Bill O'Reilly
Photo courtesy:

(NEW YORK)— Bill O’Reilly, the conservative commentator, ex-Fox News host, and bestselling author, once proudly supported book bans in Florida schools. But that was before two of his own books were banned, and before he realized how vague wording in laws and an official directive to “err on the side of caution” is leading districts to ban scores and scores of books. 

O’Reilly has co-authored a dozen books in the Killing series of popular biographies of historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. He is now reportedly “furious” that two of these titles were removed by Escambia County schools in December.  He says he wants Gov. Ron DeSantis to change the law that drove the bans on Killing Jesus: A History and Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency.

O’Reilly said he once supported the onslaught of school book bans, saying Florida (and by inference other states) needed to act to “protect children” from a “far left” agenda. Now he views the bans in a different light, arguing that Florida lawmakers wrote a law whose wording was too vague and needs to be rewritten.

In an interview with Newsweek magazine he said: “When DeSantis signed the book law, I supported the theme because there was abuse going on in Florida. There were far-left progressive people trying to impose an agenda on children, there’s no doubt about it. And the state has an obligation to protect children. But the wording of the law was far too nebulous in Tallahassee.” 

O’Reilly’s books were on a list of more than 1,600 books banned in the school district due to fears they violate Florida’s new law, HB 1069, which has been interpreted to prohibit any materials with “sexual conduct.” PEN America, the century-old free expression and writers organization, has been at the forefront of documenting this censorship, which has not been seen since the Red Scare era of the 1950s. 

PEN America reported that the list includes titles like Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, The Adventures and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, along with five dictionaries, eight different encyclopedias, The Guinness Book of World Records, and Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Florida, according to PEN America’s research, had more book bans in the last school year than any other state and accounted for more than 40 percent of bans nationwide. 

O’Reilly posted on X (formerly Twitter) in response to the banning of his books: “Preposterous! We are investigating and are seeking comment from (DeSantis). This will not stand.”

Book bans have predominantly targeted titles about race and racism and LGBTQ experiences and stories, though PEN America has reported on school districts that have banned the Bible, popular picture books and classic and award-winning titles for young readers beloved by generations of children.

Last fall, a group of blockbuster authors, many with ties to Florida, came together to stand against book bans and help PEN America accelerate its advocacy and mobilization in the state; their support has allowed the organization to open a state office and appoint its first Florida director.

Since 2021, PEN America has documented the unprecedented rise of book bans in schools, which has spread to 41 states. PEN America has reported nearly 6000 instances of book bans. With Penguin Random House, and a diverse group of authors, parents and students, PEN America is suing Escambia County, challenging the book censorship in federal court. Last week, a federal judge in Pensacola ruled that the suit can go forward and the plaintiffs can make their case that book bans violate the First Amendment right to free speech and equal protection under the law.