What You Do Will Be a Pivot Point
Glenn Beck is founder of TheBlaze, a multi-platform news and entertainment network. He’s the author of many books of fiction and nonfiction, including The 7: Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life.
May 11, 2017
Krista Tippett, host: When I told people I was going to have Glenn Beck on this show, some reacted badly. But I’ve been conversing with him privately this year about what it will take to heal the divides and misunderstanding among Americans. He is a lightning rod of our ruptures, but for several years, he’s also been acknowledging his own role in the damaged state we’re in. Here he is with Megyn Kelly on Fox in 2014:
Ms. Megyn Kelly: When you think back on your time here, how will you remember it, how do you remember it now?
Mr. Glenn Beck: I remember it as an awful lot of fun and that I made an awful lot of mistakes. And 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.
Ms. Tippett: Glenn Beck is a complicated person. So, after all, are we all. Speaking with him brings home the reality that if we’re going to create the world we want our children to inhabit, we’re going to have to find ways to hold more complexity peaceably, and probably uncomfortably, just to soften what is possible between us. We need to be ready to let others surprise us, let them repent, offer forgiveness, and ask hard questions of our own place in this moment. This doesn’t happen often in politics, but it is essential in life and must be part of common life too. As part of our ongoing Civil Conversations Project, I draw out Glenn Beck in this generosity of spirit.
Mr. Beck: We have to start believing the best in each other instead of expecting the worst. And I’m guilty — I hate to say that because I can’t imagine how many people in your audience just rolled their eyes and went, “You’ve got to be — coming from Glenn Beck?”
Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.
[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoe Keating]
Ms. Tippett: Glenn Beck now broadcasts on The Blaze, a multi-platform news and entertainment network that he founded. His childhood in Washington state was marked by addiction in the adults around him and his mother’s death when he was a teenager by apparent suicide. He rose to national popularity and prominence in radio and then live television in the glory days of cable news at CNN and Fox News.
Ms. Tippett: You know, it’s interesting. And this must be the interesting way you live, that people feel like they know you, right? I mean, Glenn Beck is a concept. [laughs]
Mr. Beck: It’s a really — it’s both good and bad. I get credit for things that I never did and get blamed for things that I never did, just depending on who I talk to.
Ms. Tippett: I mean, I was just thinking about it as I started to delve into preparing to talk to you, as I do with every interview, but just that, again, Glenn Beck is a concept. And then you start getting to know the human, right? [laughs]
Mr. Beck: Yeah.
Ms. Tippett: So I just want to start where I always start my interviews, whoever I’m talking to, asking about the spiritual background of your childhood. And what I want to say to you is that sometimes — I mean, everybody has a story. Sometimes it’s a religious story, but I’ve also come to really have an expansive understanding of what that means. And, boy, when I look at your childhood, I mean, your mother dying when you were a teenager, there was so much hardness in that. I just want to say I’ve got to think that that was part of the spiritual background of your childhood and/or overshadowed it or both.
Mr. Beck: I think — a couple of things. First of all, I had an encounter, at least I feel, with God when I was 8. 7, actually. And it actually kind of screwed me up quite a bit later in life. And it wasn’t until 40 that I actually gave up on that. I heard when I was 7, in my own head, “What you do in life will be a pivot point.” And I didn’t understand it, but it was so clear and so different. And I don’t even remember why that — I mean, it was just bizarre.
And then, about four weeks before my mother died, I had another spiritual brush. I was walking by my mom, whose hands were in the sink in the kitchen, and I was in the hallway. I was walking by, and I, again, heard a voice in my own head as clear as day: “Stop, go back, kiss your mother, and tell her you love her. She won’t be here much longer.” And I didn’t. I dismissed it, and a few weeks later, she was dead. Then that happened with my grandfather, and then that happened with a girl that I was dating in high school. She had a headache, and I remember distinctly feeling, “Oh my gosh, she’s got a brain tumor.” I just knew it. So I had, early on, a brush with the Spirit. And then that voice that I heard when I was 7 gave me an arrogance that was not good and really screwed me up.
