Who Is Glenn Beck?

A few short years ago, most of us had never heard of Glenn Beck. Now he's everywhere and has 8 million viewers on cable television. Who is this guy, and what is he telling people?

Few of us had heard of Glenn Beck a few years ago. Now the conservative talk-jock is everywhere. His radio show reaches eight million people. He’s performing live before sold-out crowds on a comedy tour.

He’s had No. 1 bestsellers in both fiction and nonfiction — plus a new book, Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, came out this week.

And now he’s host of his own Fox News show, which, even though it airs in the ratings desert of late afternoon, has a bigger audience than every show on the other cable news channels.

Why is he so popular? Beck says it’s because he really believes what he says. I don’t buy that. Rachel Maddow and Lou Dobbs believe what they say, but their audience is a fraction of Beck’s. I hope he’s popular because of what he says, like: “Both parties only believe in the power of the party”; “if we get out of people’s way, the sky’s the limit”; and the answers to our problems “never come from Washington.”

Glenn Beck's
Common Sense
Much of the mainstream media despises Beck. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart quipped, “Finally, a guy who says what people who aren’t thinking are thinking.”

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann has repeatedly named Beck “worst person in the world,” and one of his MSNBC colleagues compared his TV show to watching a “car accident.” On The View, Whoopi Goldberg called him “a lying sack of dog mess.”

Some of his critics dislike Beck because they consider him a Republican lapdog, but he attacks both parties. He criticized the Bush administration’s spending and bailout of AIG. He says that politicians from both parties are “lying to the people that they’re supposed to serve,” “flushing our country down the toilet for power,” and ignoring the Constitution.

He points to the takeovers of General Motors and AIG as examples of government grabbing power it doesn’t legitimately have. “We’re giving our freedoms away,” Beck says. “The American experiment was about freedom. Freedom to be stupid, freedom to fail, freedom to succeed.”

Though Beck is a success now, he struggled for years with serious personal problems. His parents divorced when he was a teenager. “My mother was an alcoholic and a drug addict,” he told me when I interviewed him for a 20/20 profile. She later committed suicide.

“When I hit 30, I was going down that same path. I tried for almost two years to stop drinking. I was a jerk. I fired a guy one time for bringing me the wrong kind of pen.”

Yet, Beck says, “I’d look myself in the mirror every day, and say, “You’re not an alcoholic. You don’t have a problem.”

“One morning,” he says, “my kids came down for breakfast, and they said, ‘Dad, tell us the story of Inky, Blinky and Stinky and the Island of Cheese.’ And I realized that not only could I not remember the story I told them, I didn’t even remember tucking them in. So I said, ‘You see how much you remember. You tell me what was the story.’”

That night he went to Alcoholics Anonymous. Not long after, he became a Mormon. I asked him why.

“I apologize, but guys will understand this. My wife is, like, hot, and she wouldn’t have sex with me until we got married. And she wouldn’t marry me unless we had a religion.”

I asked Tania Beck about that. She laughed, saying, “He’s not joking.”

Now Beck says that Mormonism has grounded him, so he’s grateful to his wife.

Whatever grounded him, I’m glad something did. Because it’s good to have a super-successful cable-TV host arguing that life would be better if government — Democrats and Republicans — just left Americans alone.

“We should reject big government and look inside ourselves for all the things that built this country into what it was,” Beck says.

John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News’ “20/20” and the author of Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media (January 2005) as well as Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel — Why Everything You Know Is Wrong (May 2007), which is now available in paperback.

21 comments from readers  

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This is more a rehash of the 20/20 interview, but if you haven't expereinced Glenn Beck, it's a good intro.

Glenn Beck is honest enough to admit he doesn't know all (or even many) of the answers, so he goes looking, asking, seeking. More and more, he looks to Libertarians, Objectivists and others outside the mainstream. The answers he gets are definitely not mainstream.

Kudos to Fox.
Beck is popular because he's a first-class show. He has superb acting skills, a "real guy" personna, and heartfelt sentiments that he can articulate clearly; he's kind to guests and is able to "connect" to his target audience with enthusiasm.

Thankfully, Beck is very libertarian (with a tinge of neo-con) and actually believes what he proclaims so well. If that kind of talent were devoted to collectivism, we'd be in big trouble.

Aside from his inclination to occasionally over-act, Beck has the star potential to become more popular than Rush Limbaugh.
You and, more recently Beck, are both great American heroes.

