Five and a half hours before showtime Glenn Beck still isn’t quite sure how he’ll provide tonight’s entertainment, “The Future of History”–two hours of monologue (and answers to preselected questions) before a nearly sellout crowd of 1,000 or so people at the Nokia Theatre in New York City’s Times Square. “But that’s me–I’m the next-event guy,” says Beck, flanked by two bodyguards as he walks the four blocks between the Fox News Channel studio, where he has pretaped the day’s show, and the theater. He won’t have to create tonight’s performance from scratch, since he’s left a long trail of words–millions of passionate, angry, weepy, moralizing, corny, offensive words–in his wake. “The body of work is pretty much the same,” explains Beck, 46. “What I’m trying to do is get this message out about self-empowerment, entrepreneurial spirit and true Americanism–the way we were when we changed the world, when Edison was alone, failing his 2,000th time on the lightbulb.”
Original DVD cover
(In the back, the Faux News Bimbettes, l to r: Greta Van Susteren, Megyn Kelly, Princess Sarah Palin, Gretchen Carlson, and Rupert Uncle Rupie Murdoch in the top corner)
Glenn Beck Inc., formally known as Mercury Radio Arts (after Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air), pulled in $32 million in revenue during the 12 months ended Mar. 1. You may love or hate him for his outlandish words, but that is how he gets an audience–and sometimes repels advertisers. Some classic Beckisms: “This President, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” (2009). “Al Gore’s not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization” (2007). “I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself or if I would need to hire somebody to do it” (2005).
Yeah, calling people racists, comparing them to Nazis, and talking about killing people–that’s entertainment!
With a deadpan, Beck insists that he is not political: “I could give a flying crap about the political process.” Making money, on the other hand, is to be taken very seriously, and controversy is its own coinage. “We’re an entertainment company,” Beck says. He has managed to monetize virtually everything that comes out of his mouth. He gets $13 million a year from print (books plus the ten-issue-a-year magazine Fusion). Radio brings in $10 million. Digital (including a newsletter, the ad-supported Glennbeck.com and merchandise) pulls in $4 million. Speaking and events are good for $3 million and television for $2 million. Over several days in mid-March Beck allowed a reporter to follow him through his multimedia incarnations, with one exception, his 5 p.m. daily show on Fox News, which attracts just under 3 million viewers. (FORBES has a relationship with that channel via Forbes on Fox.)
By now everyone knows Beck’s curriculum vitae–at least, the hideous details (which he doesn’t hide) of his drug and alcohol addictions and the pettiness of firing an assistant for supplying a pen he didn’t like for signing autographs. In the popular mythology his career was born twice: first after Sept. 11 (his national radio show, The Glenn Beck Program, launched officially in January 2002); then again when Barack Obama was inaugurated (his Fox News show first aired two days before, on Jan. 19, 2009).
At 13 he won a contest that got him a guest gig on Mount Vernon’s am station, KBRC. Two years later his life began to unravel after his mother, an alcoholic, died in a boating accident that Beck has since judged a suicide.
The authorities never said his mother’s death was anything other than an accident. I guess suicide makes a better story.
Beck took himself to Alcoholics Anonymous. But he credits Tania, his second wife [...] for pulling him out of the deep ditch. At her insistence they shopped around for a church and became Mormons.
Read this to see what Mormons think about Glenn Blechhh.
Radio is Beck’s third lung–and the second-largest generator of cash for Mercury. That’s thanks to a five-year, $50 million participation deal with Premiere, which picked him up in 2002. With a weekly average of 9 million listeners, Beck’s is the third-highest-ranked radio talk show in America, behind Rush Limbaugh (15.3 million) and Sean Hannity (14.3 million).
“Our future is being decided right now,” he says. “It’s being decided by special interests. We’ve entered a European period of America. … ” A good warm-up for some carpet bombing of pet targets: Obama, Nancy Pelosi and health care. A rapacious reader, Beck defends his decision to give prominence to “evil” books like The Coming Insurrection (2009, MIT Press), written anonymously by a group of French radicals, who postulate the coming implosion of capitalism. “Why?” Beck asks. “Because I’m not one who bans books. That’s what Nazis do.” No cultural sensitivity training for him anymore, something he and his colleagues once had to swallow at KC101 in New Haven after dropping some Asian ethnic slurs.
“I think I say the things that people are afraid to say–and sometimes the things people are too smart to say,” Beck laughs. Even to his occasional regret. “I would take back the things that I say right from the hip, without thinking,” he says, without getting specific.
“I don’t necessarily believe that [what Beck says] is reflective of his own personal politics–I don’t even know if he has personal politics,” says Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a trade magazine devoted to talk radio. “I see him as a performer.”