Just a Happy Warrior
It’s been a long and winding road for Fox News superhost Glenn Beck. These days, as he tells us in an exclusive interview, the dread and the pain are gone. He’s found God, contentment, renewed passion, and a huge national audience that hangs on his every word. His new best-seller is making “idiots” everywhere angry. No wonder Beck is beaming.
It’s just gonna drive people out of their minds!” Fox News host Glenn Beck says eagerly as he relaxes in what he calls his “dream-come-true office” looking out on the Chrysler Building.
Beck gleefully anticipates the reaction to the cover of his new best-seller, Arguing With Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government. The book cover depicts Beck, attired in what appears to be a World War II-era military uniform, presenting his haughtiest, Soviet-style sneer. The concept is vintage Beck: funny, provocative, and targeted precisely to expose America’s cultural fault lines.
Why choose such a culturally charged image? That’s just one question Newsmax asked Beck.
“If you can’t beat them, join them,” Beck answers with a laugh and a shrug during the interview with Newsmax Editor in Chief Christopher Ruddy. What is he joining? Beck quickly says, “The coming police state.” He smiles.
Beck himself has plenty of reasons to be in good humor these days — more than 3 million of them, in fact. That’s how many watch The Glenn Beck Show on Fox each night, according to recent cable ratings.
Beck’s 5 p.m. ratings now rival the prime-time numbers of Fox heavyweights Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. No cable news host has ever garnered prime-time numbers in a fringe time slot the way Glenn Beck has. Another factoid: Beck reaches more viewers on a daily basis than the prime-time audiences of CNN and MSNBC combined.
That’s just one part of the growing Glenn Beck phenomenon. His one-man media empire includes a syndicated radio program airing on more than 350 stations, Web casts, books that become best-sellers practically as they roll off the printing presses, his own Fusion magazine, and live comedy tours before jam-packed crowds.
And, oh yes, that cable talk show that draws numbers most prime-time programs would envy.
Boston University communications professor Tobe Berkovitz searches for superlatives to describe Beck’s ratings, calling them “through the roof” and “incredible.”
Ratings that high, he says, mean viewers are turning on their sets specifically to watch Glenn Beck.
“His ratings have always been in the top tier, and the guy’s on at 5 in the afternoon!” Berkovitz marvels, adding, “Obviously, people are making an effort to watch him . . . He’s clearly a destination.”
Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, the leading talk radio industry publication, calls Beck’s audience numbers “extraordinary.” Beck is “showing that it can be done,” Harrison tells Newsmax.
“He is expanding the reach and influence of cable news/talk television,” Harrison says, “by achieving extraordinary prime-time level ratings during what was considered to be a period limited in its audience-gathering potential.”
As the plaudits from Harrison and Berkovitz suggest, the most impressive thing about Beck’s popularity is that he’s on the air in a time period that used to be considered a cable-news dead zone.
Intrigued by the Glenn Beck phenomenon, Newsmax visited him just a few weeks ago. Looking jaunty in an untucked, black-and-white-checkered flannel shirt, sporting jeans and wearing blue tennis shoes minus the laces, Beck appears at ease with his life.
We are there not to uncover his success — that’s already staring us in the face with ratings, best-seller list rankings, syndicated radio stations, etcetera. We want to know why, and how, Glenn Beck is resonating so powerfully with a huge swathe of the American people.
A visit to Beck’s office, his inner sanctum in mid-Manhattan, offers some clues.
The office is stuffed comfortably with memorabilia: silver-plated radio microphones from his many stops along his meandering path to media stardom, beautiful wood-grain cabinet radios, and seven toy metal rockets of various heights and colors that appear poised to lift off.
The most eye-catching item in his office — other than the magnificent skyline — is a towering reproduction of Lee Lawrie’s relief sculpture of Zeus that bears the motto “And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.”
The original looms over the main entranceway at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and Beck, who considers himself a deeply religious man, probably appreciates the irony of NBC’s hardcore secularists admiring the sculpture each day as they pass by, unaware that the inscription comes from Isaiah 33:6.
Beck credits his strong faith in God and his well-publicized battle with alcoholism as the sources of both his courage and his remarkable popularity with viewers. If there’s a “secret sauce” to the Beck phenomenon, he says, it’s his sincere belief in what he’s saying.
“I think, and this is only a guess,” Beck says when Newsmax asks about his skyrocketing popularity, “that America is looking for someone, whether you agree or disagree, who will say the truth as they understand it.”
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It All Began at a Radio Station in Seattle . . .
Beck’s has been a roller-coaster life, marked by early success, personal tragedy, and redemption.
For a long time it was believed that cable talk ratings played into the deep-seated anger many Americans held toward Washington, Hollywood, even Wall Street. The average Joe against the elitists. Bill O’Reilly’s tenacious hold as the king of talk — a decade of incredibly dominant prime-time ratings — seems to testify to this view.
The idea that raw anger could generate ratings is not a new one. The hit 1970s movie Network dramatizes anchor-turned-populist Howard Beale as he raves into the camera: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
O’Reilly has never become that Beale character, but his on-air anger is one component of his show — modified as it is by his intellect and Irish charm.
