First on TV and now online at TheBlaze.com, Glenn Beck has spent more than a decade preaching about a variety of Byzantine plots and political demons, from theories of FEMA concentration camps to Obama's "deep-seated hatred of white people."
Yet, since his departure from Fox News in 2011, the conservative firebrand has found himself increasingly at odds with his base. Beck has vehemently disavowed Donald Trump and expressed empathy for the Black Lives Matter movement, all amid reports that his media empire is faltering.
Now, Beck claims to be a new man. For the past few months, he has been on a sort of mainstream media apology tour, talking with Vice, Charlie Rose, MSNBC, and the New York Times to pronounce himself chastened and call for partisan reconciliation. Bob speaks with Beck about the sincerity of his new apologetic, introspective persona.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
GLENN BECK: 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.
BOB GARFIELD: Ladies and gentlemen, your Glenn Beck, ex-CNN, ex-Fox News Channel, current bellows-in-chief at the website TheBlaze. First on TV and now online, Beck has spent more than a decade preaching about Byzantine plots, biblical prophecies and a general gospel of calamity, all hidden in plain view if you, the victim, could but open your eyes and see.
GLENN BECK: We’re done as a nation. When Mitch McConnell says now is not the time to end abortion, we’re done as a nation. We’re not gonna get any more warnings on this. Evil is rampaging right now. It is beyond anything that I have ever seen anywhere in my life. And if you think it's going to stay put, if you think it's not going to grow, if you think this is as bad as it could get, you are sadly mistaken.
BOB GARFIELD: Part polemicist, part conspiracy theorist, part televangelist, Beck’s “special sauce” is what logicians call the fallacy of favorable enumeration and what the rest of us call cherry picking, selecting unconnected facts, or bizarre non-facts, and drawing connections between them as to reveal some sinister pattern. It’s a classically empty form of argument, not to mention, very often just Looney Tunes. Here’s Beck talking about FEMA concentration camps, where the government can lock up troublesome patriots.
GLENN BECK: They’re not FEMA trailers, FEMA prisons, FE – FEMA camps. If you trust our government, it's fine. If you have any kind of fear that we might be headed towards a totalitarian state, look out, buckle up. We are a country that is headed towards socialism, totalitarianism beyond your wildest imagination.
BOB GARFIELD: Plus, just enough ad hominem to keep it all interesting. Michelle Obama is a monster, Al Gore is Hitler, Bill Clinton is the antichrist. Oh, and fat people don't deserve to live.
GLENN BECK: You know those fat people that sit in their couch – and I mean really fat, I mean, [LAUGHS] not like me, I mean the people who like their skin grows into the couch and then, you know, they call the fire department and they cut them out of the wall and then they have to bring in a truck and then they take them to the hospital – I say let them die. I say punish the person who's been bringing them the milkshakes that allowed them to eat and not get up off the couch. Maybe – am I too harsh?
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, Glenn, much. But never fear because Beck now claims to be a new man. For the past few months, he's been visiting the camps of the enemy, Rolling Stone, Vice, Charlie Rose, MSNBC, The New York Times, to pronounce himself chastened and Donald Trump a historic threat. He's contrite, introspective - empathetic. After a decade of vitriol, incitement and literal demonization, he is ‘beckpedaling” at 60 miles an hour.
GLENN BECK: I am reinforcing and I’m, I’m retooling for the future, as everybody - every business should be, knowing that if you don't retool every three, four years you’re going to be out of business. So I’m retooling that. As far as message, I hope I’m different.
BOB GARFIELD: Glenn Beck, welcome to OTM.
GLENN BECK: Thank you very much, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: You’re different, different how?
GLENN BECK: I don’t know. I'm trying to be a better listener. You know, it's one thing to come out, what, three years ago and say, you know, holy cow, not my intent and I made things much worse, I think.
BOB GARFIELD: That was the Megyn Kelly interview, right?
GLENN BECK: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: And we’ll get to that. What is different now from the course correction that you tried to make three years ago?
GLENN BECK: I think it’s an ongoing thing from there. As I said in that interview, how - I don't know what I would have done differently, and I still don't necessarily know what I would have done differently, other than shut your mouth more and listen more.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, who was the old Glenn Beck, the one who was running his mouth too much and listening too little?
GLENN BECK: The same guy. I still believe the same things. I still have the same principles. But my principles weren't always on display, and it's what's causing me so much trouble with this Donald Trump thing.
