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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: Do you think they'd both come back?

BOR: They'd probably get along, those two. But you gotta throw Teddy Roosevelt in there too, although Teddy, I think, was much more of a thinker — and more of a guy who was looking outside himself than those other two.

AF: In the foreword to Killing Kennedy you write that "The assassination of JFK was somewhat personal for me." Give me some background on that.

BOR: When you're 13 years old and you're sitting in a classroom and all of a sudden the loudspeaker crackles and you're told the president's been shot, you never forget it. That's the advantage of a book like this: Everybody's going to be emotionally involved from the jump.

AF: That's right. I remember asking my third-grade teacher, "Does this mean the Russians are taking over?" I came home and found my mother dissolved in tears. I think that was the first time I'd ever seen her allow herself to get that emotional in front of her kids.

BOR: Right — and that's a powerful story in your life. We're trying to start there with every reader. Americans who weren't born yet have heard and seen enough — particularly in this age that glorifies glamour — that their appetites will be whetted.

When I write about Kennedy and Martin Luther King and their failings, I'm intensely aware of what I'm putting on paper. I don't do it to demean, but to tell the truth about America. I know I'm going to take heat on the book, because I take heat for everything I do, so you get used to that.

AF: But you savor the heat, don't you?

BOR: You know, not anymore! In the beginning it was all right, because I wanted to stir the pot and direct people to a different kind of presentation. But unfortunately, in this country we've gotten nasty. I put in the episode about Adlai Stevenson getting spit on in Dallas because I wanted to show people that even in 1963 there was this kind of political vitriol that we see today. The difference now, of course, is that we have the Internet, where that is celebrated, so it becomes more dangerous.

AF: You say you and coauthor Martin Dugard "want to make history accessible to everyone."

BOR: Yeah, and I think we do that. I selected Dugard for his lack of ideology. I wanted a Jack Webb kind of guy — "just the facts" — and that's what I got. In fact we're working on another book right now. I can't tell you what it is, because we don't want to get ripped off, but it's going to knock everybody's socks off. We'll announce it by Christmas.

AF: You taught high school in Florida for two years. Any chance you'll return to the classroom?

BOR: If I decide to retire from television, I don't want to sit around. I don't know if I would teach high school or college, or just go around the country and talk to kids in an assembly situation.

I'm lucky enough where I'm an icon: People aren't going to forget me, even if I go off TV; they're always going to know who I am or what I've done. The books I can write until I'm dead.

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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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