Your courage and integrity are inspirational. Having said that, your Atlasphere article on Beck was not up to your usual 5 Star quality. It almost seems as if you've taken a Beck crash-course, but haven't really gotten to know the guy. But that's okay. You will. And I'll be looking for your second article, as well as second TV show, on Beck.

Thanks for all you do!!
I appreciate the notion of getting government out of our way, but Glenn Beck is not sane and he makes an easy straw man for the enemies of freedom.
Mr. Stossel: I know of Glenn Beck. I used to watch him a couple of years ago on a sub channel of CNN. Roger's moved him. Like you, I liked what he said, but not how he said it. He has an understanding, but not enough, and that could undermine him. He is atrociously bombastic, scary, and sometimes shaves the truth. He loves Glenn Beck, in fact, probably his greatest admirer. Why do we pick up guys like Beck or Lambough to preach the word? Do you realize the money Beck is making? That is the bottom line. Why on earth would he consider for one moment changing a punctuation mark? A lot of Americans may watch him and Rush and maybe even you, but the idiots voted for Karl Obama and put him in the White House. Understand the Pres is indignant at Fox's attitude towards his administration. Good for Fox. America is going to need a lot more of that.

Not all the armies of the world can defeat an idea who's time has come. V. Hugo. Possibly, but unfortunately who's Idea? He should have possibly said the "right idea." The one in the White House is most definitely the wrong one. Cheers, Frank Toplin
Ive never heard of glen beck, but stossel always presents outstanding new information, as well as rational viewpoints.
Nice potted biography of Glenn Beck for those who have just encountered the man.
Thank you Mr. Stossel, I have wondered how to reconcile Glenn Beck's religion with his other views. Your great profile of him has answered that and has also helped to cast a light on a remarkable individual.
John's opinion of Mr. Beck was the deciding factor in ordering Beck's book and John's Give Me a Break from Amazon before finishing the article.
I really like Glenn Beck. I only wish he were not so confused in his ideas. Religion is not the source of morality or American values, in fact religion is the source of this collectivization that America is facing today. If Glenn got that right his philosophy would finally reach harmony and logic that it's lacking now. His ideas on government and economy do make sense and he is one of very few newsmen and talk-show men left who are still worth listening to.
I agree it is nice to have a pro-capitalist pundit that gets viewers. But Glenn Beck *is* a train wreck. For any evidence of this, take a look at his 9/12 plan and witness the lunacy. In order for a man to make a positive change like say, restoring Capitalism to its rightful place in the hearts and minds of our society, it would be best not to take the 'preacher' approach. And thats just what he does.

And if religion grounded him then it its also his curse. Say what you will, but I believe capitalism lives and dies by the church. That is to say, the Church kills it or Capitalism kills the church.
Hi John, thank you for your continued efforts to bring reasonable clarity to the discussion of many things. Glenn Beck may be a voice calling from the wilderness of the Heartland to those east of the Hudson, but he also speaks to what I hope are still the bedrock ideals of our little country, this experiment in liberty. To both of you and anyone who would help us recall civics lessons forgotten, or maybe never taught at all in the government schools, I wish all success.
I used to jokingly say "the best way to get the truth out of terrorists would be to strap them in a chair and force them to listen to the Glenn Beck Show". Dude sounded like your typical, rank amateur puker-jock in the early days. I freaking hated him...

Then he started making more sense than any of the rest of the so-called "right"-wing talking heads by not selling out his principles to get along with the GOP collective. THAT got my attention!

I just hope he stays true, and doesn't "disappear" in the middle of the night into a DHS torture room "on suspicion of being a terrorist (because he doesn't agree with the beltway Kakostocracy)."
As an AA member I can relate, even if I don't share his religious ideology ..

now let's see how he thinks, can he show us , and will he sabotage his beliefs for being accepted by people he doesn't like~!??!!
I appreciate John Stossel's perspective even when I cannot agree entirely with it. He makes well reasoned arguments, marshals facts to his side and does not engage in name calling and conspiracy theory rhetoric to make his point. Even when he is wrong, he enriches the debate and brings us closer to the truth (since even when he's wrong his opponents are seldom purely right).

None of these laudatory things are true, however, of Glenn Beck. I have seen his program (and his old one on Headline News) and have to say, the only thing I can think of when I see his performance is "man Andy Kaufman really did pull a number on us, he's back with some terrific makeup and this new character is even more outrageous then the last ones". If his show is not some sort of Kaufman like stunt, then I really am quite disturbed that Glenn Beck is what the conservative voice in this nation has become.