You know, I, I don't agree with Hillary Clinton at all and I think she's wildly dangerous with the corruption, just in the FBI and the Justice Department. But that doesn't mean that I lose my principles and do whatever it takes to stop her or to sign onboard with somebody who, yes, is trying to stop her but also doesn't reflect my principles.
BOB GARFIELD: But let's talk about Trumpism. We have this presidential candidate who has made many unsubstantiated charges. He has shown no interest in the law, domestic or international. He's threatened allies. He’s cozied up to enemies. He has espoused policies that would trample on the Bill of Rights, all playing to a crowd that you have been inciting for more than a decade. Did you create Trumpism?
GLENN BECK: I think “inciting” is a, a rather inflammatory word. When I went around in 2004 and I was trying to say, at that time, people feel like they're disconnected from the system, my intent was to let off steam, for instance, the 9/12 Project, which is always confused with the Tea Party. I was actually against the Tea Party when it first started, and I started something called the 9/12 Project, which was wildly different, and it was based on nine values and 12 principles. And I said we can't make this about politics, this has to be about principles. It's why my audience should be gone right now, but my audience actually has held stable in the ratings. Now, Sean Hannity and everybody else is way through the roof because they're playing into it.
BOB GARFIELD: You told The New York Times, quote, “We need to listen to one another as human beings and try to understand one another's pain.” Now, I think you were speaking specifically of Black Lives Matter but, in general, you were making a case for empathy, correct?
GLENN BECK: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: Riff.
GLENN BECK: You know, the one thing that, that I didn't do in 2008 and 9, I hadn't studied Martin Luther King like I have in the last few years, and Martin Luther King had it right. And our entire society is built on winning, and when we're set to win we all lose. We have to find a way to reconcile with one another. And it doesn't mean that we agree with one another, but we have to listen. And there are these groups, for instance, Black Lives Matter, I don't agree with the leadership and their stated goals but that doesn't mean that I don't listen to the people who are part of that movement. And that's where we missed it on the Tea Party. And what you're seeing with Donald Trump is the fact that the media never listened. They immediately deemed them all racist.
Well, you're seeing now that there is a racist group. It’s called the alt-right. And everybody needs to band together and corral those people and make sure we can identify them and not group them into one large group and say, everybody who is a conservative is a racist. No. That’s what the media did. And that’s why so many people gave up on even being listened to. And because I experienced that myself and I saw it happen, I realize, wait a minute, wait a minute, that's what's about to happen, except the right is gonna do it to Black Lives Matter. We have to listen to the people who are actually in there, who are saying, look, there's a problem in our community, we need help, how do we solve this?
BOB GARFIELD: Is the world ready to take listening and empathy lessons from Glenn Beck?
GLENN BECK: No.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. [LAUGHS] Well, precisely. I mean, you have, just to cite a few examples, declared your disgust with families of 9/11 victims. You have used –
GLENN BECK: Untrue, that’s untrue. I was raising money for - people that were affected by Hurricane Katrina. When people started to see people shooting and looting, I said, those are not the average person, that is the anomaly that you are seeing on television. At the same time that was happening, there were 9/11 victims’ families who were trying to bilk and milk the system, and I said specifically, there are those people that you look at and you say, oh my gosh, I don't want anything to do with them, I'm so sick of all of them. No, don't be sick of all of them. [LAUGHS] Don’t lump everybody into one group, when you see somebody you disagree with, especially when you're being asked to open your heart.
BOB GARFIELD: Glenn, permit me to take you on a trip down bad memory lane.
GLENN BECK: You know, it took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims’ families. It took me about a year. And I had such compassion for them and I really - you know, I wanted to help ‘em and I was behind, you know, let’s give ‘em money, let’s get started, you know, all of this stuff. And really didn't – you know, all the 3,000 victims’ families, I don't hate all of them. I hate about - probably about 10 of them. And but when I see, you know, 9/11 victim family, you know, on, 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 ‘em!
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, now I don't really want to relitigate the issue of –
GLENN BECK: No, you don’t have to because you’ve played it out of context. Now, nobody's gonna say this but out of 3,000, are you telling me there aren’t 10 of 3,000 people that are whining about one thing or another that annoy you? Yes, was my language inflammatory to say I hate them? I don't hate them. I never hated them. This is probably what would change for me. I didn't realize the damage that I was doing. And I have to tell you, [LAUGHS] anybody who does five hours at their desk every day, does it all live, all unscripted, and was where I was at the time, believing what I believed, everyone will make mistakes. I’m not shying away from that. That audio - I said that. I would like to see people put it in context.
