New York Times Magazine has a dissertation (the online version is 10 “pages” long) out on Glen Beck. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry – I’ll hook you up. Let’s quote:
“I think what the country is going through right now is, in a way, what I went through with my alcoholism,” he told me. “You can either live or die. You have a choice.”
Am I the only person on earth who didn’t know Glen Beck was a recovering alcoholic? That makes it even more interesting to me when people refer to him as the new Rush Limbaugh, as Mr. Limbaugh is in recovery for abusing… I forget what, pills, maybe? And ‘live or die,’ huh? I guess Glen Beck saw the end of Karate Kid Part 2.
It was a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of September, and Beck had just returned from a week’s vacation in the Grand Tetons followed by a quick hop to Anchorage, where he and Sarah Palin appeared at an event on Sept. 11.
[Brakes screeching] or [record scratches to a halt]. Mr. Beck has offices in Manhattan, so he went to Alaska for a September 11th event with Sarah Palin? As someone who’s lived in the greater New York City area for over 25 years, I’d like to take a moment in this space to refer Mr. Beck to the finger in between my Index and Ring fingers. Going to a September 11 service in Alaska makes about as much sense as going to a Pearl Harbor Day service on the moon; it makes even less sense when you’re office is IN NEW YORK CITY. Who would do that? A guy that has described himself as a rodeo clown, that’s who. But that’s what I would expect from a guy who said that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” Surely Mr. Beck knows that the president went to Harvard. Does it get any whiter than that? Of course, he immediatly added the caveat “I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people.” Right. I’m not saying I don’t like Mr. Beck. What I am saying is that I think Mr. Beck’s radio and television programs are the worst kind of trash and I have no respect for anything the man says or does because what he says is almost always ridiculous (see aforementioned quotes) or disingenuous (see every quote attributed to Mr. Beck EVER).
Beck’s staff and loyalists love to compare Beck with Oprah Winfrey.
There’s ballsy, and then there’s BALLSY. You know who’s truly comparable with Ms. Winfrey? Nobody. It’d be like comparing Hanley Ramirez to Babe Ruth – more than a bit premature. I know Beck was on CNN doing his thing (I’d love to hear his explanation from how he went from the guy on CNN who insisted our health care system was broken and needed serious reform to the guy on FOX who said everything is fine) before he was on FOX, but he doesn’t have the track record that Oprah has, and Oprah is a black woman who controls a vast empire (and soon, a TV network) in a country that is sexist and racist. (For examples of sexism in America, check out how much women make compared to men for the same job; for examples of racism in America, check out Mr. Beck’s comments on reparations and… well, essentially half of what he says all the time.) In fact, I hope Oprah buys Mr. Beck for her network; I’m sure he’d morph right back into the CNN version of himself right before our eyes.
That’s where the Winfrey comparison falls apart. You could never imagine her joking about poisoning the speaker of the house or talking about choking the life out of a filmmaker or fantasizing about beating a congressman “to death with a shovel” (as Beck did for Nancy Pelosi, Michael Moore and Charles Rangel, respectively). Beck is divisive.
Wow. Is Mark Leibovich awesome, or what? But, as I try to remind folks whenever Mr. Beck comes up, he’s a talk show host – he’s not a reporter. If first job is to get ratings, and an easy way to get ratings is to say crazy shiz, and he’s a master at that. Obviously, he’s speaking in an irresponsible fashion over a national forum, but then, so is Howard Stern. If Mr. Stern suddenly starts talking about politics full time, I doubt he would be taken seriously, even if he conducted himself in a serious manner. Mr. Beck does not conduct himself in a serious manner, and yet he is taken seriously. I don’t get that. (Yes, if talk about beating a member of congress to death with a shovel, that can be construed as not conducting yourself in a serious manner.)
Again, people take him seriously. Check it:
“He has a spiritual connection to us; you can hear his heart speaking,” Susan Trevethan, a psychiatric nurse from Milford, Conn., told me at the “Restoring Honor” rally. “I believe he has been divinely guided to be here in this place,” she said. “He is doing the research. He is teaching us.”
