Phenomenon

Being Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck understands what the country is going through, he says, because it’s a lot like what he went through with his alcoholism. “You can either live or die,” the talking head told The New York Times magazine in a long profile. “You have a choice.” The U.S. is on its knees, just like a broken down divorced addict, and it has to decide whether it wants to climb out of this hole, he says. Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall was kind of like a really big A.A. meeting. Many of Beck’s declarations—that White House communists want to transform the nation, that Obama doesn’t really like white people—make you scratch your head. Is he serious? His Fox News journey, traveling “the loop of curiosity to ratings bonanza to self-parody to sage,” as reporter Mark Leibovich describes it, has transpired in a remarkable year and a half. He’s a beloved figure on the right, yet he talks in therapy-speak. The self-described “recovering dirtbag” is a little femme-y, tearfully blubbering on air from time-to-time, and he’s open about his weaknesses and his changing his mind a lot, leading his staff to compare him to Oprah, instead of Rush Limbaugh. A turning point for Beck (and one that eerily echoes Bill Clinton’s bio) is when his mother was in an abusive relationship, and Beck stood in between his mom and her angry Navy vet boyfriend. “You need to be who you were born to be,” he says. The secret to his massive ratings is the comforting narrative of American history he offers alienated viewers, David Frum says. But his show is marked by doom and gloom—Shep Smith called the show “The Fear Chamber.” “Am I actively engaged in survival training?” Beck says. “No. Should I be? Maybe.”