Meager Mea Culpa

Glenn Beck and Other ‘Too Little, Too Late’ Apologies

Glenn Beck admits his divisive language and outlandish conspiracy theories may have played a role in tearing the country apart. Like Sandy Weill and Robert McNamara before him, Beck’s apology is more than tardy.

An uncharacteristically subdued Glenn Beck took to Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show Tuesday to reflect on his own time at the network. The silver-bearded Beck, who left Fox in 2011 after more than two years to start his own online TV and radio show, The Blaze, looked slightly embarrassed watching clips of himself parading around in lederhosen, waving a dead fish and installing a red phone on set strictly for receiving calls from former White House communications director Anita Dunn, a vocal critic of Fox News.

“I remember it as an awful lot of fun and that I made an awful lot of mistakes,” Beck told Kelly of his time at Fox. “I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language because I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart and it’s not who we are and I didn’t realize how really fragile the people were. I thought we were kind of a little more in it together. Now I look back and I realize if we could have talked about the uniting principles a little bit more, instead of just the problems, I think I would look back on it a little more fondly.”

The start of Fox’s Glenn Beck show coincided with President Obama’s first inauguration, and Beck’s tenure at the network was largely dedicated to harshly criticizing the administration, accusing the president and his staff of secretly harboring socialist or communist sympathies, and, of course, nourishing the nascent Tea Party movement with his 2010 “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall.

From 2009-2011, Beck was paid to spew damaging—not to mention unfounded—conspiracy theories about President Obama, including the charge that the president was going to release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind also known as the “Blind Sheikh.” Beck also suggested that Obama planned to boost his own popularity by faking a terrorist attack similar to the Oklahoma City bombing. Beck also endorsed the gold firm Goldline by warning his audience of impending economic collapse, and he continues to urge his audience to prepare for any potential natural, political, or economic emergencies by purchasing Food Insurance’s freeze-dried emergency food supplies.

Beck preyed on and profited from his audience’s fears, many of which he planted himself. And now that the country is practically ripping at the seams politically, he wonders if his language was perhaps a bit too divisive. Beck’s admission of self-awareness on The Kelly File was reminiscent of some other too-little-too-late apologies.

Ex-Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill, for example, said in 2012 that he thinks investment banks and commercial banks should be kept separate. Thirteen years prior, Weill had spearheaded the effort to strike down the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that did just that, eliminating the legal limits on banks’ investing risks, and allowing the creation of financial conglomerate Citigroup—the biggest of the “too big to fail” banks. Time Magazine named Weill one of the “25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis” because of his efforts to shatter Glass-Steagall. Then there he was, after the dust had settled, telling CNBC that “what we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking, have banks be deposit takers, have banks be commercial loans and real estate loans, have banks do something that’s not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that’s not too big to fail.”

Sandy Weill saying banks shouldn’t be too big to fail is like former Alabama governor and civil rights opponent George Wallace apologizing for his racist policies. Which he did. In the late ’70s, Wallace—the man who famously declared “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” during his 1963 gubernatorial inaugural speech; who blocked the entrance to a University of Alabama auditorium in an attempt to prevent black students from enrolling—announced that he was a born-again Christian and asked for forgiveness from black civil rights leaders. Wallace continued to emphasize his change of heart throughout the last decades of his life, right up until his death in 1998.

Twenty years after the end of the Vietnam War, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara made several unofficial apologies for the way the doomed war was managed from 1961 to 1968, while he was at the helm. “We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why,” he wrote in his 1995 memoir, In Retrospect.

Sometimes, apologies are so late that they have to be made on behalf of people or groups no longer around to apologize for themselves. In 2009, the state of California issued a formal apology for late 19th-century policies that explicitly discriminated against the thousands of Chinese immigrants who risked their lives to build the state’s infrastructure, including the first transcontinental railroad. Chinese immigrants were forbidden to vote, own property, or marry Caucasians, not to mention being insufficiently compensated for their often dangerous work. Like Glenn Beck to the many American people who live in fear of their president, the state of California told the children and grandchildren of those who suffered under their discriminatory laws, “sorry.”