Shut the F*** Up! The Second-Most-Powerful Man in America is Talking
Narcissistic Behavior: “Believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).”
In case it’s not obvious by now, I can get a little neurotic about whether, I, too, might suffer from some kind of narcissism disorder. As I said, a taste of fame can do weird things to you. So learning that clinical narcissism tends to show up early made me feel a little better. When I was a kid, I had no delusions of grandeur. I was a nerd, and I knew it. Horn-rimmed glasses, zits, advanced math class, and barely third-string on the football team. When I became famous, it caught me by surprise. And it turned out to be just a phase.
I grew up in the white-bread, mayonnaise-loving suburbs of Washington, DC, then went off to college at the University of Tennessee. After a spell of live theater and a television pilot for WNBC in New York, I found myself working as cohost of Channel 4’s genial, family-friendly Evening Magazine. It was the early ’80s, and I was doing heartwarming little stories filled with hope about people like the Hoyt family (you know them: the father who pushes his son in the wheelchair in the Boston Marathon). I worked with Robin Young — whom half the men in New England had a crush on — and Sara Edwards, one of my best pals. We treated our audience like family, and when we met them on the street, they treated us like old friends. It was a nice feeling.
Across town, Bill O’Reilly was a rising star in the news division at Channel 5. Showing an early predilection for the talents he would later put to use in his “No Spin Zone,” his specialty was acrid commentary on the news. He made it clear that he believed he should replace the station’s main news anchors, the beloved husband-and-wife combo of Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson. O’Connor says O’Reilly “was despised in the newsroom — but he didn’t care.”
To get a totally different take on O’Reilly’s early days at Channel 5, I call one of his most ardent and loyal defenders, Emily Rooney, who these days is host of Greater Boston on WGBH. Rooney once told a Globe reporter that her late husband, Channel 5 reporter Kirby Perkins, “used to say I had a character flaw for liking Bill O’Reilly.” I tell her about O’Reilly’s “power” quote and ask for her take on it. Her reply: “On the greater point of what he says to Newsweek — he has not diverged from who he was 30 years ago. When he went to ABC, he would say, ‘I should be the anchor.’”
I ask Rooney whether O’Reilly might ever take a dive into politics. “I don’t think he will ever run for office,” she says. “He has too much power.”
“But really,” I ask, “the second-most-powerful person in the U.S.?”
“I didn’t say he wasn’t delusional.”