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The Right & the Wrong

Talk show host Glenn Beck tapes a segment on Hillary Clinton for his CNN Headline News show
Beck's ratings on CNN Headline News are on the rise, as is his profile: ABC wants him for occasional appearances on "Good Morning America." He also hosts a daily radio show. (Helayne Seidman for The Washington Post)

Three groups have written to ABC urging the network to keep Beck off "GMA," the Associated Press reported yesterday. "That blatant anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bias has been given credibility on a larger news show is something that concerns us," Arab American Institute spokeswoman Jennifer Kauffman told the AP.

When "The Daily Show" re-aired the clip of Beck's question to Ellison, host Jon Stewart followed up with this thought: "Finally, a guy who says what people who aren't thinking are thinking."

The Beast, an alternative newsweekly in Buffalo, was even tougher, putting Beck on a list of 2006's most loathsome people, along with this description: "Even the leather-winged shouting heads at Fox News look like intellectual giants next to this bleating, benighted Cassandra. It's like someone found a manic, doom-prophesying hobo in a sandwich board, shaved him, shot him full of Zoloft and gave him a show."

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Beck has heard worse. He routinely calls himself a "rodeo clown" on the air, and even he finds his cable news perch a bit of a surprise.

"This is a system based on 'I'm right, you're wrong, now get out of my way,' " says Beck, sitting in his office last Friday before the taping of his 7 p.m. TV show. "But that's not who I am, and it's not what I'm entertained by. I know what I believe, but I'm not an ideologue. I will ask, not just on TV but in the privacy of my own home, 'Gosh, is that right?' "

Beck, who is 42, looks more athletic and less doughy in person -- and when he puts on his glasses, a little nerdier, too. He is calmer and quieter than the guy he becomes on TV, but even in repose he has an astounding capacity to talk. A few years ago, a physician diagnosed him with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, he says, but during the workweek he doesn't take his medication. This keeps his idle pretty high, exactly where he likes it.

"I always thought I was a bad dad because I couldn't play with my kids for more than two minutes," says Beck, a father of four. "The first time I took my medication, I was on the floor for an hour and a half. I don't mean to sound like a sap, but I was so grateful, I was wiping tears from my eyes."

Beck has the disarming habit of candidly discussing his foibles, not to mention the agonies and mistakes of his past and his lengthy bout of self-loathing and depression. He is not just a recovering alcoholic ("two glasses a day -- but tall glasses, and all Jack Daniel's") and not just a former pothead ("every day for 15 years"). He is a recovering jerk.

"Honestly, I was just a despicable human being," he says. A self-described radio gypsy who was raised in a town near Seattle, Beck skipped college and at 18 started bouncing around to different stations in ever-larger markets across the country, usually as a morning radio host.

As he rose to prominence, he was shadowed by the signal tragedy of his life: the suicide of his mother when he was 13 years old. For that and other reasons that he is still sorting through, success did not make him happy; it made him insufferable.

"By the time I was in my mid-20s, I was making $300,000. C'mon, scumbag alcoholic with money and modicum of fame?" He shakes his head in a way that suggests you didn't want to know him then.

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