Obviously, you can hear one’s heart speaking when they talk about beating a member of congress to death with a shovel. Obviously. Ms. Trevethan probably follows Mr. Beck’s shows closely, so how could she confuse someone who speaks with the heart with someone who jokes about committing murder with a garden tool? Let me look at her quote again… Oh, here we go: “divinely guided” – there’s your problem. Folks, I appreciate your spiritualism, but do me a favor – find divine guidance from someone who isn’t a talk show host. I can almost guarantee your life will be better for it – or, at least be that much more rooted in reality.
“One of the phrases I use is: You need to be who you were born to be, not the people we have allowed ourselves to become. Don’t let life and the world shape us. That’s not who we are.”
When I started this post, I thought of Mr. Beck as someone I understood: a charlatan, a disingenuous hack who’d gladly, if not intentionally, lead the world to hell in a hand-basket if it fed his massive ego. But this quote… I don’t understand this. “You need to be who you were born to be” sounds a lot like something Elrond says to Aragorn in Return of the King (in the movie, not the book – that’s for you, nerds!), and it didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t make sense now. Aragorn was already who he needed to be – he’d been fighting to save Middle Earth for two and half movies up to this point! Life and world shape us; it’s unavoidable. His concept seems to be that life and world can only effect us negatively, and I don’t agree with this. I would argue that its how we react to the events in our lives and the world that define us. For instance, I see Mr. Beck do that fake crying thing he does so well on his TV show, and I choose to characterize him as a tremendous tool in my own mind and in this space for all to see. I watched Mr. Beck on television, a negative experience (in my mind) and then use this space to tell people he’s either a faker or an unstable man in need of help, but in any case, not to be taken seriously – a positive reaction.
As the article winds on, we learn more about Beck and his life. His mother and the man she was dating died when he was a teenager – the official report declared it a boating accident, but Beck said it was a suicide.
I asked Beck how he knew that his mother’s death was a suicide. The man who drowned with her was that same abusive boyfriend, he said. Either the two of them jumped overboard at the same time, or Mary fell in and the Navy man jumped in to save her — and that was unlikely. Why? Beck said he been out on a boat with the boyfriend before, and the man preached to him never to jump in and save somebody who is drowning. It only endangers the would-be rescuer. Throw in a life preserver instead. Plus, the Navy man’s clothes were found neatly folded, along with his wallet and watch.
Apparently, I missed the season of CSI Miami that starred Mr. Beck.
He embarked on a period of “searching” and self-education. The process was largely haphazard. He tells of walking into a bookstore and loading up on books by a hodgepodge that included Alan Dershowitz, Pope John Paul II, Carl Sagan, Nietzsche, Billy Graham and Adolf Hitler. “The library of a serial killer,” he called it. He even enrolled at Yale, with a written recommendation from an alum who was a listener at the time, Senator Joe Lieberman. He took one class, early Christology, but says he “spent more time trying to find a parking space” than in class and quickly dropped out.
Beck met Tania in 1998. She walked into the New Haven radio station where he was working to pick up a Sony Walkman she won in a contest. They began dating. He wanted to marry, and she agreed, but only on the condition that they find a religion together. They shopped around, attended services and eventually settled on Mormonism — inspired in part by Beck’s best friend and radio sidekick, Pat Gray, who himself is Mormon.
You can’t make this stuff up! “The library of a serial killer” is putting it mildly, and, if you’re not writing a mandatory paper for college and you’re reading a book written by Hitler (My Struggle, I presume – FYI, I’ve never read this book), I’m immediately suspicious of you without any other knowledge of you or your life. At least now I understand why he thinks the president has a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” (Yeah, I’m not going to be able to let that go.)
On Beck’s first talk radio show:
“I found it to be a very ‘Seinfeld’-like radio program,” says Kraig Kitchin, the former president of Premiere Radio Networks, who signed Beck to a national-syndication deal. “There was one main plot streaming through the program and two or three subplots.”
