In 2002, Time Magazine named Eliot Spitzer, when he was New York State Attorney General, “Crusader of the Year,” due to his relentless pursuit of corporate crime. He went after the giants of Wall Street, extracting large fines for illegal and unethical behavior.
That’s why his very public downfall has drawn so much interest. And that’s why, now he’s resigned as governor of New York in disgrace, the stories of his aggressiveness, his bullying, and his apparent belief that the rules did not apply to him, are so widespread.
When I first heard that Spitzer was implicated in a prostitution ring, I figured that if anyone had the dirt, it would be the New York Post. How right I was. Frederic U. Dicker, the state editor for the Post, wrote about Spitzer in an article entitled, Bully gets his comeuppance. Here’s how it started:
“A disgraced Gov. Spitzer has been publicly and privately described for more than a year by New York’s top political figures as a ruthless, sanctimonious, amoral man whose righteous public persona was regularly contradicted by the realities of how he conducted his political life.”
But it got better. Eliot Spitzer described himself as a “f***ing steamroller” to Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco. Dicker wrote that Tedesco—a muscular, one-time star college athlete—confided to an associate, “This guy scares me.”
The New York State Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, who had been targeted by Spitzer, was quoted as saying, “There’s something wrong with Spitzer, something wrong in his head.” Bruno also said, according to Dicker, “he’s a liar, he’s a hypocrite and he cannot ever be trusted.”
Then Dicker wrote, “Even friends described Spitzer as a man whose mood can swing in seconds, as a once pleasant cast undergoes a frightening Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-like transformation after a perceived personal slight or policy disagreement.”
This was beginning to sound like all of the stories told on Lovefraud. Eliot Spitzer was beginning to sound like a sociopath.
Accusing the titans
Spitzer made his name prosecuting corruption on Wall Street. But as I continued to research Spitzer, I found a telling incident. In April, 2005, Eliot Spitzer went on ABC-TV’s Sunday morning news show and accused Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former chairman of AIG, an insurance giant, of misleading the public about the company’s dealings. “The evidence is overwhelming that these transactions were created for the purpose of deceiving the market. We call that fraud,” Spitzer said. “It is deceptive. It is wrong. It is illegal.”
Shortly after that, John C. Whitehead, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs, wrote an op/ed piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled Mr. Spitzer has gone too far.
“Something has gone seriously awry when a state attorney general can go on television and charge one of America’s best CEOs and most generous philanthropists with fraud before any charges have been brought, before the possible defendant has even had a chance to know what he personally is alleged to have done, and while the investigation is still under way,” he wrote. Whitehead accused Spitzer of damaging Greenberg’s reputation.
After reading the op-ed piece, Eliot Spitzer phoned John Whitehead. Whitehead was so shocked by what Spitzer said that he wrote it down: “Mr. Whitehead, it’s now a war between us and you’ve fired the first shot,” Spitzer said, according to Whitehead. “I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter.”
Whitehead was astounded. “No one had ever talked to me like that before,” he said. “It was a little scary.”
After his very public statements on television, Spitzer never brought criminal charges against Hank Greenberg.
What was he thinking?
When news of Spitzer and the prostitution scandal broke, the question all the pundits were asking was, why would Spitzer do such a thing? What was he thinking?
The Associated Press put out an article that asked exactly that question entitled, Why do smart people do dumb things?
A variety of psychologists and political analysts speculated: Does risky behavior precede the powerful job? Or does something about being in power cause the behavior?
“There’s the psychology of the exception,” said Leon Hoffman, former chairman of the American Psychoanalytic Association’s public information committee. “People in power sometimes feel they can do things that us, mere mortals, are forbidden to do. There’s a sense, as with adolescents, that ‘I won’t get caught.’”
The consensus in the article seemed to be that power corrupts. No one mentioned that the corrupt seek power, especially when they have a personality disorder.
Talking heads on Larry King
Just to see what else people were saying about Spitzer, I watched Larry King Live last night—something I don’t usually do. His guests included New York State Senator Joseph Bruno, Dina Matos McGreevey (wife of the New Jersey governor who also resigned in disgrace over a sex scandal), Dr. Drew Pinsky, a cop who busted prostitution rings, a TV newscaster, and a former sex worker.
I found the comments of Dr. Drew, as he is know, most interesting. Dr. Drew, who is an internist specializing in addiction medicine, hosts a radio talk show called Loveline, and is the host of Celebrity Rehab on VH1. Explaining how people are able to live double lives, hiding unbelievable things from the people closest to them, Dr. Drew said:
“What I see— and I think is the case here with Governor Spitzer—they tend to have difficulty experiencing other people’s feelings. They tend to be very aggressive and sometimes even ruthless, as he was in his case. And they really are out for their own sake.
“And when they get the power that they’re looking for, oftentimes they sort of feel special and excepted from the kinds of things that they’re expecting of everybody else and they minimize it, decide that it’s okay for them, and they just sort of rationalize it and off they go.”
Okay, he didn’t use the term sociopath, or psychopath, but that seemed to me to be what he was describing.
Then Larry King asked Dr. Drew, “What is the governor going through?”
“You know what, the guys that perpetrate things like this, the men oftentimes feel a deep sense of shame,” Dr. Drew answered. “And it is frightening to them to get anywhere near shame. And so they seem to us to be somewhat Teflon, like they’re skating past it.”
I wasn’t buying that one, at least in Spitzer’s case, but the show continued. Larry King asked Dina Matos McGreevey if she thought her husband, Jim McGreevey, loved her.
“No, I don’t think that he loved me. I think he married me for political expediency,” Matos said. “He wanted to be the governor and he believed that he needed a family in order to do that.”
“I’m not sure that’s true,” Dr. Drew replied. “Dina, you’re describing sexual addiction, sexual compulsion there. Those guys do love people to the best that they’re able.”
I’ve written about the McGreevey case before. In my opinion, Jim McGreevey is a sociopath. So I think Matos was right and Dr. Drew was wrong—Jim McGreevey never loved his wife.
After that, Larry King asked Dr. Drew, “Does the governor need help?”
“I think so,” Dr. Drew replied. “And that’s one of the things that concerns me. I don’t see the kind of contrition that I see from … someone that would really reach out and be willing to change. I just don’t see it.”
“But he needs help?” King repeated.
“In my opinion, all the things we have talked about tonight have treatment,” Dr. Drew said. “They work. I treat people like this all the time. They get a lot better.”
I started yelling at the television.
So did anyone get it? Did anyone think that Eliot Spitzer might have a personality disorder?
Yes— Frederic U. Dicker of the New York Post.
After he wrote the article I referenced above, Dicker was interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show. Lauer asked him to comment on the strong feelings people had about Eliot Spitzer.
“There is sense on the part of a number of people, you have to put it psychological terms, of a psychopathic quality,” Dicker said. “He was a guy who couldn’t connect with people emotionally. He would say one thing to you, and a minute later, he would say just the opposite to someone else. He didn’t show emotion in dealing with people, he never had a personal connection, which is so vital in politics.”
So why did the reporter get it right when the medical professionals got it wrong? Quite simply, the reporter knew Eliot Spitzer, knew his personality and knew what he had done. The medical professionals were talking in generalities.
The key to identifying a sociopath, or psychopath, is in the person’s actual behavior. When you know what to look for, the behavioral clues are easy to spot.