From watching him speak of Obama pouring gasoline onto the citizens of this country while actually pouring gasoline onto a guest (literally incendiary rhetoric) to hearing his elaborate conspiracy theory of the week (FEMA concentration camps? Really?) to marveling at his ability to lie and play the victim simultaneously; on the lying count you, John Stossel, actually perpetuated a lie on his behalf quoting Whoppi Goldberg out of context. She called him "a lying sack of dog mess" because he had actually (even admittedly) lied on his radio show about an encounter he had on a train with Barbara Walters and Whoppi Goldberg a week earlier.

That was only one instance of his playing fast and loose with the facts, which is the opposite of what the conservative movement needs. What is needed is valid points, substantive debate and consistent moral principles, not tinfoil hat conspiracy theories, lies and rabble rousing rhetoric right out of the Father Coughlin playbook.

That Glenn Beck is the face of the conservative party and not someone rational and thoughtful like David Frum or even George Will is to the detriment of us all. His stance against the government is less based principled opposition and more based in some survivalist militia ethos, which is exactly what we don't need in the face of holocaust museum and abortion clinic terrorism. The crazies are crazy enough without feeding the flame with literal gasoline.
The problem with Glenn Beck is that he's a conservative, and like with all conservatives his value system is so full of contradictions that he's of necessity ineffective, no matter how many people agree with him. In fact, it's a wonder he hasn't died of cognitive dissonance yet.

So, to be done with it, let's do a brief Beck autopsy. His principles, as Wikipedia quotes him, are:

1. America Is Good
2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life
3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday
4. the family is sacred
5. if you break the law you pay the penalty
6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results
7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with whom I want to
8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion
9. the government works for me â?? I do not answer to them, they answer to me.

Well, #6, #7, and #8 are perfectly fine. But it goes all downhill from there.

Basically, #2 flies straight in the face of #6 â?? if your life belongs to god, it doesn't belong to you. As does #4 â?? if family is sacrosanct, all your values that conflict with irrational wants of some random family member are annihilated.

Sure, #1 might be true if you hold that America is the land of #6 â?? but according to Beck and his ilk it's firstly the land of #2 and #4, which make #6 impossible. And #5 flies straight in the face of #8 â?? if he disagrees with authority, he'll at some point have to break the law to save fugitive slaves and Jews. Likewise, #3 is at least a tactical mistake â?? you don't tell the truth to jackbooted government thugs.

Accordingly, if #9 can ever be made to work, I'd love to see how. It sure can't be by conservatives like Beck.
I like Glenn Beck but I do believe he is ignorant of many things. I believe he is wrong on God and wrong on selfishness. I also believe he is wrong on many parts about pornography.

I do not think he is advocating individual rights being that his morals still are concentralized around religion.

I have listened and read some of his arguments. He needs to improve on his logic, reasoning, and algebra.
The posters on this site are clearly an intelligent lot and have accurately gauged the Glenn Beck persona. While he has some great things to say, he does suffer from the usual "conservative" contradictions. And I do hope he is being truthful about joining the Mormon religion only for sex. Anyone who actually believes that moronic dogma has to be a moron himself.
You know, there are literally millions of us who happen to agree with much of what Beck says, but......are not religious and feel very grounded about their lives.

The so-called "religious right" with their abortion litmus test has done as much to alienate other thoughtful, rational Americans as has Bush stating that 911 was linked to Iraq and WMD's.

Why don't you devote an episode to all of those "conservatives" and "libertarians" that aren't religious....the ones that just believe in individual rights by natural law.?
I used to respect Beck until I found out he was a Mormon. For someone who repeatedly spouts thinking for oneself, he follows the teachings of the ridiculous Mormon church because of a "hot" woman? I also think he has LOTS of anger and self-loathing that he needs to take out on others.
Here's a funny thing: I remember watching Mr. Stossel on TV when I was young and finding him kind of annoying. The older I got, the more I realized that I was annoyed because he sounded like my parents. I got a bit older and found that I was sounding more like my parents and I liked what John Stossel had to say!

Weird, huh?

I see Glenn Beck the same way. If you listen with the ears of a child all you hear is judgement, but you dont listen to the message. If people would grow up a little and stop feeling like someone is judging THEM, they might actually learn to enjoy thier freedom and start protecting thier rights!
Thanks for giving me some perspective John.
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.