I've been out of the country for a while but I happened to catch the cage fight between Bill O'Reilly and George Will over the latter's recent review of the former's newest addition to his "Killing" series, "Killing Reagan." I haven't read the book yet, but I have read a couple in the Killing series and I can tell you this: they are fun. But I never once took them seriously as historical fact. I merely enjoyed them as a kind of alternative history told in journalistic fashion. For anyone who kindly reads the Chase Baker books, don't look for fact. Just look for fun, told in a fictional, almost pulpy comic book manner. You see what I'm getting at here.
But apparently Mr. O'Reilly takes the books very seriously. As serious as a heart attack, because anyone who witnessed the exchange between he and Will on Fox News probably thought the 'No Spin Zone" host was going to double over from cardiac arrest. Here's the clip.
Listen, I'm not about to take sides here. But as far as I'm concerned, I see O'Reilly as more of an entertainer. A conservative one at that. However, I also know as a writer, that he probably pens very little or any of the text in his books, and more than likely, doesn't participate in the research one iota. He's got like a billion bucks and he can pay to have the dirty work done for him. See an interesting Washington Post piece by my old friend Erik Wemple in which he illustrates O'Reilly's research process (keep scrolling down until you find it), which apparently is to give his subcontractors one week to come up with information he requires to support his thesis. For their time he pays $5K. Not a bad take home for a week's work. But you can't fence in the time needed for serious research that, if not conducted properly, could do unseen damage to a man as iconic and well respected as Mr. Reagan.
George Will has also entertained me over the years. But he is a serious intellect unmatched by O'Reilly. If the two were to enter into a battle of wits, O'Reilly would come off as being unarmed. Hey, I'm not knocking O'Reilly here, I'm just telling the truth without any spin in the end zone whatsoever (haha).
At the end of the interview, O'Reilly calls Will a hack. That's like me calling Jonathan Franzen or Tim O'Brien minor talents who will soon be forgotten. Will handled himself well in the interview and I think, in moral terms, he had an obligation to write the review of his co-worker's book, knowing with every keystroke the shit storm it was going to cause. But hey, sometimes you gotta take the video game controller out of the hands of even the most brutal brat. Tantrums be damned.
It turns out Mr. O'Reilly has a thin skin. I suggest that in order to avoid any further criticism of his Killing books by serious historians and/or veteran political thinkers, he take the time to write them himself, even if it means he take a two or three year sabbatical from the No Spin Zone. The alternative is for great minds like George Will to keep on Killing O'Reilly.