02.18.10

Here's to You, Glenn Beck

As he prepares for the CPAC keynote, Dan Rather, Connie Chung, and Dylan Ratigan weigh in on the rise and reign of the right's newest leading man.

Conservative America crowns a new king this Saturday night, when Fox News broadcaster Glenn Beck gives the keynote address to 10,000 activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. The Washington confab is a must-attend event for any right-winger worth his salt, and Beck’s address—last year’s was given by Rush Limbaugh—is yet another sign of the talker’s ascendancy.

What is it that makes Beck such a formidable presence on the American political scene? The Daily Beast conducted a very informal canvassing of the commentariat to find out.

“He has created an environment where facts are immaterial and behaving like a wuss is acceptable,” says MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan.

Dylan Ratigan, the financial journalist who now helms MSNBC’s 4 o’clock hour, says that he’s learned from Beck that dissembling sells.

“It’s the wussiness tactics and masterful lying that makes a great business,” Ratigan said.

“He’s just lowered the bar. He has created an environment where facts are immaterial and behaving like a wuss is acceptable…. In a vacuum you’re a genius. Beck has just exploited the vacuum-ness of cable.”

(A representative for Beck said he was not available for comment.)

Not everyone on the left takes such a dim view of Beck, however. Ana Marie Cox, founding editor of Wonkette and former Air America personality who recently joined GQ as their Washington correspondent, writes in an email, “I think the man is a broadcast genius.”

“He attracts viewers and fans mostly because he is so clearly having a blast doing his show. He LOVES being Glenn Beck, loves doing his show, and communicates that enthusiasm in a way that few traditional anchors do. Even Keith Olbermann seems to think that watching his show should be a form of homework (and I say that with love). Rachel Maddow and Beck are the only two broadcast personalities that clearly appreciate how enthusiasm is not the antithesis of ‘taking things seriously;’ you can care passionately about an issue and still have fun talking about it,” Cox says.

Mediaite’s Glynnis MacNicol, who says she is made fun of around her office for her enthusiasm for Beck, says his “old-fashioned charisma” has made him the most captivating figure in television.

Few personalities in television have the verve to use baked goods to demonstrate the failings of the stimulus or the panache to sell books and a slew of lifestyle products at a rate bordering on Oprah Winfrey territory, MacNicol says.

Bill Handel, the Los Angeles radio host who used to pinch-hit for Beck on his CNN Headline News show, says that Beck’s star will continue to rise as the Tea Party groups pick up momentum.

“I think Glenn is going to be a huge factor as long as this movement continues,” Handel says.

Even former CBS News anchor Dan Rather had only kind words for the television upstart.

“Whether you like him or not or agree with him or not, he is a first-rate television talent, a strong communicator, and emotionally tied to what he is doing. He’s someone who is not teleprompter-chained. Beck is going to be around for a long time to come,” says Rather, now managing editor of Dan Rather Reports, a program on HDNet.

Such tributes may be the ultimate affirmation that Beck has reached a rarified status in the broadcast business. Still, some stars are not aligned.

Veteran television host Connie Chung tells The Daily Beast, in an email, “I have never really watched Beck and even though I've read about him, it would only be fair to watch, if commenting—and I don't wanna!! Ha!”

Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.