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

By Barry Nolan | Boston Magazine |

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.”

  • 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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