The New Glenn Beck: A Different Side of the Conservative Radio Talk King
Radio shock jock now wants to be a bridge builder instead of a flame thrower.
— -- Conservative radio talk show king Glenn Beck has been called by critics a clown, a bigot, a carnival barker and now -- a unifier?
The commentator that most of America either loves or loathes, known for being combative and controversial, is now trying to become a moderate voice of reason, in the nation’s post-election climate.
Today, Beck says, a lot of the time, he’s “trying to figure out how to be a more responsible person.”
ABC News' “Nightline” was invited to spend a day with Beck at The Blaze headquarters outside of Dallas. The Blaze is Beck’s media network, housed inside an old movie studio, staffed by a diverse group of millennials, and a storehouse of collectibles that would make museums blush, including props from “Jurassic Park” “Forrest Gump” and “Star Wars.” It’s home to 250 employees who run the website, TV network and staff his daily radio show.
On the day we visited, Beck arrived at just past 6 a.m. He was one of the first in the office, pausing to paint before touring construction progress of his new show set. A legendary workaholic, Beck got into make-up, had a quick meeting with his staff and then went on-air. Close to 4 million listeners per week tune into his three-hour daily show with additional audiences watching online and on TV.
For years, Beck has been the jock of shock. But more recently, much of his rage has been directed towards Donald Trump, who he called a “dictator in the making.”
“I don’t think I compared him to Adolf Hitler. Nobody can be compared to Adolf Hitler. I said Adolf Hilter of the 1930s and 40s is not Adolf Hitler of the 1920s,” Beck said. “Somebody can reach in and stir a crowd like that, has a moral compass that is wishy-washy at best -- they don’t all turn into Adolf Hitlers, but one of them did.”
Beck strongly opposed Trump during the campaign, campaigning alongside Sen. Ted Cruz during the primaries. Despite the barbs he once threw at the president-elect, today Beck is cautiously trying to turn the page.
“It’s the same thing I said at the beginning of Barack Obama before he made any decisions,” Beck said. “I want him to be successful.”
Beck said he has extended an olive branch to the incoming administration by reaching out to Trump, but he said the president-elect hasn’t returned his calls.
“I have 10 million people just on the radio audience that want you to be successful,” Beck told Byron Pitts on what he would say to Trump. “Please, are they important to you? Are they a part of the America you want to plan?”
But one person Beck has continued to shun is Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon.
“The left and right have their own demons, if you will, that should be exorcised,” Beck said. “The alt-right is a movement that I think most conservatives didn’t even know. You think of the Ku Klux Klan. They’re no longer racists, they are ‘identists’ -- doesn’t sound as bad as a racist [but] it is just as bad and just as poisonous.”
Poisonous is one of the few G-rated words liberals use to describe Beck. Staunchly conservative, he says he wants to be a bridge builder not a flame thrower, but he remains critical of President Obama.
“I still don’t feel I’ve met the genuine man,” he said.
Beck said he doesn’t consider himself a healer but when it comes to bringing people together, he said, “I am going to do it in my own life, and I’m going to do it in my own business. I am inviting you to make the commitment to do the same thing.”
But despite this new tone, Beck is aware that he still has enemies. He has security with him 24/7 and said he is told he receives anywhere between 15 and 18 death threats every day against him and his family.
“I certainly don’t think I’m dangerous,” Beck said. “I know how to gather a crowd, if that is my goal, to be able to know when you are talking, the televisions are all on at the White House -- that’s intoxicating. OK? Fame is the most corrosive thing to a soul that you could possibly introduce. It’s awful.”
He admits that some portion of the bitterness in America was fueled by commentators like himself, but it’s a divide he now hopes to bridge.
“I am trying to spend my time trying to talk to ... people in the media and say, please don’t make the mistakes I made,” Beck said.
Beck said he had a tough childhood, growing up in an alcoholic family that had “lots of problems,” and in many ways shaped him. When he was just 14 years old, his mother drowned, which Beck contends to be a suicide. Later in his adulthood, he says he hit rock bottom struggling with drug abuse, alcoholism and depression.
He said he thought about suicide in the past, but now says his demons are behind him. He is a devout Mormon, husband and grandfather. In fact, his daughter and son-in-law work for him at The Blaze. He’s also very protective of his family. He told us the story of how Donald Trump once pushed him in a way that made him angry, when he mocked a New York Times reporter with a disability on the campaign trail. One of Beck’s daughters has cerebral palsy.
“I thought it was absolutely horrendous,” he said. “In my family, when you’re making fun of handicapped, you’re crossing all lines of decency.”
Still, the 52-year-old loyal, combative, evolving man remains hopeful for America, based on all that he has had to overcome in his own life.
“I don’t think I would have guessed 15 years ago that I would have been surrounded by my family," Beck said. "That is a dream come true. We have made a point in my family in that last 15 years to break a few cycles of generational cycles, and this is a dream come true.”
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