Now, let me ask you a question, Bob. What good is relitigating Glenn Beck? I told you from the beginning, should you listen to the uncompassion? No. I'm the worst possible guy, but I'm the only guy right now that is actually standing up against his own tribe, if you will, and saying, I'm not gonna worry about Hillary Clinton, I'm not gonna worry about the Democrats, I’m not gonna worry about the liberals. I'm just gonna say, I’m not going over the cliff with the rest of the people in my tribe. And what – [LAUGHS] I mean, you don't have – Bob, what, what, what good does it do now, destroying Glenn Beck? Bob, people have been doing that for a long time. You’re a little late to the party.
What can we do to heal the nation, instead of dividing? If you don’t believe me, that's fine. Why have me on the show?
BOB GARFIELD: Well, let's have a conversation. You have mentioned that retooling or adjusting to the current business conditions is just part of the process of running a business, like TheBlaze or the Glenn Beck brand.
GLENN BECK: I'm going out of business, haven’t you heard that?
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Well, there have been layoffs. The marketplace hasn't necessarily been kind to you lately. And if you do a little market analysis, on the paranoiac wingnuttery side of it, you’re losing market share to the likes of Alex Jones and his ravings.
GLENN BECK: Good, good.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] And, and on the hard-core nativist side, you're losing share –
GLENN BECK: Good!
BOB GARFIELD: - to Breitbart.
GLENN BECK: Good.
BOB GARFIELD: He’s got the alt-right wrapped up. And then there’s just The Daily Caller and others.
GLENN BECK: Good.
BOB GARFIELD: So, so are you adjusting your message as a question of principle or because you’re just trying to suss out a better market niche?
GLENN BECK: What does that leave me with, Bob? What does that leave me with? Do you think anybody in your audience is going to suddenly come to Glenn Beck and say, oh my gosh, I love this guy, I’m going to forget everything he said because I’ve got [LAUGHS] everybody on the left reminding me exactly what he said for all time, so I’m gonna give him a shot? Do you think [LAUGHS] that’s going to happen? Do you think that the people, when I talk to you on NPR, when I talk to The New York Times or Charlie Rose, they look at that and go, oh, that's good, he's on our side? Or do they say, he's a total sellout? So where's my market, Bob?
BOB GARFIELD: Well, where is your market? And a quick follow-up question, what's the purpose of the great 2016 Glenn Beck empathy tour?
GLENN BECK: [PAUSE] This is the most remarkable interview I've ever done, and I've done some remarkable interviews.
BOB GARFIELD: Thank you. Why are you doing what you're doing?
GLENN BECK: You are so jaded that you can't even imagine that maybe somebody is doing it because they believe it.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, can I play you another piece of tape, if I might, please?
GLENN BECK: No, I've, I’ve heard them all. You can play them and insert them into the interview.
GLENN BECK: I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language because I, I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, that was three years ago. Was that a trial balloon because, as I understand it, not a whole lot changed after that sort of moment of contrition into the place we are now? What was going on in those intervening almost three years?
GLENN BECK: A lot, a lot of soul searching, a lot of raising money to help people in the Middle East. We have raised $11 million and saved 4,000 people and moved them into safety from Syria and from Iraq, held a rally of about 30,000 people, also, over a year of standing for principles a - [LAUGHS] against somebody who I think is as dangerous as Donald Trump and warning my own people who don't want to hear about the alt-right. They don’t believe that there’s such a thing as the alt-right. They believe this is a New York Times trope because who tells them that? Breitbart. Who tells them that? The Drudge Report. Who tells them that? Trump.
BOB GARFIELD: There have been a number of reinventions in your career, and you’ve acknowledged in the past that the Glenn Beck persona, what I would call “the shtick,” has elements of performance art. “A rodeo clown” [LAUGHS] is how you’ve described yourself. So have you fanned the flames of distrust in government and hatred and even insurrection as some sort of perverse entertainment? And just let me be clear, I regard that as a rhetorical question.
GLENN BECK: [PAUSES] You’re - waiting for me to say something. You just said it was a rhetorical question, so –
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, but I’d be happy to hear your response.
GLENN BECK: No, I don't think so. Hey, Bob, I really do wish you the best. I hope that someday you can - take the time to find a moment where you’ll give somebody the opportunity to actually change and try to do the right thing and stand, not against the people where the crowds are cheering but stand against the people where no one is cheering, where no one wants to stand, where no one wants to pay for anything, and know the difference between those two. And when you do, maybe you'll be able to see what I'm trying to do. But until that time - I'm deeply sorry that you misled us into thinking that this would be anything like a fair interview, and I thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Glenn Beck is the proprietor of theblaze.com.