The Right & the Wrong
Friday, January 26, 2007
The set of Glenn Beck's talk show on CNN Headline News looks like the rooftop patio of a posh apartment, complete with simulated bricks and a huge photo-realist mural of a SoHo block. Beck is standing in the middle of this fake aerie, riffing about porn.
He avoids X-rated movies and magazines, he says, but won't offer the righteous condemnations you'd expect from the God-fearing conservative that he constantly reminds viewers he is. Porn isn't for him -- but neither is legislating morality.
"I'm just trying to live the best life I know how to," he explains, gesticulating in his somewhat manic style. "For example, I'm an alcoholic. If I have one drink, my life will spiral out of control. But man, if you can have a few drinks and not end up at a Denny's in Tijuana, God bless you, brother. It's your right!"
When the program "Glenn Beck" joined the revamped Headline News lineup in May, initially it looked as if CNN was simply peddling a younger, folksier version of Bill O'Reilly -- a self-appointed truth-squadding right-winger who will not shut up. But Beck, who was recently tapped to make editorial cameos on ABC's "Good Morning America," has brought something new to the TV blowhard genre.
While most sermonizing conservatives wait for a public debacle to expose their failings -- think of William Bennett and his slot-machine addiction, or Rush Limbaugh and his pill problem -- Beck and his many inner demons are on a first-name basis, and he's constantly introducing them to viewers. His alcoholism is just part of it.
Plus, where O'Reilly traffics in absolute truths and certitudes, Beck is a hand-wringer, forever rummaging around the gray areas in any debate, pontificating even as he wonders aloud if his instincts are wrong, or at least worthy of reexamination. He's more culture worrier than culture warrior.
"The show is a little too high-and-mighty today," Beck tells his producer during a commercial break last week when the porn segment is over. "A little too 'Here's how to live your life.' "
With Beck's show, Headline News is hoping that viewers will watch a guy wrestle with himself, as well as with C-list pundits. "Glenn Beck" is watched by 336,000 viewers on a typical night, a fraction of the more than 2 million who tune in an hour later to "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News Channel. But Beck's numbers have doubled since his debut, Headline News says, and he remains a talk-radio force, with 232 stations airing his three-hour show every day, including WTNT (570 AM) in Washington. He has yet to debut on "Good Morning America," but apparently that's coming.
"It really depends on what's happening in the world and when he can contribute something to the topics we are covering," says "GMA" spokeswoman Bridgette Maney.
Until he starts trading bons mots with Diane Sawyer, Beck remains best known for what is surely his most embarrassing moment. It happened in mid-November, when Beck invited the country's first Muslim congressman, newly elected Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota, on the show and led off by lobbing this stink bomb:
"I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.' And I know you're not. I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way."