Shut the F*** Up! The Second-Most-Powerful Man in America is Talking

By Barry Nolan | Boston Magazine |

Narcissistic Behavior: “Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.”

Bill O’Reilly had a pretty good year in 2011. The O’Reilly Factor, his show on Fox, was once again the number one program in cable news, regularly crushing the competition on MSNBC and CNN. His book about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Killing Lincoln, made the New York Times bestseller list. And he earned a reported $10 million, which isn’t too shabby for a former Boston TV personality.

[sidebar]Of course, even in the best of years, everyone’s bound to have a few missteps. In August, the website Gawker broke a story that an enraged O’Reilly had pulled strings to get New York’s Nassau County Police Department to investigate an officer he suspected of having a relationship with his estranged wife. In October, when O’Reilly sent a “care package” of copies of his book Pinheads and Patriots to American soldiers stationed at an outpost in Afghanistan, they burned the lot in a trash barrel and posted photos of it online. Then, in November, the bookstore at Ford’s Theatre — the site of Lincoln’s murder — banned Killing Lincoln because of its inaccuracies. Ouch.

But O’Reilly’s lowlight last year was surely this quote, which appeared in a September profile of him in Newsweek:

“I have more power than anybody other than the president, in the sense that I can get things changed, quickly.”

You want to know something? There are plenty of other people on TV, from Oprah to Alex Trebek, who probably think something like this occasionally. But it really is a pretty amazing thing for a cable TV personality to say. Out loud. To a magazine.

Seriously, the second-most-powerful person? Never mind Joe Biden or John Boehner, or even O’Reilly’s bosses Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch: There are dozens of people who wouldn’t even crack a top-100 “most powerful” list, but still have more juice than Bill O’Reilly. Like, say, Matt Lauer, Simon Cowell, Jon Stewart, or Maury Povich. O’Reilly got an interview with President Obama? So did an elementary school kid from Florida. I mean, he can’t even win the War on Christmas! People were still saying “Happy Holidays” at the Chestnut Hill mall this year, so how powerful can he be?

That quote did, however, get me thinking about what the hell would cause someone to say something so obviously absurd. Was it just ego? I mean, clearly, we already knew that O’Reilly has an ego — from shouting, “Shut up” at guests on his show to his network’s claim that the pope pays attention to his opinion.

Listen, I know what it’s like to have a healthy ego. I, too, was famous for a time. At least a little bit. As the co-anchor of the popular ’90s tabloid news show Hard Copy, I ran in some of the very same circles as O’Reilly. I flew on private planes and interviewed actors, athletes, and politicians. In between signing autographs, I could clap my hands and fruit would be delivered. And I did clap them. It was amazing. And it was fun, and yes, it goes to your head.

But a claim like O’Reilly’s goes way beyond egotistical — it seems to me to veer dangerously into the pathological. As I thought about it more, I began to seriously wonder if he wasn’t merely your garden-variety baby-boomer narcissist but somebody afflicted with a full-on case of what’s known as narcissistic personality disorder.

Illustration by Eddie Guy


  • Norm

    This article was spot on! I’ve never seen the attraction to O’Reilly and unfortunately my own mother is one of them. I expect you will soon be one of his pinheads or, I’m sure, considered a terrorist.

  • Rick

    1. There is a line where your free speech rights become “tortious interference”. He may be a jerk but you were messing with the guy’s livelihood. Mouth writing check that body can’t cash? People who proudly proclaim their membership in MENSA obviously have no problem with asserting their opinions. Pot, meet kettle.
    2. For an article about what an a-hole O’Reilly is, there sure was a lot about the author (and little new about the subject). Is looking pathetic a new job hunting skill that I missed? Let it go. Sometimes the jerks win.

  • John

    Mr. O’Reilly says he is the second-most-powerful person in the United States (or was it the world?). So he can hardly claim not to be a public figure. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that in our democracy public figures give up some legal rights in exchange for their fame and power. They have less entitlement to sue for libel. He is fair game.

  • David

    Great article. And all this time I thought O’Reilly was just an asshole. The personality disorder fits perfectly, though. Bullies and loudmouths have alway had a way of getting to the front of the line. When a person has no empathy for anyone, he doesn’t care about the negative effects of his actions and words. If O’Reilly lives a thousand years, he’ll never understand how little value he actually has. He’s really just a bad clown taking up one of the rings in the Fox circus. You should wear O’Reilly’s hatred of you like a badge of honor.

  • Lynne

    This article took a lot of guts to write. Thank you Mr. Nolan for your dedication to speaking the truth, no matter how unpopular.

  • Mike

    Rather whiney tone from a guy that admits he was a jerk when he was on top. O’Reilly is a right-slanted bully but with, “…88% of political contributions from supposedly impartial network television reporters, producers and other employees in 2008 went to Democrats” (WSJ S. Moore 2/7/12), his show is closer to the truth than anyone on the major networks. Making politicians & pundits uncomfortable is the essence of journalism.

  • jack

    If O’Reilly (indeed) has an excess of negative personality problems, then the author shows his own juvenile, petulant personality issues. Grow up.

    Do we know (or care) if a top surgeon, teacher, or professional has bad personality issues, or do we value his work ethic & quality of his work more? All O’Reilly tries to do is inform people about certain issues, and debate them a bit. There’s precious too few on the air doing that these days, so I welcome all such voices. I disagree with some of his views, but I admire his work ethic. We’d be a better nation if more people had that core value.

    And why no mention of O’Reilly’s numerous death threats (& to his kids)? Talk about fair & balanced. LOL.

  • Donald

    Nolan obviously has an axe to grind, but the world of “journalism” would be a lot better off without the likes of O’Reilly, and I always knew there was something I did not like about Emily Rooney.

  • Richard

    Despite exclaiming newly-found humility, Nolan’s piece smacks of sour grapes and professional jealousy. Hey, if telling a bloated narcissist like Madonna to shut up makes one a narcissist also, then sign me up. The repulsive egomaniacs he exhorts to be silent could benefit from his advice.

  • Charles

    I suspect Nolan’s grandstanding at the Emmys wasn’t about Bill O’Reilly as much as it was about creating buzz for Barry Nolan. He probably thought he’d come out of that dustup looking like a hero – but that’s how narcissists think.

  • Howee

    What was the point of this screed, besides Nolan seeking to vicariously glom on to O’Reilly’s fame? Yeah I know, “proper” Bostonians are supposed to disdain folks like O’Reilly (and one wonders how many of these folks have actually read/listened to him, rather than depending upon MSNBC, HuffPo, or other outlets for their opinions.) Nolan simply comes off as a jealous crank, and with a healthy level of pompous self-importance of his own.

    Boston Magazine, you can do better.

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