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

By Barry Nolan | Boston Magazine |
Narcissistic Behavior: “Lacks empathy: Is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.”

O’Reilly ended up getting replaced on Inside Edition in 1995 by the far more attractive Deborah Norville. Instead of sticking with TV, he ended up back in Massachusetts, enrolling at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. After graduating, he landed his Factor gig on Fox News (at first, it was called The O’Reilly Report), which was an instant hit. According to the authorized biography of O’Reilly, Ailes later explained to him why his show became such a success: “Bill, you’re authentic. You are an authentic prick. It’s just not on the air. Like, you’re a prick to your staff, you’re a prick to management. You’re a prick to your family. You’re authentic. You’re actually a prick.”

Ailes is often credited with being a broadcasting genius, and in this case, the conventional wisdom may have it right. The success of The O’Reilly Factor is, in fact, due in large part to O’Reilly’s acting like a prick. He has an affinity for attacking. He launched a war against those who didn’t support the invasion of Iraq. He’s waged a jihad against the imaginary “War on Christmas.” He shouts down those who have the gall to criticize him. When a caller to his radio show mentioned the name “Olbermann,” O’Reilly informed him that he could expect a little visit from Fox security. He has his TV crews ambush critics outside their homes. He has tried to get his detractors fired. And recently, he tried to have arrested a man who politely asked him, “Mr. O’Reilly, were you at Newt Gingrich’s fundraiser?” The police officer on the scene declined to lock the offender up. (Which sort of raises the question, again, of just how powerful O’Reilly really is.)

Now, attacking people can be an enjoyable exercise. I’ve done it myself, and when you are in the middle of “getting” someone who actually matters, someone who you view as a bad guy, it can indeed feel like you are performing a virtuous civic deed. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. In 1996, when Dick Morris was a high powered political adviser to President Clinton, I delighted in snagging an interview with Sherry Rowlands, his $200-an-hour prostitute. Morris had such a need for envy and admiration from others that he constantly bragged about his power and prowess, even letting Rowlands listen in on a phone conversation with the president of the United States.

So even though I don’t agree with his politics, I absolutely get why O’Reilly sometimes feels a great sense of enjoyment when he goes after the rich and powerful. I can’t begrudge him that for a moment. It’s fine to “punch up,” to righteously go after those who are more powerful.

But what about when you attack innocent victims?

Take the case of Shawn Hornbeck. In 2002, 11-year-old Shawn was out riding his bike near his home in Richwoods, Missouri, when he was kidnapped by a stranger. Four and a half years later, acting on a tip, police in Kirkwood, Missouri, busted the kidnapper and rescued Shawn, along with another boy who had also recently been taken captive.

When the first sketchy accounts of Shawn’s ordeal began to emerge, it was clear that the boy had had opportunities to escape, but hadn’t done so. Thoughtful commentators brought up the likelihood that Stockholm syndrome had come into play, wherein a helpless victim begins to identify with his captor in order to survive. O’Reilly, for his part, dismissed “the Stockholm syndrome thing” out of hand, somehow divining that “there was an element here that this kid liked about his circumstances.” He added: “The situation here for this kid looks to me to be a lot more fun than what he had under his old parents. He didn’t have to go to school. He could run around and do whatever he wanted.”


  • 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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