Shut the F*** Up! The Second-Most-Powerful Man in America is Talking
So I dug out the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV — the chief tool psychiatrists and psychologists use to diagnose mental illness in their patients — to learn more. The chief characteristic of NPD, it turns out, is “a grandiose sense of self, a serious miscalculation of one’s abilities and potential that is often accompanied by fantasies of greatness.”
Hmm. Sounds like somebody we know. I read on. To receive an NPD diagnosis, individuals must exhibit at least five out of nine classic narcissistic behaviors, things like a lack of empathy and a need for admiration. Check and check. Interest piqued, I was ready for more. Could I, simply by rummaging through O’Reilly’s very public actions and antics, try to “diagnose” him with NPD? I’d cue up YouTube, talk to some psychiatrists, interview old coworkers. Didn’t seem too hard at all.
As I began the process, though, I did know one thing: Even if O’Reilly isn’t the second-most-powerful man in America, he certainly wields some influence: After all, he did get me fired once.
Narcissistic Behavior: “Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).”
As I set about plumbing the very depths of Bill O’Reilly’s ego, my first call is to Paul Meier, a psychiatrist and the coauthor of You Might Be a Narcissist If…. The truth is that in this age of social media and reality television, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a little egotism and clinically significant narcissism. “We all have a few narcissistic tendencies, unless we are perfect,” Meier tells me. “And if you think you are perfect, well, you’re a narcissist!” Where it starts to become a problem, he says, is when we see “a pattern of deviant or abnormal behavior that the person doesn’t change, even though it causes emotional upsets and trouble with other people at work and in personal relationships.”
It’s unethical for a psychologist or psychiatrist to make even a tentative diagnosis of someone they’ve never met or treated, so I don’t ask Meier to weigh in on O’Reilly specifically. But before we get off the phone, Meier does offer some helpful advice: People with severe personality disorders display traits of it rather early in life.
That got me thinking about O’Reilly’s 2008 autobiography, which is called A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity. Where did he come up with that title? It’s apparently something a nun once used to describe him. When he was eight years old.
Still, what’s one book title when you’re trying to take the measure of a man? If I was going to get to the bottom of Bill O’Reilly’s problems, I was going to need more. So I called up Rory O’Connor, who was a year behind O’Reilly at Chaminade High School on Long Island in the 1960s. O’Connor later went on to work with O’Reilly at WCVB Channel 5, one of O’Reilly’s early broadcasting jobs. Today, O’Connor is a filmmaker and the coauthor of Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio, which examines radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus, and O’Reilly. O’Connor says his old colleague and classmate was a “pompous jerk.” When I told him about O’Reilly’s “second-most-powerful” quote, O’Connor replied, “I am only surprised that he thinks he is only the second. He is definitely delusional.”
And really, it’s not even necessary to go beyond O’Reilly’s own words to find more prime examples of delusion. In 2007 author Marvin Kitman published The Man Who Would Not Shut Up, an authorized biography of O’Reilly. In the book, O’Reilly tells Kitman that he was a richly gifted but woefully underappreciated high school football player. O’Reilly, who made the team his senior year but was a bench warmer, says he could kick field goals from 45 yards, punt 60 yards, and deliver 80-yard strikes with his passing arm. The reason he couldn’t get on the field during games: The equipment manager claimed there were no more pads left.