Ms. Tippett: That’s how you took it? That’s how you think you internalized it? As an arrogance?
Mr. Beck: No. Well, I took it as a — I mean, between that and then — I got into radio when I was 13. And so when you’re 13 and 14 years old, and you’re in Seattle Market with some of the better people in the industry, and they say, “My gosh, listen to this kid,” in front of you. “Have you heard this kid? I mean, when he’s 25, what is he going to be like?” You start buying it. And so I just had this arrogance that I just knew I was going to make an impact. And by the time I was 30, I was so screwed up that I was ready to repeat the mistakes of my mother’s life.
Ms. Tippett: Did you have — you have a big intelligence and a huge curiosity. Did — I mean, you didn’t go to college. Did you think about going to college? Was that not a possibility for you?
Mr. Beck: No, it was — there was nobody in my family that ever went to college, and we couldn’t afford it. And it was not — I remember being in Algebra I, and the first week in Algebra when I was — I don’t know — 9th grade. And I remember raising my hand, and I said, “What am I ever going to use this for?” And the professor said, “All kinds of stuff.” And I said, “Uh-huh. All I know is that I need to know that 14 minutes before 8:00 is 46 minutes after the hour. That’s all I — everything I do will be divisible by 60, so I don’t need any of this.”
Ms. Tippett: [laughs] You were already on the clock. You were on the radio clock.
Mr. Beck: I’m already on the clock.
Ms. Tippett: So, you did kind of fast forward a minute ago. I mean, as you said, there was addiction, alcohol in your family, and you have went into that. You were very successful in radio. You’ve also said that you were suicidal by the ‘90s. You’ve said, “I was a bad man. I was a deplorable human being.” Did you get into recovery then in the late ‘90s? Is that…?
Mr. Beck: No.
Ms. Tippett: No?
Mr. Beck: Oh, yeah. Late ‘90s, yes. The first time I battled depression was in the ‘80s, and I have such empathy for people who are battling with depression. If you’ve never really battled with chemical depression, you just don’t understand. It’s — the world turns inside out. What is black turns white, what is reasonable to you is completely unreasonable to everybody else. And you get to this place to where you’re like, “The world is a much better place” — and there are a lot of people that probably still would believe this — “The world would be a much better place without me in it.” And you start to believe that.
Ms. Tippett: That language you used a minute ago, “pivot point” — your life is full of those. That’s language you use. And I think, when I look at your story and at you, there’s a lot of change; there’s a lot of momentum; there’s a fair amount of conversion as part of your experience. When I’ve talked to people about the fact that I was going to interview you, and when I read some of these articles that you have written, there’s this skeptical edge. “Well, now he’s saying something different, but will he stay this way?” Like, when I look at your story, the sweep of it, you’ve never stayed the same way.
Mr. Beck: No. Life is about change.
Ms. Tippett: And so it seems to me — so you did go through this very dark period, and you got into recovery. I mean, it seems to me, that was a big pivot point for you, and it was kind of around the turn of the century. Is that right?
Mr. Beck: Yeah, it was in the mid ‘90s. I remember — I turned 30, and I remember looking at the clock on my bed stand, and it was turning midnight in the old LED clock that the numbers would almost jump as you watched them. And I watched it say 11:59, 11:59, and then it switched to 12:00. And I remember thinking, “Your whole life is going to change.” And I knew that what I had built was just unsustainable. It was just lie to myself on top of lie to myself.
And I read a letter right after that from Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, and it was about how Peter should learn this about mathematics, and he should read these classics, and when languages — he should learn these things. And then it got to religion. In the last part, it said, “Above all things, when it comes to religion, fix reason firmly in her seat, and question with boldness even the very existence of God, for if there be a God, he must surely rather honest questioning over blindfolded fear.”
