Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?

Conservative media phenomenon Glenn Beck channels the fears and anger of Americans who feel left out — but does he also stir that anger and heighten those fears?

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Nicholas Roberts / The New York Times / Redux

Glenn Beck

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And he said, "Let me tell you something. I believe that if it were up to you or me, just regular schmoes in America, the Freedom Tower would have been done years ago. And it wouldn't have been the Freedom Tower; it would have been the Freedom Towers--because we would've built both of these towers back the way they were before! Except we would've built them stronger! We would've built them in a way that they would've resisted attack. And you know what? My guess is they would've been 25 stories taller, with a big, fat COME AND TRY THAT AGAIN SIGN on top. We would've built it with our bare hands if we had to, because that's what Americans do. When we fail, when we face a crisis, we pull ourselves up and make things better. I believe the only reason we haven't built it isn't because of Americans. It's because we're being held back. And who is holding us back? Politicians. Special-interest groups. Political correctness. You name it--everybody but you."

Beck describes his performances as "the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment"--and the entertainment comes first. "Like Limbaugh, Glenn Beck is a former Top 40 DJ," radio historian Marc Fisher explains, "first and foremost an entertainer, who happens to have stumbled into a position of political prominence." Unlike Limbaugh, however, Beck is a "radio nostalgic," in love with the storytelling power of a man with a microphone. He started in radio at age 13, inspired by a recording of golden-age broadcasts given to him by his mother--who later committed suicide, leaving the young Beck deeply traumatized. "He loves radio," says his longtime producer and on-air sidekick Stu Burguiere. "The way the mind becomes its own theater and the listener engages in the medium with you, drawing their own pictures in their heads." Beck once lovingly re-created the 1938 Orson Welles classic War of the Worlds for XM Satellite Radio, and he named his production company Mercury Radio Arts in homage to Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air.

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