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Bill O'Reilly, Master of the Past

Newsman and author discusses new book 'Killing Kennedy,' LBJ, Robert Kennedy and more

AF: Did your opinion of JFK change as you wrote the book?

BOR: I think my opinion of him was always ambivalent, but it probably got a little bit better.

AF: What about the others in the book? There are three principals around Kennedy — LBJ, RFK and Jackie — that you really bring to life.

BOR: I didn't know much about Jackie Kennedy, and now I do. That's the headline of the book — that she was a very noble woman. This was a woman of character and substance, who endured pain no human being should endure with dignity.

[As for] Robert Kennedy, I've always been a fan of his. I like the tough-guy, I'm-going-to-bring-down-the-bad-guys approach. I also wanted to clarify the Marilyn Monroe stuff and the other salacious gossip. We really dug hard, but we couldn't come up with anything that backed that up.

LBJ? In totality I think he was a flawed man. From the time he woke up to the time he went to bed, his every thought was about LBJ — and I think karma got him in the end. We portray him in a pretty stark way.

AF: That's funny, because you also seem to identify with LBJ as a fellow underdog.

BOR: 
 Well, I understood the position he was in. But for all the things he accomplished in the civil-rights arena (and this may not be fair; he might have changed — I'm not Robert Caro), in the beginning he was using African Americans as a way to make the press identify him with doing good. That's where I separate from LBJ, and that's what separates LBJ from being a great man. If you really want to get things done and right wrongs in this world — and unfortunately, not too many people do — you've got to look outside yourself.

AF: So would you consider him and RFK "a team of rivals"?

BOR: Oh yeah! Oh, man — I mean, that story we tell about the hunting [incident] down in Texas, where LBJ leans over [to RFK, who's been knocked down by his shotgun recoil] and says, "You gotta learn to shoot like a man, boy!" Bobby was humiliated, but he couldn't do anything — think what that does to a guy like RFK!

AF: That reminds me of a line from your memoir: "The ground was as hard as Dick Cheney's heart." Who do you think would be scarier to go hunting with — Cheney or Johnson?

BOR:
 I'd like to see them go hunting together — I'd just want to stand way back. I'm not a hunter, but I would have liked to have been on that safari!

Next: How JFK's assassination personally affected O'Reilly. »

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video extra

Killing Kennedy is Bill O'Reilly's follow-up book to the hugely successful Killing Lincoln. Here's a brief introduction to Abraham Lincoln's humble upbringing in Kentucky — log cabin and all.

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