And that changed my life and still, today, is the most important thing to me ‘cause I was going through recovery, through the 12-step program, and I was examining myself, and I was really trying to — but there were things in my life that I wouldn’t go. I just wouldn’t look at, like my mother’s suicide and everything else. I just — “I’m fine. I’m fine with that.” And I wouldn’t ask those questions.
Ms. Tippett: And so what changed?
Mr. Beck: I decided that I didn’t really know anything. I don’t know. There was a humility that happened. I had been praying for God to humble me. And boy, don’t ever pray for that because that one — there’s like a big bell on the other side that rings, and God’s like, “Somebody’s praying for humility? Quick, dispatch somebody.” And so I was really humbled at that time, and it wasn’t frightening for some reason anymore to admit that I didn’t know anything. And I think part of that is because I had become, in a different way, self-destructive.
I didn’t want to do radio anymore because it was just shallow and empty. And just being a morning show DJ was just awful. And so I got on the air, and somebody had said something, “Well, you don’t know anything, and you’re Mr. Perfect.” Because my image, at the time, was “Mr. Clean.” And I said, “You know, you don’t really know anything about me because I’ve never let you in, but let me tell you who I am and why I know.” And I laid it all out, and I said to my producer, as I turned off the mics, “Mark this day down on your calendar. This is the day that Glenn Beck ended his career.” And that producer is still my executive producer. He’s still with me.
Ms. Tippett: What year was that?
Mr. Beck: ‘95? ‘96?
Ms. Tippett: ‘95. And that was on the air? You did that on the air?
Mr. Beck: Yeah, and I found that the most unexpected thing happened. People would stop me and write to me in times when we still got letters and say, “You know, when you said what you said, I can relate. Nobody knows this about me, but I’m carrying something.” And I realized, “Oh, my gosh, we are all hiding from something.” We all have something that we think we’re a fraud on, or if people only knew, or something that I’m carrying around. I don’t know what it is, but we all have it. And if we would just be honest with each other and just say, “Yeah, this is who I am,” all of a sudden, it loses all of its power.
Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm. But I mean, it is ironic, as you say, because it was after that point that you became this huge public figure, right?
Mr. Beck: Well, that’s ten years later. And I actually think that I was — in ‘96, I was still — I was rough. If you listen to my shows in even 2000, I mean, I’m a — I’m LDS, so I’m a member of Mormon faith. And when you, as a man, are brought into what’s called the priesthood — and every man is a priest in my faith — the congregation votes on it. In fact, the whole — what’s called a stake, the whole — I don’t even know what you would call it — the whole diocese votes on it. And I’m one of the only people that people raised their hand and went, “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Ms. Tippett: OK. [laughs] And you came — we’ll talk about this, but you came to Mormonism, to the LDS church, fairly later in life.
Mr. Beck: 1999.
Ms. Tippett: It wasn’t — you weren’t born into that.
Mr. Beck: No, no, no. 1999.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah, 1999, after this. So after this period.
Mr. Beck: So I went — in ‘96, I was just starting to — I took everything out, and I said “OK, I don’t know anything. And so I went — because I couldn’t afford college, I went to the Barnes and Noble, and I assembled what I like to call the library of a serial killer. I went in with the intention of, “Who would argue with each other in philosophy? Who would argue with each other in religion? Who would argue with each other in” — whatever it is. And so, I was putting a library together with Mein Kampf and Alan Dershowitz. I mean, crazy.
And my philosophy was, if you can go to the extremes and you can go to people that should have nothing in common, if you find any point of connection, then there’s truth in that. And it’s led me to things like — that I think is very true — horrible to say out loud, but that’s what I do for a living — Jesus and Hitler had one thing in common, and that is they could both look somebody in the eye who was hungry or in despair and say, “I will feed you.” And it’s important to listen to what their solution is, but most people don’t. And one will lead you to an evil path, and one will lead you to a good path. But it is exactly the same entry point.
