Glenn Beck's Rise to Fame on FoxApril 15th, 2009
Will Beck's recent controversial remarks fuel or mar his success at Fox News?
by Jacob Hodgen
This Monday, Glenn Beck announced a new U.S. tour that will mix politics and comedy with a theme taken from Thomas Paine's 1776 pamphlet "Common Sense." Though the tour will not stop in Salt Lake City, many Utahns are excited by the rise in popularity of this curious and unusual public figure.
It is no secret that mainstream cable news has specialized its programming to the point of taking sides. MSNBC makes few qualms about its left-of center-proclivities and now features the first openly gay cable news anchor in television history, Rachel Maddow. Fox News, on the other hand, has complicated its ubiquitous usage of the term "liberal media" by a recent surge of popularity, thanks to growing sense of post-stimulus package anxiety. In the height of this turmoil, a new star has risen and claimed its ranks in the big leagues of the right-wing media giving local favorites Bill and Sean some healthy competition. The spiky-haired specter of Glenn Beck now looms front and center on Fox News' main stage, and with sky high ratings, he is a force to be reckoned with.
Beck is a convert to and active member of the LDS church, a self-proclaimed "recovering alcoholic," and is an unusually exuberant orator. He often tells the story of his conversion in humorous terms, "God stalked me," he writes. "He had a giant baptismal rifle. I thwarted him. I led people astray as much as I could, but he kept putting Mormons in my way." After starting as a top 40 DJ, Beck began making a name for himself as a talk radio host on XM satellite radio. He was offered his own program on CNN Headline News in 2006. Beck transferred to the Fox News channel this January, and his program is now one of their highest rated.
Glenn Beck has been invited as a guest speaker at both BYU and UVU and is much beloved in Utah. He has authored several books, including the number one bestseller An Inconvenient Book, which satirizes Al Gore and the phenomenon of global warming, and a local favorite, The Christmas Sweater. Beck has hosted Provo's Stadium of Fire and offered the keynote address at the NRA national convention. "It's very nice to see a TV personality share his personal life with the public," says one Utah fan. "Stay in there Glenn, we need your realness."
However, Beck's rise to celebrity and success among Republicans is equaled in its fervor and passion by the bitter contempt and ridicule heaped on him by left-wing pundits. Due to his unconventional style of speaking, he has now earned himself a seat to next to Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh as a top target of political attack.
Lacking the erudition and nuance of many of his competitors, Beck sets himself apart from his rivals through his unbridled emotions and breaks down into tears frequently during his programs. This strategy is praised by his fans as refreshingly genuine and sincere but is seen by his critics as contrived and a sign of mental instability.
The Huffington Post writes, "To the uninitiated viewer, watching an hour of Beck's psychotic ravings, crackpot conspiracy theories, maudlin tales of personal tragedy, and generally demented sky-is-falling routine must feel a little like stepping out of reality and into a Dali painting."
True or not, drama sells, and Beck's rating have skyrocketed and helped to recently make Fox News the numer one cable news channel on TV.
Helping to fuel his national attention are Beck's notoriously unrepentant loose-lips. In November, he demanded the first ever Muslim elected to congress, Senator Keith Ellison, prove to him on air that he was not "working with our enemies." He also called Cindy Sheehan a "pretty big prostitute," has joked about cooking Jews in ovens, has hinted at promoting armed rebellion against the government, has publicly defended the man who recently murdered immigrants in Pittsburgh, and has suggested that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. In response to the latter, Keith Olbermann named him the "Worst Person in the World" and said, "Why do you ask, Glenn? Worried about somebody giving you competition?"
Fox's Sheppard Smith might be Beck's colleague, but he is definately not a fan
However, it's not just the "liberal media" that Beck has to worry about. Sheppard Smith, another Fox News anchor, is probably lucky to still have a job after mocking Beck on air in a serious of contemptuous critiques (view right).
Beck has also been called a "televangelist" by some groups for making money off of his conversion story through, books, tapes, and one-man-show tours.
In a surprisingly harsh move, one the most damning criticisms of Beck came from the usually flippant, yet jestful Stephen Colbert who only a few day ago recorded a lengthy and devastating segment (view here) slamming Beck for mocking victims of the September 11th attacks, "you know it took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims' families? I don't hate all of them. I hate probably about 10 of them. But when I see a 9-11 victim family on television, or whatever, I'm just like, 'Oh, shut up!' I'm so sick of them because they're always complaining. And we did our best for them."
Controversies aside, Glenn Beck is now a tremendously powerful and influential figure within the realm of conservative politics, and Utahns seem to love him. A few weeks ago, the LA Times reported this at the scene of one his tapings at Fox:
"Shortly before airtime Monday, the 45-year-old host bounced on his feet in the chilly studio, quickly racing through the show's opening on a teleprompter. Suddenly, he stopped short."
"'We still have 90 seconds -- why don't you tell me about last night's ratings?'" he said to his producer in the control room upstairs. The word came back through his earpiece: 2.2 million viewers, more than CNN, MSNBC and HLN combined at that hour. A grin spread across Beck's face."
"'Wow, we're closing in on O'Reilly!' he exclaimed jovially. 'I'm coming for him!'"