If you’re looking for Bill O’Reilly’s book, "Killing Lincoln," in Ford's Theatre, where Lincoln was actually assassinated, you’re not going to find it there.
That’s because the bookstore of the Washington, D.C. theater where the heinous act took place has declined to sell Mr. O’Reilly’s book about the assassination of our 16th president because, some historians say, it’s riddled with inaccuracies.
“Killing Lincoln” contains numerous factual errors and no documentation or footnotes, according to a study conducted by Rae Emerson, the deputy superintendent of Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site who recommended the book not be sold at Ford’s Theatre.
O’Reilly and his co-author Martin Dugard call “Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever,” published by Henry Holt, “an unsanitized and uncompromising … no spin American story.”
According to several historians, they should have added “un-fact checked.”
“If the authors made mistakes in names, places, and events, what else did they get wrong? How can the reader rely on anything that appears in ‘Killing Lincoln’?” asks historian Edward Steers Jr. in a review published in the November issue of “North & South – The Official Magazine of the Civil War Society,” which also points out several of those glaring mistakes.
Among them are several mentions of the Oval Office, including scenes in which Lincoln is placed there. The Oval Office wasn’t built until 1909, during the Taft administration.
The book also claims that Ford's Theatre burned down in 1863. The actual year was 1862. A slew of minor errors include a misidentified theater owner, a mistake in the number of times “Our American Cousin” was performed at the theater before Lincoln saw it that fateful night (seven, not eight, as O’Reilly has it), and an error in the number of acres co-conspirator Dr. Samuel Mudd’s farm comprised (217, not 500, Mr. O’Reilly).
But that’s just peanuts, Mr. Steers told The Washington Post in a “Political Bookworm” column.
“What most irks Steers is the book’s portrait of conspirator Mary Surratt,” writes the Post. “O’Reilly and Dugard write that when she wasn’t on trial, she had to wear a padded hood that disfigured her and made her claustrophobic; that she was 'sick and trapped' in a cell that was 'barely hospitable' aboard the monitor Montauk; and that she had 'a haunted, bloated appearance' because of the experience.”
Replies Steers, “None of this is true. Mary Surratt was never shackled or hooded at any time. She was never imprisoned aboard the Montauk.... This mischaracterization of Mary Surratt is unfortunate, and helps to perpetuate the myth of her innocence and her brutal treatment at the hands of the Federal government.”
Although it’s been a bestseller since its September release, “Killing Lincoln” took shots from early reviewers, including Bradley University professor Jackie Hogan, who, writing for the Monitor called the book “Lincoln Lite” and said “it gives us a Lincoln cleansed of all controversy and complexity.”
Even so, O’Reilly has signed a contract to write two more books, one of which will be a presidential history.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.