President Trump recently awarded the Medal of Freedom to the biggest name in conservative talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, who was diagnosed with cancer. If Limbaugh led the charge in what created a modern media divide there’s another name that helped turn that into partisan cable TV news wars. Glenn Beck. Today, we talk with Beck about riding the wave of political and social commentary from CNN to Fox and beyond.
Glenn Beck: You know, a lot of people say the media is biased, that they have an agenda.
Glenn Beck was first introduced to a national TV audience in 2006 when CNN Headline News hired him for a nightly program. Meantime, his national radio show drew six-and-a-half million listeners and he won the Marconi Radio Award for Personality of the Year.
Glenn Beck: I went from in 2007, that poll that comes out, you know, around Christmas time, most admired men in the world. And I was at number three or number four. I remember I was between Nelson Mandela and the Pope and everything, and I thought, ‘This is screwed up.’ But I went from that to exactly a year later being despised by so many people. And I'm neither of those, I'm not that guy and I'm not this guy, but it allows what has been created. We turn each other into cartoons and it's bad.
This is the story of that bend in trajectory from admired to despised.
Sharyl Attkisson: Are you a Republican?
Sharyl: What are you?
Shary: Are you conservative?
Beck: Yes, yes, but constitutionalist.
Just as President Obama took office in 2009, Beck was getting inaugurated at Fox News.
Beck: Fox offered me a job. And I said no to them several times and then decided I’d do a couple of years there. And I did and I didn't think it would be successful. I mean, we went anywhere like five o'clock. Nobody's gonna watch this.
But they did.
Beck: I feel like President Obama is just saying, you know what? I’ve got that 3.5 trillion dollar budget that we’re doing. Is this cold?
Beck used his program to criticize President Obama and trace the money connections among the liberal interests like Media Matters and billionaire activist George Soros.
Beck: And it all, always starts with Mr. Spooky Dude George Soros blah blah.
His viewership quickly surpassed that of his cable news competition combined.
Tens of thousands showed up in August 2010 when Beck held a “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
Beck: Today we are going to concentrate on the good things in America. The things that we have accomplished and the things that we can do tomorrow
Sharyl: As revered as he was by conservatives, Beck became reviled by liberals as a dangerous opinion leader.
An orchestrated campaign that was waged against him became a blueprint for many smears to come.
Sharyl: You were one of the first people, if I remember correctly, who was targeted in a really organized fashion by the liberal smear group Media matters.
So how was that? I mean, now I think a lot of people know what Media Matters is about and they understand the workings of propaganda a little better, but maybe not perhaps so much then what impact did it have?
Beck: I still don't think people really understand how that works. That had a profound impact
Just before Congressional elections in 2010, Media Matters— a group founded in consultation with Hillary Clinton— announced a million dollar campaign to go after Beck. The money came from Soros who said Beck’s show could incite “domestic terrorism.” The organization claimed Beck encouraged unfounded conspiracy theories and trafficked in anti-Semitism, particularly in his attacks on Soros., who is Jewish.
For Beck’s part, he gave as good as he got. The day after Soros and Media Matters announced the million dollars to target him.
Beck: A million dollars? That’s it? I’m worth a million dollars?
Gee, Mr. Soros, you're not inciting violence over there towards me? You're not making me public enemy number one, are you? I hope not, Mr. Soros. Somebody says something like this and some nutjob could go violent.
Media Matters partnered with other activists in a DropFox.com campaign to attack Beck and pressure his advertisers.
Before it was over, more than 100 companies reportedly cancelled support from Beck’s show including Walmart, GEICO, Verizon, and Chase.
Days after Media Matters announced plans to double down with a team that would do nothing but churn out anti-Beck articles, lobby advertisers, file defamation suits against Fox, and conduct opposition research on Fox employees, Fox News announced Beck’s last day. The end of June 2011.
Beck says his departure was about more than the campaign against him.
Beck: I started to want it. And when you want something, because of the fix, there's nothing like being on TV and knowing the White House is watching and if you shift your weight, they're like, 'What is he doing? Wait, why is he doing that?’ There's nothing like that. It's intoxicating. And I realized one day ‘I like that,’ and it was a terrifying thought.
Sharyl: What were the terms that you left Fox under? Did you, did you leave on good terms?
Beck: Yeah, I think so.
Sharyl: So you just ended a contract and left?
Beck: Yeah. I don't think Roger believed me. They were offering us not, you know, anything grand, but you know, they were offering us a new contract and I didn't want to do it. My wife and I talked about it for a long time and I kept telling Roger and he kept offering more money. And I kept going to his office, “No, like we're really leaving.” And he says, “You're not leaving.” And that was a really strange comment. He said, “No one leaves.”
Sharyl: It’s like Hotel California.
Beck: Yeah. And it's because— it has you. And I said, no, you're wrong there.
After Fox, Beck moved to Texas and started a pro America, pro free speech news and entertainment company called “The Blaze." It struggled as a cable TV channel and that part of the business recently shut down. Now, with programming on radio, podcasts, social media, and the web, The Blaze reportedly reaches 165 million people a month.
Beck: Warren is like a grandmother that wants all of the teenagers to love her.
Sharyl: Are you a Trump supporter?
Beck: I wasn't.
Sharyl: Who did you vote for—
Beck: Independent. An independent.
Sharyl: Are you going to vote for Trump this time?
Beck: I think so. Yeah, I think so. He especially now with the left is gone insane. Donald Trump had no record when he was running and anything that he had ever said is pretty liberal. And he's a new Yorker and I, you know, I know new Yorkers and their conservative is, you know, a Texas Marxist. And I just didn't think he would do any of the things he said. I was for Ted Cruz. I didn’t think Ted Cruz would have done half of what Donald Trump has done with Israel.
I didn't see that one of his worst traits, his just sitting on the crapper at 3:00 AM going, ‘ Oh! It actually turns out to be one of the most important things he does. He's a hand grenade. And by being a hand grenade, he's exposed so much except to the people who are doing it. Everybody else is looking at it and saying, yeah, yeah, he's bad. And that was wrong for him to do. But look what we're looking at now. How can you say that doesn't exist?
Sharyl: For people who watch media and politics today and have a lot of complaints or maybe they don't even want to watch it anymore? ‘Is it worth paying attention to and what am I to make of all of it?’
Beck: It got this bad, it got this bad because we failed in our duty to actually pay attention. We were duped by politicians on both sides and we wanted to be. It’s easier. And we thought it was okay. We want to give our responsibilities to somebody else. And it's got us into this. If we don't pay attention now our children, our children won't be in a position where they're allowed to pay attention. It won't matter cause they can't do anything about it. We still can do something about it.
By the way, a little over a year ago The Blaze merged with CRTV, founded by conservative radio star Mark Levin. For more with Beck, listen to our podcast Full Measure After Hours on iTunes or your favorite distributor.