Beck, however, has turned conventional wisdom on its head. Instead of displaying anger, he is generating huge ratings with the fear factor: offering Americans a sympathetic voice that shares their worries.
For many, these are times to worry about their country, their wealth, their future in the new age of Obama. His program has become a place for these outsiders in the heartland of the country to come together nightly to cry and laugh with him.
The Beck ratings recipe may offer one other uniquely American ingredient: redemption.
“Because I am a recovering alcoholic, when I hit the bottom,” Beck explains to Newsmax, baring his soul the same way he does each evening on his program, “I made a promise to the Lord that, if he would just take my guilt away, if he would just take all of the things that I have done wrong in my life away, I would serve him and I would live the way that he asked me to live. And I have done that,” Beck says with conviction.
“The only thing that I realized when I lost everything that I really wanted, what truly meant something, was my honor and my integrity. And I never wanted to violate that, and that’s what people maybe feel: You may not agree with me, you may not like what I say, but I will tell you the way I really think that it is.”
Read the interview now . . .
Some media observers suggest that Beck is the cable-news flavor du jour whose popularity is bound to fade. But those skeptics might ponder the following: Beck is the only author ever to have a No. 1 New York Times best-seller in the fiction, nonfiction, and paperback fiction categories. His Web site and Web casts are thriving. And unlike most hosts, he also goes on tour, giving live comedy performances. So anytime this one-man conglomerate begins to cool off in one medium, he’s got about five other media ready to go.
His latest, Arguing With Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government (Threshold Editions), has been getting rave reviews while causing his adversaries to just rave.
Essentially, the book is an idiot’s guide to dealing with political idiots. In other words, it guides everyday people on how to respond to hackneyed arguments from people who actually believe that the nine most welcome words in the English language are, “Hello, I’m from the government, I’m here to help.”
Beck tells Newsmax how he got the idea: “The No. 1 thing that I hear from people is, ‘Well I got this stupid relative that I just can’t’ . . . so here it is. Here are the arguments. We just took all of their comments and went to the experts. We picked apart all of the arguments and we show you how to argue.”
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Those nervous about whether they can absorb a book about politics, economics, and culture needn’t be. It’s written in Beck’s mirthful, irreverent tone and chock-a-block with eye-catching graphics and feature elements. In fact, it’s a graphical tour de force, offering the colorful visual diversity you might expect to find in a commercial magazine.
The heart of the book is Beck’s take — heavily supported with exhaustive research — on a dozen major issues ranging from giving the free market a fair shake, dealing with illegal immigration, explaining small-government economic principles, and detailing how the U.S. Constitution has been “lost in translation.” These days, the topic many readers will zero in on is healthcare. Beck subtitled that chapter: “Why a Paper Cut May Soon Be Fatal.” The chapter begins: “Picking up women at a trendy South Beach nightclub and debating healthcare . . . [these are] two times when it’s more difficult to be a conservative than a liberal.”
Beck notes that the discussion on healthcare often begins with asserting two facts: First, America is “the richest country in the world,” and despite this, it allows 46 million people to go uninsured. Beck points out there are only two problems with these contentions: Both are wrong.
He laces into the much-bandied-about claim that 46 million are uninsured by noting that the actual number of uninsured is about 3 percent of the U.S. population, once you take out uninsured illegal aliens, people earning more than $50,000 a year who opt not to buy it, and those who haven’t bothered signing up for their government coverage because they are healthy right now.
Beck knows his popularity infuriates people in powerful places. By now, though, he’s inured to the personal attacks and even finds them amusing. Beck often describes himself as a “rodeo clown,” meaning he waves his hands at a charging bull and hopes to dodge out of the way just in time.
One thing he won’t run from, he says, is exposing the politicians of both parties that he believes have lost touch with the values of the very people they’re supposed to represent.
“They don’t understand that people actually care about things, actually believe in things, can be genuine,” Beck tells Newsmax. “Can weep for their country. Can love something so much that they are willing to set everything aside for that. That the country and the Constitution mean something deeply to a lot of people. And so they look at me and they think, No, he’s got to be fake, or he’s got to be this or he’s got to be that. Uh-uhhh. The truth shall set you free — and that’s what they fear.”
Beck’s rising influence is one reason conservatives such as L. Brent Bozell III remain optimistic in otherwise dark times.
“The left has everything,” says Bozell, the founder and president of the conservative Media Research Center. “They have the White House. They have the House. They have the Senate. They have academia. They have the media. They have the entertainment industry. They now own half of American industry.
“There’s only one thing they don’t have right now: the American people. That’s what we have. And what’s happening is the American people are rallying around people like Glenn Beck — which is why he becomes the target of the left. But I feel bullish.”
Bozell says, “I’ll take what we have over what they have any day — if we are organized.”
Sense of Urgency
One reason for the sudden interest in all things Beck: His oratorical style conveys a sense of urgency, emphasizing emotion-laden words that he uses to rivet his audience.
