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