You have to be nuts to make it in media. No, really.
TV and radio jobs are magnets for psychopaths, according to The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, a recent book by Oxford University psychologist Kevin Dutton.
This is great news. After years of armchair analyses, there is finally scientific evidence to support that Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews, Laura Ingraham et al. really are psychopaths. In a good way, of course.
Dutton argues that such psychopathic characteristics as superficial charm, ruthlessness, persuasiveness, impulsivity, focus and lack of empathy are actually more common in industry leaders than in “so-called disturbed criminals.”
He has a point. In the 21st-century world, those characteristics sound more like a formula for success than they do a personality disorder. What is it they say about nice guys?
Psychopaths get a bad rap, in Dutton’s view. Not every psychopath is a serial killer, or even violent. In fact, Dutton labels his own father as “a nailed-down psychopath.” A street merchant with loads of charm, his dad “could have sold shaving cream to the Taliban,” his son says.
Hard to believe, but TV/radio only ranks third on Dutton’s Hit Parade of fields with the highest attraction for psychopaths. CEOs are No. 1—big surprise—followed by lawyers. The remainder of the Top 10: salespeople, surgeons, journalists (ouch), cops, clergy, chefs and civil servants.
In terms of self-interest—is there any other kind?—several observations. First, journalists and TV/radio are listed as separate categories, which underscores the disdain with which we “real” journalists hold our better-paid brethren. Second, TV/radio is sexier to psychopaths than is real journalism, which proves my previous point. Bottom line: TV/radio folk are crazier than traditional wordsmiths.
Most of the Top 10 professions involve power and control. (Surgeons, chefs, and lawyers use sharp knives, for example. Civil servants and salespeople use inattention and rudeness.) Many also require an emotional detachment in order to make objective decisions, sometimes in life-and-death situations. All of this is catnip to psychopaths, Dutton says.
While psychopaths may thrive in these occupations, it’s easy to see why their presence might induce anxiety in some non-believers. Imagine you’re in the operating room, about to go under, when you notice your surgeon is wearing a button that says: “I’m a Proud Psychopath.”
If that image gave you pause, Dutton also came up with a list of professions that are least likely to attract psychopaths. From the top, they are: health-care aides, nurses, therapists, craftspeople, beauticians, charity workers, teachers, artists, doctors and accountants.
Most of these fields would be Kryptonite to psychopaths, in Dutton’s worldview. They deal with emotions and human connection, and they don’t involve power lunches. (Except accountants at tax time, maybe.) Psychopaths would not be very good at them, anyway.
In the final analysis, what is the moral of this story?
Not all psychopaths are created equal. Don’t judge a psychopath by his cover. Take a psychopath to lunch today, especially if he’s on TV.