Gotcha – when you say ‘Seinfeld’-like, you mean fiction based on reality. That sounds like Mr. Beck to me! Beck made the transition from radio to CNN via Joel Cheatwood, who was then the executive director of program development for CNN and Headline News and had previously pioneered the “if it bleeds, it leads” local-news formats, which I hate and I often refer to as one of the worst things to ever happen to television. And the guy who came up with this genius idea and brought Mr. Beck to TV has the last name, “Cheatwood.” Again, you can’t make this stuff up.
His best-known episode at Headline News was a November 2006 interview with Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, who had just become the first Muslim elected to the House. “I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you,” Beck told Ellison to break the ice. “Because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’ And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.” Groups complained, Beck expressed regret for “a poorly worded question” and Jon Stewart played the clip on “The Daily Show.” “Finally,” Stewart said, “a guy who says what people who aren’t thinking are thinking.”
Leave it to Mr. Stewart to bottle the end: Mr. Beck just doesn’t think before he speaks. He has feelings, struggles to verbalize them, then does before he thinks about it. I used to say things that got me into trouble, and my mom would caution me to think before I spoke – I think I was eight or nine years old. If only I’d had a TV show back then, it would have been huge!
Beck fashions himself a kind of self-teaching populist for the Internet age. His characteristic chalkboard lends his show an air of retro-professorial authority, despite the fact that Beck did not attend college and says that before Sept. 11, 2001, “I didn’t know my butt from my elbow.” He recommends books. He recently started “Glenn Beck University,” a special collection of “classes” on GlennBeck.com to go with Beck’s daily tutorials. Pat Gray said Beck was “America’s history professor.”
I actually prefer that my professors have attended college; I agree that reading a book is a fantastic way to learn things, but is no substitute for the learning experience. And the idea that people learn things from Mr. Beck is pretty frightening.
“He is a modern-day prophet doing God’s work,” a man named Lee Hein told me. He resides in Hawaii, where he wakes at 3 a.m. to hear a live stream of Beck’s radio show on the Internet. Hein, a plumbing contractor, recently purchased three copies of Beck’s novel “The Overton Window,” five copies of his book “Glenn Beck’s Common Sense” and three copies of “Arguing With Idiots.” He likes to give the books out to educate his friends.
Mr. Hein sounds like a dedicated fan, huh? And 3 AM, huh? I’ll go out on a limb and say Mr. Hein is both a white person and retired. Just a guess. I love that he’s the sort of person that gives out books to people he knows with a sort of, “You’re stupid; read this,” attitude. Oh, and “The Overton Window.” Glenn Beck didn’t write that book, despite his name being on the cover in a font larger than the title – and he freely admits this. He had somebody ghost write a fictional novel – Kevin Balfe, Emily Bestler, and Jack Henderson. As far as I know, this has never been done before. Why would it be? It’s an insane idea. An autobiography – that I get. You want to tell your story, your way, but lack the ability to actually write the book… makes sense to me. But fiction is a totally different animal with a totally different purpose. Maybe Madonna will have Lady Gaga ghost write and sing her next album. That would make as much sense as having somebody ghost write your novel.
With romantic scenes involving lines like “don’t tease the panther,” it’s understandable that nobody appears to want the credit for writing The Overton Window.
Awesome! I desperately want a ‘don’t tease the panther’ t-shirt. How are college guys not all over this?
President Obama is not a Muslim, Beck has said, correctly. But Beck can’t help wondering aloud on his show: “He needlessly throws his hat into the ring to defend the ground-zero mosque. He hosts Ramadan dinners, which a president can do. But then you just add all of this stuff up — his wife goes against the advice of the advisers, jets to Spain for vacation. What does she do there? She hits up the Alhambra palace mosque. Fine, it’s a tourist attraction. But is there anything more to this? Are they sending messages? I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Are the Obamas sending a message by attending church every week? I don’t know. I don’t know. Mr. Beck is raising questions. “I’m just raising questions,” as he likes to say. I guess the question he’s raising here is, “Are the Obamas secret Muslims?” Not that I know of, but thanks for asking – and they wouldn’t be secret Muslims if we all knew, now would they? And what fun would that be? The conspiracy theory is what keeps this nonsense going. If it helps, Dave Chappelle converted to Islam a while back.
