I have nothing personal against Bill O'Reilly. In fact, most times I do think he is "fair and balanced" and makes a commendable effort to avoid "spin." O'Reilly is an accomplished author, a hard-hitting political commentator with deep roots in journalism, and well, to use his phrase, he's a real "standup guy." It is the O'Reilly franchise that gives me heartburn -- the marketeer more than the provocateur. Let me explain why.
O'Reilly is a brand, and a big one at that. Visit the O'Reilly Store Front online and you can pick up everything from baseball caps and T-shirts to travel mugs and doormats. One of the more compelling O'Reilly lines is his bestselling Killing series -- Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, and arriving soon at a bookstore near you, Killing Patton. As someone who has spent far too much time reading the history behind Golgotha, the Grassy Knoll, and German occupation, I am compelled to read O'Reilly's work. In the case of Killing Kennedy, I also watched the film, a well-done production and a superb acting job by Rob Lowe as the fallen icon. Regrettably, when it was over, I felt as if I did not need to have watched it; I could have rewound my memory to the moment before any doubts about the Warren Commission Report were offered by investigators and concluded on my own that Oswald was the lone nut. Case closed.
With all of O'Reilly's accounts, whether Killing Kennedy, Killing Lincoln, or Killing Jesus, I quickly concluded that nothing was presented that was particularly new other than the fact that O'Reilly wrote it (with co-writer interesting storytelling, but no bombshells here. When we peer back through history, if we flash back as if rewinding the Zapruder film or imagining ourselves as a centurion gazing up at the man on the cross, we realize the actual witnesses experienced events in "real time." In those moments, they might have asked, who would want to do such a thing? Years later, those same witnesses might have had some context with which to understand the reasons behind the killing and to hear the "official" story. Decades later, they might be able to question the authorities' accounts, but it is usually those first few who boldly question who are initially called "kooks" or "loons."
When scholars, with the help of 18th century science, began doubting the official story of Jesus from the bible, they were called heretics, inspired by the devil. with those challenging the Catholic Church. And it is true until today; only today, these folks are labeled conspiracy theorists. The mainstream media, for example, ostracized award-winning director and producer Oliver Stone, when he offered his doubts about Oswald acting as the lone gunman in Dallas.
Indeed, when I began my own research of General Patton more than 15 years ago for my upcoming film (and book) Silence Patton: The First Victim of the Cold War (www.silencepatton.com), historians scoffed at the notion of a Patton assassination. The 1978 film, Brass Target, directed by John Hough, about Patton and the plot for gold in Nazi Germany, received dubious reviews, for example. And former legendary boxing manager Ferdie Pacheco wrote the book, Who Killed Patton, also exploiting the conspiracy, and so on and so on. Yet throughout the years, the question still haunted me, how does a fearless general die in a fender bender? How does a legendary commander who led the first WWI tank assault in France from the ground while only waving a whipping stick, in the face of a hail of bullets, and who longed for a hero's death on the battlefield as the "last man dead from the last bullet," meet his demise in a freak accident that occurs on the day before he is scheduled to leave Europe.
What I discovered with the more self assured conspiracy theorists' accounts was that the sole forensic study of the Patton accident scene was interesting but lacking. The evidence left me in one of those Oliver Stone enigma-wrapped-in-a-riddle states of mind. Or I was forced to rely on a single, "after the facts," testimony like that of Douglas Bazata, who offered his dark assassin's secrets only to his author, in the 2010 paperback book, Target: Patton. Or I was compelled to rely more on my suspicions than on the connecting evidence itself - Paranoia as entertainment.
My assumption is this: if Killing Patton is anything like Killing Kennedy or Killing Jesus, it is not about new or penetrating discovery, but the same ol' same ol' only through this greatly successful marketer and his hired writer--a scheduled feeding for an audience already "on the farm." Though I am open to surprise, such is human nature, and I too have my favorite authors. But as an independent scholar and filmmaker, with Silence Patton, I have come to learn that nothing new comes from a few months of repackaging, and unlike the stories themselves there is no blood spilt or sacrifice made.
The reason why popular books or movies exist is to give readers and audiences a "taste" of a topic -- a delightful amuse bouche that invites the more curious reader to dig deeper. When they do, they will find that history is not always as simple as conspiracy theories. Somewhere in the shadows of what is known and what is not known lies the truth that takes investigators years to uncover. At first blush, much of what has been held up as evidence of a conspiracy to Killing Patton does not hold up. Yet, there remain some incomplete pieces to the crime scene that still could spark a conversation about conspiracy and even murder, but it is you the audience who must fill in the mysteries, which reveals more about our worldviews. While I plan on reading O'Reilly's take in Killing Patton, I also expect to find the rehashing of older speculations in a "bold and fresh" O'Reilly-Dugard style. An approach that can once again land O'Reilly -- God bless -- with more books sold, but very little new truth revealed.
And if it takes a top down franchise to dignify conspiracy theories as the truth itself, what does that say for the truth? As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, what is truth? Did Jesus, a progressive if not radical himself, need Pontius Pilate's endorsement? Traditional believers would say that Jesus was the subject of a Judas conspiracy, but he was certainly not commercially accepted. He did not have a brand, and what little he expressed, seemed to be panned, yet it changed the world. Shouldn't this be true of all revelation.
No one should hold O'Reilly culpable for his success (certainly not me); he works hard for it. But let's not forget the difference between the life-long dedication to evidentiary discovery, or the fashioning of a new narrative from a nuanced study of the facts, and a writer's ability to market that idea. The spin stops not only with O'Reilly or me or anyone else. Rather, it is the individual's courage to pursue the truth beyond what is acceptable that offers the greatest freedom, and it should be YOU who is looking out for YOU.