One of the more fascinating debates in the New Hampshire Primary campaign, which ends today, was the Bill O'Reilly vs. the Obama security team. It involved the hurling of epithets and punches, which left some observers thinking that the Fox Cable News star newsman had finally gone nuts.
A few weeks earlier there was another incident that convinces some that O'Reilly may be losing it at a faster rate than is healthy. He allegedly threatened journalists who viewed him with less than unstinting enthusiasm. There will be people coming around to knock on their doors, or words to that effect. It indicated O'Reilly might be growing a little weak on the first amendment.
Now there was the battle in the "Live Free or Die" state. O'Reilly was trying to get Sen. Obama to answer his questions and the security guys interceded. He acted as if freedom of the press rights had been infringed.
The thing is O'Reilly was standing with the crowd behind the ropes, as if he was a fan at the Golden Globes, asking for autographs or a pressing of the flesh. O'Reilly was demanding the Obama entourage stop in its tracks and grant him an interview. He tried to get around the rope and the security people interceded. He's lucky this was not a Blackwater Security operation; he might have gotten shot.
O'Reilly seemed genuinely shocked Obama would not interrupt his schedule for him. Didn't Obama know he was more important than any person who was only running for president of the most powerful nation in the world?
It was a most bizarre way for a journalist to act.
As the world's leading O'Reillyologist, having had 29 personal one- on- one interviews researching the definitive biography: The Man Who Would Not Shut Up, I was invited to analyze O'Reilly's latest behavioral problem on Countdown With Keith Olbermann Monday night.
"What you don't understand, Keith," I began on what turned out to be "the #1 Countdown Story" of the night, "is that O'Reilly is an egomaniac. His ego is so large you have to open the door for it when he sits down in a room."
To be fair and balanced, he's not the only one on TV news with that problem others might argue. "100% of them," Olbermann conceded, when I pointed out his also was extra-large sized.
But O'Reilly is a pathological case with several wrinkles. While some people believe in the Copernicus theory (that the earth revolves around the sun), O'Reilly's theory is forget Copernicus. He is the center of the universe. Everything revolves around him.
What is even more clinically interesting is that has a unique form of media egocentricity. As a journalist, he needs to more than to get the story but the story should be about him.
He didn't just go to a press conference, and raise his hand like a normal journalist. He had to create a major New Hampshire Moment covered by video cameras and the print press, which then became the lead story on Monday night's O'Reilly Factor," as well as making the Olbermann show, which wasn't that hard considering Olbermann's in depth coverage of O'Reilly mental state.
What puzzled me as a media critic, is what did O'Reilly expect to get from Obama at that moment? "Bill, nice to be on your show. It's time for a change. Goodbye." Or if he was being in an especially wordy mode, Obama could have added: "And speaking of a change, if you're watching Fox News, time to change the channel."
Bill might have had no purpose other than letting "the folks" at home that no matter how rich and famous he has become at Fox, he is just an ordinary working stiff reporter on the beat.
A lot of people don't understand that in his mind O'Reilly is not just an egomaniacal opinionator but also a hard hitting investigative journalist out to get the truth from all of those who disagree with him.
You have to realize that O'Reilly's cultural hero is Clint Eastwood. He sees himself as the Dirty Harry of journalism, a man who can walk into any story with the Eastwoodian saunter and demand people make his day.
His other role model is Mike Wallace, who invented the ambush interview. Mike was famous for hiding behind a potted palm in the hotel lobby and demand to know when some corporate fiend had stopped beating his wife. O'Reilly is too tall to stand behind the potted plant, so he does frontal ambushes.
O'Reilly can't understand who would not accept the honor of coming on his show and answering his questions. I can. Not everybody wants to be lectured by some eight foot guy, telling you you're an idiot, and you don't give a shit about the country. He gives you the last word, then interrupts and goes to a commercial.
That all may be true, Olbermann said. " But is there a tendency to violence in the O'Reilly character?" That was one of the more perceptive questions I had heard on the "O'Reilly Is Going Bats" beat.
What is the significance of his father slapping him around, telling him to shut up all the time, Olbermann wanted to know, quoting from my book. "Is that the key to O'Reilly's character?"
O'Reilly has a history of physical abuse from his father, documented in my book. He loved to play people football, "Without a helmet," Olbermann noted.
Still I don't think O'Reilly is a violent person. I mean, he never once threw a punch at me in all my interviews, despite some questions that got under his thick skin. Anyway he wasn't that effective with his fists growing up. His weapon of choice in arguments was his mouth. He happens to have an Achilles mouth that gets him in trouble.
If you want to go deep, I think O'Reilly has a God complex. It's not that he thinks he is bigger than God, but that he is God's voice on earth. He speaks the truth as it is handed down through him from on high. "Keep it pithy," he might say if God really spoke to him.
Is O'Reilly's latest performance in New Hampshire more than just another example of a famous newsman going bananas? Or is it another sign of a meltdown? As his ratings melt down with the drip, drip, drip of the Greenland Ice cap, will we expect more of these attention-getting devices? To learn more about this most strange newsman, I recommend reading The Man Who Would Not Shut Up. It's a good book. I should know. I wrote it.
The Man Who Would Not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O'Reilly, published by St. Martin's Press in January.