Sunday, January 17, 2010
Those who ignore and/or dismiss Glenn Beck do so at their own peril (and I say that not just because he used one of my graphics the other day - see That's one popular chart).
The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal carries this fascinating interview with the reformed alcoholic who is the latest Fox News ratings hit.
'Nobody's Watching Charlie Rose'That explains a lot... His background has always been something of a curiosity to me, though not so much so that a couple of mouse clicks to Wikipedia were summoned where there is an abundance of information along with more than a hundred references.
Glenn Beck on conspiracy theories, his critics on the right and left, and how he resembles Howard Beale of 'Network.'
By JAMES TARANTO
Glenn Beck didn't always believe in what he was doing. "When I was young, I used to hear people say, 'He's a golden boy. Look at that guy. Can you imagine what he's going to be like when he grows up?' Well, I unfortunately bought into that. And I hadn't even found myself. Quite honestly, I was running from myself. But I knew how to work Top 40 radio."
"Golden boy" was no exaggeration. "I was in Washington, D.C., on the morning show, by the time I was 18, programming a station by 19, No. 1 in the mornings. I think I was making, I don't know, a quarter of a million dollars by the time I was 25," he tells me in his midtown Manhattan office, a few blocks from the Fox News Channel studio where he now broadcasts his eponymous program every afternoon.
A drinking problem helped plunge Mr. Beck into personal and professional crisis: "By the time I was 30," he says, "nobody would work with me. I was friendless, I was hopeless, I was suicidal, lost my family—I mean, it was bad. Bottomed out, didn't know what I was going to do. I actually thought I was going to be a chef—go to work in a kitchen someplace."
The entire piece is well worth reading - a couple more highlights that struck me...
His politics are libertarian. "I really kind of dig this whole freedom thing," he says. "I'd like to pass it on to the kids." But he is pessimistic about the prospects for doing so: "I'm a dad, and I no longer see a way for my kids to even inherit the money that I'm making, let alone go out there, have an idea, and create it in their own lifetime."Love him, hate him...
Mr. Beck blames a political system that he describes as corrupt and out of touch, a sentiment that is widely shared: "People in Washington . . . not all of them, but a lot of them, are not men and women of honor anymore," he says. "I just saw a poll today that said 25% of Americans now believe that their government officials will, for the most part, do the right thing. Only 25%. It's the lowest number ever recorded."
This fall, Mr. Beck drew friendly fire on an American Enterprise Institute blog from Charles Murray, a social scientist with strong libertarian political leanings, who conceded that "Beck is spectacularly right (translation: I agree with him) on about 95 percent of the substantive issues he talks about." But Mr. Murray does not care for Mr. Beck's manner: "Our job is to engage in a debate on great issues and make converts to our point of view. The key word is converts—referring to people who didn't start out agreeing with us. We shouldn't be civil and reasonable just because we want to be nice guys. It is the only option we've got if we want to succeed instead of just posture. The Glenn Becks of the world posture, and make our work harder."
Mr. Beck answers carefully: "I'm sorry he doesn't agree with me—doesn't agree with my approach." Then he notes the irony of a think-tank intellectual criticizing a populist media star for lacking broad appeal: "How many are reading his blog, and how many are listening to my radio show, television show, reading my books, going to conventions, seeing me on stage? I mean, I think, while I respect his position and his difference in opinion on presentation, I think one of us is probably reaching more people daily."
He continues: "Look, I know a lot of people will disagree with the way I present things. I am being myself—I am a guy who is a recovering alcoholic, who lived a pretty fast life, who works hard every day, quite honestly, not to use the F-word—it used to be an art for me. I am a work in progress. But I also am a businessman that looks to get the word out to the maximum number of people."
And he rejects the implication that his is a lowbrow appeal: "You name the conservative that can do a full hour—a full hour—on Woodrow Wilson and the roots of modern liberalism—for an hour—and have high ratings with it. . . . I had like three really big eggheads on the show, and people watched it. Now, you could be Charlie Rose all you want, but nobody's watching Charlie Rose."
My guess is that, more than anything else, he is not understood and most of that derives from people simply tuning him out as just another Fox News political commentator.