The Times Forces Itself to Deal With Glenn Beck

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Photo: Nicholas KammAFP/Getty Images

In this weekend's New York Times Magazine, writer Mark Liebovich metaphorically held his nose long enough to spend some quality time with Fox News host Glenn Beck. The resulting profile, which will appear in the upcoming issue, doesn't tell us a whole lot we don't know about the mediavangelist. He's a paranoid Mormon doomsayer who relates to his audience through his own tale of recovery and fallibility, basically, and uses a profound performing talent to win the fevered trust and ardent admiration of a certain demographic. And he makes a lot of money. That we pretty much knew, and Liebovich covers this ground amply. But that doesn't mean the profile's no fun — on the contrary, watching the way Liebovich steadily undermines his subject is quite entertaining!

Early in the piece, we talk to Beck's high school theater teacher, the man who actually taught Beck to perform. Ironically, Liebovich allows him to deliver probably the most scathing critique of Beck's act:


Beck is constantly admitting his weaknesses and failures, which he wields as both a crutch and a shield. “Maybe Glenn’s transparency is what keeps him out of trouble,” says Robert Beath, Beck’s drama teacher at Sehome High School in Bellingham, Wash. Beath, who was fond of Beck as a teenager, said Beck appears to now think that his revelations grant him license. “When he says, ‘I am not perfect,’ he seems to escape accountability for his various points of view. Yet he expects others to be accountable for their point of view without seeming to allow them the ‘I am not perfect’ exception.”

Then we get this anecdote about how people don't realize Beck is an actual human being:


“It bothers me when I walk down the street with my children,” Beck said, “and my college-age daughter is holding my hand, and someone says something horribly vicious. And my daughter hears them, cries and says to me, ‘Dad, all I wish is that people will remember that you are a dad occasionally as well.’ ” (This was several weeks after Beck apologized for doing an extended imitation of then-11-year-old Malia Obama on his radio show. “Daddy,” Beck said, mimicking the president’s daughter, “why do you hate black people so much?”)

Hard to offer sympathy when you put it that way. Then there's much talk about how Glenn Beck didn't go to college, but is teaching people history:


Several people at Beck’s events described themselves as “students of history” or “historians.” When I asked one if he was affiliated with a school or college, he said: “Yes. Glenn Beck University.”

Cretin. We can assume, from this telling, that probably none of those other so-called "historians" went to a real school, either. Well, maybe they went to the University of Phoenix. Online.

In fact, we can't really trust anybody in this piece:


He has perfected the Everyman shtick that presidential candidates spend years trying to master in places like Iowa. No doubt, someone loyal to Beck will read that and say, ‘No, no, it’s not a shtick.’ Like many famous performers, Beck is described by friends and supplicants as someone who is authentic and real, that what you see is what you get. (It’s usually their public-relations person who says this.)

So, yeah, don't believe all the people who say Beck is being genuine — they are probably a plant. Look, for example, at the laughable things he does to try to make his fans happy and feel good about themselves:


Beck walked around the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in anticipation of a “Divine Destiny” event he would host the next night ... Free tickets to “Divine Destiny” were triple hot, like the concert passes Beck used to give away to the 23rd caller on the Morning Zoo. People lined up outside in hopes of getting tickets ... “Are you the first in line?” Beck asked a man with a crew cut and wispy beard from Fayetteville, Ark.

“Yes, sir,” the man said.

Beck had a special prize for the man. “I haven’t given this to anybody,” Beck said. It was a Badge of Merit, an award Beck modeled on the Purple Heart-like token that George Washington bestowed for meritorious conduct (for, say, valor in a war or the commitment required to score free tickets).

God, what a moron. Not Glenn Beck, but that guy. You should probably feel sad for him, that he would get a kick out of seeing a television personality he admires, and maybe for getting excited to be given a gift by him. Later, while walking by a line for another Beck event, we see this transpire:


Beck then stopped and addressed a section of the line. “Do you guys know what’s going on here tonight?” Beck asked them. “Magic,” answered a woman in an orange T-shirt. “Miracles.”

Honestly, where do they get these people? It's like they cherry-picked the most maudlin examples of his fans to make them seem ridiculous. Except everybody knows, that's what all Glenn Beck fans are like! So New York Times readers definitely shouldn't take them — or him — seriously. These people probably won't even be able to find their way to the voting booth in November!

Being Glenn Beck [NYTM]