influence:
Reagan edited his speeches all the time! And he was the best editor I’ve ever had – superb edits. Take a look at ‘Reagan in His Own Hand,’ the book by Martin and Annelise Anderson…. There are examples of Reagan’s markups on speeches all over the place.
In short, O’Reilly’s book is flat wrong in his contention. The disengaged, confused President that O’Reilly disparages could not have produced the continuous stream of detailed, handwritten edits and improvements that I saw constantly during my White House years.
Peter Arnold Senior Advisor
A member of the Dawson team since 2007, Peter Arnold worked in the White House as a speechwriter to Vice President George H.W. Bush from 1986-89.