“America is burning down to the ground,” he told viewers recently, “and if somebody doesn’t ask these questions, well then we’re all gonna watch it burn down together.”
He leans into the camera and you feel as if he’s talking to you personally. “YOU know and I know — I don’t care what your ideology is — how does spending trillions of dollars fix the economy, the economy that’s BROKEN because we’ve SPENT TOO MUCH MONEY?!
“Congress is voting on these MASSIVE 1,000-page bills. Nobody’s even reading them. And then they MOCK us when we say, ‘Could you PLEASE READ THE BILL?!’ Whenever Obama has a gathering of supporters, it’s grass roots! But when regular Americans protest his policies, it’s Astroturf . . . artificial.”
Beck does more than fling fiery rhetoric, however.
He founded the grass-roots 9-12 Project to help restore America’s spirit of national unity. He teamed with the Tea Party Patriots to take on big government and the Obama administration. And his live comedy tours were jammed with fans who wanted to hear him in person.
No, Beck isn’t just saying stuff. He’s doing stuff — and becoming a serious threat to entrenched powers in politics and the mainstream media in the process.
“Glenn Beck is to be congratulated,” New York Times best-selling author Peter Schweizer tells Newsmax. “They only go after you when you are being effective — he must really be causing them problems.”
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One theory behind Beck’s rapid emergence onto the American cultural scene is that he’s become much more outspoken since his departure last year from CNN Headline News.
At CNN, The New York Times observed, Beck “frequently raised hackles in liberal circles.” But since joining Fox News, he’s not only raising hackles, he’s hacking them off and serving them up for dinner.
“He’s very different from what he was at CNN Headline News,” says the Media Research Center’s Bozell. “The gloves are off at Fox, and he’s far more outspoken than he was on CNN. On CNN, he was good from a conservative viewpoint. On Fox, he’s very, very good.”
“I think if anything, it’s Beck unchained,” Berkovitz says, “and it’s given him more permission to sort of just do whatever it is he wants.”
Beck himself tends to downplay any differences, attributing the heightened intensity of his Fox program to the fact that it’s live rather than taped. He did recently confess to O’Reilly, regarding his days at CNN: “Do you know what a pariah I was? The [CNN] management was always very good, but going around what I called ‘the pit of despair,’ the people in the newsroom, that are just typing . . .
“I was walking through the newsroom one time, and [a reporter] looked up and said, ‘Yuhhhck!’
“I said, ‘That’s not necessary.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you expect it.’ And I said, ‘I do — and isn’t that
Aside from his relocation to Fox, Beck has demonstrated a rare gift for communicating with average working folks — an ability shared by one of his biggest defenders, former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
“Fox News’ Glenn Beck is doing an extraordinary job this week walking America behind the scenes of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and outlining who is actually running the White House,” Palin wrote in August on her Facebook page, which draws more than 829,000 supporters.
The Beck-Palin parallels are difficult to miss. Both are staunch social conservatives, although Beck describes himself as a libertarian and steadfastly refuses to place his trust in either party.
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Neither fits the “stodgy old white man” stereotype that the left apparently feels it needs to match up against. And whether it’s Palin’s “death panels” or Beck’s 9-12 Project, both have that rare gift for playing jujitsu with the nation’s zeitgeist, interjecting just the right phrase at just the right time to unbalance the body politic, flipping the national dialogue in their desired direction.
“What does he have in common with Sarah Palin and Ronald Reagan?” Bozell muses. ”They’re folksy. They know how to reach the average American. And that is the biggest threat of them all to the far left. That’s why they find Sarah Palin so threatening. That’s why for years and years they found Ronald Reagan so threatening, because he had a way of connecting. She connects. Glenn Beck is connecting.”
To fully appreciate Beck’s ability to connect, one need only log onto the Internet and view his “We Are Not Alone” special. Fox aired it on March 13, and it’s since become a YouTube classic.
At first, it looks a lot like any other program: Beck welcomes viewers with his broad smile and promises the show will demonstrate “the real power to change America’s course still resides with you.”
Then, as he tries to explain how he feels about his country, Beck suddenly grows emotional.
He tears up, genuinely struggling to control himself in front of millions of viewers.
The silence grows awkward. Not a single hand in America reaches to change the channel.
“I’m sorry,” Beck finally says, catching his breath. And just like that, Glenn Beck has transformed.
Vulnerable and overwhelmed, tearful and uncertain, he’s no longer that clever fella on Fox who seems to have all the answers. Now he’s really no different than you and your neighbors: worried, determined, frustrated.
“I’m sorry,” Beck says again. “I just love my country. And I fear for it. It seems — like the voices of our leaders, and special interests, and the media — they’re surrounding us. It sounds intimidating . . .”
“The truth,” Beck marvels, “is they don’t surround us. WE surround them! This is OUR country!”
Beck ends his monologue with his trademark, “Follow me!” And the truth is, millions do.
Read the interview now . . .
As originally published in Newsmax magazine.