Craig Shirley is a bestselling author who has written three books about Ronald Reagan. His newest one, "Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan," tells the story of Reagan's final years as president and his post-presidency.
Shirley's earlier books were "Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America," which detailed Reagan's 1980 campaign, and "Reagan's Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All," about Reagan's failed 1976 presidential challenge to Gerald Ford.
When not writing history, Craig Shirley is president of the influential government relations and marketing firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. He has lectured at the Reagan Library, is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Reagan Ranch.
Author's Note: Craig Shirley requested a rebuttal interview after reading my November 14 interview with Bill O'Reilly during which O'Reilly addressed some controversies swirling around his current #1 bestseller, Killing Reagan.
Adams: In my interview with Bill O'Reilly, he describes specific circumstances when he and co-author Martin Dugard were pressured not to publish Killing Reagan. Ultimately, he says, we "did not succumb to pressure and the book came out."
Given your status as the author of three Reagan books and your active involvement in all things Reagan, were you aware of, or were you involved in, any efforts to keep Killing Reagan from being published?
Shirley: No, but if I knew what claptrap he was going to write, I would have fought to stop the publication. By the way, I believe he has stopped calling himself a "historian" so I assume he will rightly now call himself a "novelist" because he doesn't write history, that's for sure. That's why I work so hard to strive for accuracy, as I did in Last Act, and my other books, to get the history of Ronald Reagan correct.
No one has ever, ever accused me of such slipshod writing as everyone has of O'Reilly.
Adams: O'Reilly stated in our interview that Reagan is among the "top ten greatest U.S. presidents." However, O'Reilly also believes that at age 70, when a bullet almost took Reagan's life so early in his first term, it negatively impacted him both physically and mentally throughout his entire presidency. However, through sheer will and determination, Reagan persevered and went on to accomplish great things. It is upon this premise that Killing Reagan is largely based.
To what degree is this premise flawed?
Shirley: Only 100 percent flawed. Reagan needed time to recover, after all, he'd been shot in the chest, a lung collapsed and he lost half the blood in his body. The doctors had to move his heart to remove the bullet. After 11 days in the hospital, he went to the White House to convalesce. But while in the hospital, he wrote a long, long letter to Leonid Brezhnev and it was impressive for its detail, length and rational thinking. If Reagan was mentally incapacitated, could he have done this?
In fact, hours after the surgery, he was giving orders and directives. The temporary transfer of authority to Vice President George Bush was never invoked as prescribed by the 27th Amendment. For eight years, Reagan kept a diary (even recovering from the assassination), interacted with hundreds of White House staffers, went toe to toe with Gorbachev, besting him each time, wrote letters and behaved and performed always as a bright, engaging and solicitous man. Too bad O'Reilly never bothered to talk to any of Reagan's key aides. But being anti-intellectual comes naturally to him. Ask yourself, is it really possible to be a great president while also being mentally impaired?
Adams: In our interview O'Reilly said, "Dugard and I do what we call investigative history." He also stated that all the "Killing" books, "are not a cradle to grave exposition of the subject." Given that framework, can you point to any specific facts in Killing Reagan that are completely false?
Shirley: Where do I begin? Umm, that the Reagans carried on affairs (no sourcing, no citations); that Mrs. Reagan approved of the theft of the Carter Briefing Books in 1980 (no sourcing, no citations); that the Briefing Books helped Reagan know in advance Carter's debate points (not true, but also no sourcing, no citations); that it was a mistake for Reagan to take Senator Richard Schweiker as his running mate in 1976 (bad opinion and wrong opinion too); plus flights of rhetorical excess that really have nothing to do with Reagan including Chappaquiddick, odd behavior by Richard Nixon and John Hinckley's childhood, all which seem to serve mostly as filler and not that it added to the storyline, such as it is.
It was also not true that Nancy Reagan was opposed to the debate with President Carter in 1980 because "Ronnie would say something foolish." There are literally dozens of historical mistakes here but ever worse is the overall narrative, which depicts Reagan as befuddled and watching soap operas all day while Nancy Reagan ran the White House, ran the world, and never let anyone see Reagan without her personal approval. "He delegates much power to Nancy." Oh really? Again, not one footnote or endnote. He calls son Ron. Jr. (mistakenly, Ron was not a junior).
I just barely scratched the surface here. I put an orange Post It note on each page of Killing Reagan which contained sketchy or just wrong history and there are at least fifty orange Post It notes.
O'Reilly keeps calling his book "laudatory" towards Reagan but Killing Reagan is not. It is mostly a tissue of canards, half-truths, rumor, innuendo, insinuations and downright lies.
Plus, the book is just poorly written, with amateurish, overly dramatic flourishes at the end of each chapter.
There is no polite way to say that Killing Reagan is a pile of garbage. No historian 100 years from now will reach for Killing Reagan nor will O'Reilly ever be invited to speak at the Reagan Library, the Reagan Ranch, Hoover, Hillsdale or Eureka College, the Buckley Center at Yale, all of which I have spoken at.
The essential difference is O'Reilly strives for sales, the facts be damned, while I strive for accuracy and truth, as I did in my new Reagan book, Last Act.
Adams: Craig, on behalf of Washington Examiner readers, thank you for this interview.
Myra Adams is a media producer and political writer. She was on the 2004 Bush campaign's creative team and the 2008 McCain campaign's ad council. Follow her on Twitter @MyraKAdams. Contact Myra at MyraAdams01@gmail.com. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.