In this Sunday’s New York Times magazine, political reporter Mark Leibovich profiles the meteoric rise of America’s favorite fear monger, Glenn Beck (his colleague at FOX News, Shepherd Smith, once introduced Beck’s program as “the Fear Chamber”).
Beck’s ubiquity in right wing circles and this summer’s Lincoln Memorial rally make it easy to forget that his rise to fame has been recent and rapid. Beck, raised Roman Catholic before converting to Mormonism with his second wife, began his career as a shock jock morning FM radio host. After he overcame heavy drinking and depression, he left his two daughters in Connecticut to begin a talk-radio program in Florida, where CNN Headline News convinced him to try television. Moderately successful in that medium and sensing that he could have a bigger audience and more ideological companions at another network, Beck moved to FOX in January 2009.
Beck enjoyed earnings of over $30 million last year, with only about $2.5 million from his FOX television program. His ability to cross promote his talks, radio program, books, and rallies has made him a media, and perhaps a political, heavyweight, whose legions of followers turn to for education, talking points, analysis, “facts,” and, perhaps unknowingly, entertainment.
Leibovich’s profile highlights the truly disgusting side of Beck (he once called the wife of a rival radio host on-air to mock her after a miscarriage), to the noble (he and his wife finance and run several rehabilitation centers in the northeast), and back to the disgusting (his remarks that President Obama may hate white people or that the White House is run by Communist Marxists). Whether one loves or loathes Beck, his ability to exploit the current political climate for his own ends is remarkable. Will Beck play the role in 2010 that Rush Limbaugh did in 1994’s GOP sweep of Congress? Will he lead a movement or is he a blip on the radar? Is he good for the country? The last is a question whose answer seems even to elude him (he even penned a note to Sarah Palin asking the former governor her thoughts). Excluding an epiphany demonstrating to him that his rhetoric is indeed harmful, hurtful, and ultimately destructive to the country he claims to love, Beck’s reach doesn’t seem to be fading anytime soon. Beck, like Palin, has tapped something that resonates with large segments of the population, and we’ll have to see what he does with his newfound and increasingly loud and powerful voice.