Beck and his friends emphasize that he is driven by principles, not politics. He has been critical of Republicans as well as of Democrats, of George W. Bush as well as of Obama. He says that American citizens who are terrorist suspects should be read their Miranda rights, and he opposes a Constitutional amendment that would ban flag-burning. His friends object to any hint that Beck has merely fashioned his worldview according to a marketplace that rewards shock, chutzpah and discord. “If you know Glenn at all, you know he believes every word of what he says,” Chris Balfe says. “And he believes it down to the core of who he is.”
Fine, let’s say Mr. Beck is not a great entertainer of fools and believes all of the bile that comes out of his mouth. Isn’t it a bit contradictory to guarantee someone their right to protest via flag burning while practically chasing after the Obamas screaming, “You’re Muslims! Admit it!” Kinda seems like you’re not a big fan of freedom of religion, so I’m a bit confused why one freedom of expression is OK while another isn’t… except the Obamas seem to be expressing that they’re Christian by going to Church every week and by the President referencing the fact that he’s Christian on various occasions. Wait, what was my point? See, I can’t draw comparisons or conclusions from someone who is so inconsistent. Well, he consistently hates on Woodrow Wilson… We’ll get to that in a minute.
While Beck’s personal ventures and exposure have soared this year, his television ratings have declined sharply — perhaps another factor in the network’s impatience. His show now averages two million viewers, down from a high of 2.8 million in 2009, according to the Nielsen Ratings. And as of Sept. 21, 296 advertisers have asked that their commercials not be shown on Beck’s show (up from 26 in August 2009). Fox also has a difficult time selling ads on “The O’Reilly Factor” and “Fox and Friends” when Beck appears on those shows as a guest. Beck’s show is known in the TV sales world as “empty calories,” meaning he draws great ratings but is toxic for ad sales.
I guess you can only equate the President to Hitler so many times before advertisers get wary – and the “empty calories” projection says more about the makeup of Mr. Beck’s audience than it does about Mr. Beck himself. But who is Mr. Beck’s audience? There’s the faithful, the haters, and the “i want to see what he’ll say next,” crowds, I would guess. Apparently, these people don’t buy stuff… unless it has Mr. Beck’s name on it or features his direct endorsement.
Let’s take a closer look at that audience:
Sitting in the row behind me was a truck driver named Jerry Cole, who was from Fairbanks and wore an “I (heart) Woodrow Wilson” T-shirt with a slash through the heart. “He was the start of the Progressive Era,” Cole said of the long-dead president. “He believed that college intellectuals should decide how the world should be run.”
Right. Because if you’re educated, we certainly don’t want you in charge of anything. Let’s go with the guy who barely finished high school. That ought to work. Or maybe we can bring in a guy to be President who got all Cs, but went to a good college… oh, right. Never mind.
“I wrote Sarah Palin a letter last night about 2 in the morning,” Beck said on his radio show in September. “And I said: ‘Sarah, I don’t know if I’m doing more harm or more good. I don’t know anymore.’ ”
Really, Mr. Beck? You don’t have a notion one way or another if you’re doing harm or good with your… uhm… teachings? Let me help you out. You are doing harm, not to the left, but to the right. Whether you like it or not, you’ve become the face of the right, and we’ve all seen your face: the one that cries, the one that rants, the one that writes on chalk boards, all of them – and they’re all crazy. I know you’re hot right now, but it won’t last; nothing burns this hot for that long, and when it’s over, you’ll leave a George W Bush size hole that Rush Limbaugh will envy forever. And that’s… well, it’s something, I’ll give you that.
Oh, and there's a 'c' in 'oligarchy,' chief.
UPDATE 4/6/11: Fox news has announced it will cancel Glen Beck’s show due to low ratings and low ad revenue.