September 29, 2010


Being Glenn Beck (MARK LEIBOVICH, 10/03/10, NY Times Magazine)

“When I bottomed out, I couldn’t put it back together myself,” Beck told me. “I could do all the hard work. I could do the 12 steps. But I needed like-minded people around me.”

He needed support, just as responsible Americans need it now to reinforce the principles and values that the founders instilled and that, he says, have since decayed. “You need people to be able to reach out and connect and say, ‘Let me help hold you when you’re stumbling, and you hold me when I’m stumbling, because what we’re going through now is a storm of confusion.’ ” Fans approach Beck and give him hugs. Do people feel they can hug Limbaugh?

There is something feminine about Beck — the soft features, the crying on the air, the reflexive vulnerability. It sets him apart from the standard, testosterone-addled rant artists of cable and talk radio. Women tune into Beck’s radio show more heavily than they do to other conservative commentators, says Chris Balfe, the president and chief operating officer of Mercury, which employs more than 40 people. And Beck’s television show is on at 5 p.m. Eastern, traditionally a slot with more women viewers. (On a typical day, Beck’s show is recorded on more DVRs than any other cable-news program.) But Beck also appeals to a more traditionally female sensibility. “He works through things in real time,” Balfe told me. “Maybe he’ll come back tomorrow and say, ‘You know what, I’ve given this some thought, and here’s what I’m thinking now.’ ” Or maybe he’ll come back sooner. Within a few sentences of proposing Obama’s “deep-seated hatred for white people,” he added this caveat: “I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people.”

Beck’s staff and loyalists love to compare Beck with Oprah Winfrey. Balfe was the first to say it to me, adding the requisite faux apology. As Winfrey does, Beck talks a great deal about himself and subscribes to the pop-recovery ethic. “Part of Oprah’s appeal is that people see her as a real person,” says Joel Cheatwood, the Fox executive who initially brought Beck to CNN’s Headline News and then to Fox. “She has struggled with her weight; she is open about it. Glenn is not a pretty boy. He comes off as a regular guy who has also been open about his struggles.” (Beck dabbled in Pilates recently, he disclosed on radio.)

...the shtick is emotion, not thought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 29, 2010 7:17 PM
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