Ms. Tippett: And we get to Glenn Beck. [laughs]
Mr. Beck: Are you regretting this yet? [laughs]
Ms. Tippett: No, but I just — there’s so much to talk about. But I mean, let’s fast forward and go from there, go backwards and forwards from there. 2014 — you’ve said versions of this to other people, but I just especially really liked just the short clip of you with Megyn Kelly in 2014. And she was asking you about your time at Fox, and you said — and I think you really surprised her – “I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart.”
So between this — 1996, 1999, your personal pivot point, in 2014, you went to CNN. You started “The Glenn Beck Show” in 2000. You got syndicated. You went to CNN. You went to Fox. You had 6.5 million listeners behind Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Dave Ramsay by 2008. Talk about what you were seeing in your career in 2014. Yeah, just start talking about that.
Mr. Beck: Can I go back?
Ms. Tippett: Yes, and you can go back anywhere.
Mr. Beck: Can I go back? Because this is really…
Ms. Tippett: Yeah.
Mr. Beck: This is important. To understand, I didn’t want to go to Fox News. I turned them down three times. I didn’t want to go to Headline News. In fact, I remember the only reason why I took it is because I believed the country was in real trouble. I had just spent three years saying, “There is a financial crash coming beyond description, and this is happening now.” I’m talking to Fox at the same time that the financial crisis is finally there.
Ms. Tippett: Right, 2008, yeah.
Mr. Beck: And so I was convinced that the country is in real trouble. I still am. It’s just more resilient than I thought it was. And I got on, and I had no idea, A, the power of Fox, B, the danger of doing 60 minutes live unscripted every single day…
Ms. Tippett: Kind of wild. You were kind of wild.
Mr. Beck: …plus a three way radio show. Yeah, and doing it in a way that I thought would get people to watch, which it did. So I’m mixing mediums, which was dangerous, but I thought, oh, everybody will get it. And then there was this mass pushback, and it wasn’t good, and it just kind of pushed the wrong buttons in me, and I’m like, “Really?” And I honestly thought that, OK, I’m going to present this in a way that people will be able to watch and understand. And then, somebody in the media will pick this up and go, wait a minute, there is — I don’t believe Glenn Beck, but there is something here. There is this connection that he showed, and we looked it up, and it’s true. That never happened. And so what happened was, I took half the country and basically flipped them the bird. That wasn’t smart.
[music: “Conversation Heart” by The Six Parts Seven]
Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, with Glenn Beck.
[music: “Conversation Heart” by The Six Parts Seven]
Ms. Tippett: You have also said, in 2000…
Mr. Beck: Can’t we quote somebody else?
Ms. Tippett: [laughs] No, I’m sorry. We’re talking about you.
Mr. Beck: OK. [laughs]
Ms. Tippett: I understand that this is not the side of the microphone you’re happiest on.
Mr. Beck: Yeah, let’s quote somebody else. I hate that guy.
Ms. Tippett: No, I’m in control here, as you also understand. [laughs]
Mr. Beck: Yeah, OK.
Ms. Tippett: You’ve said a lot.
Mr. Beck: I know.
Ms. Tippett: And here’s another way that I feel like you can help take other people inside something they may not understand. You’ve said, “I did a lot of freaking out about Barack Obama.” And that was — and you’ve been criticized for calling him — I mean, well, we won’t even go through all that. You…
Mr. Beck: No, you — I mean, I understand what I’ve said.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah, calling him racist, blah, blah. That’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to dissect that. That’s been dissected. But when you say that, and I think you — again, you are — your audiences, people who you have been listening to, attending to, were freaking out about Barack Obama, and a lot of people don’t understand that. And just…
Mr. Beck: Well, could I — let me…
Ms. Tippett: Yeah, say something about that, about what that is.
Mr. Beck: Yeah, let me just say this. This is why I have — and I’ve been begging the people on the right. How can you not have empathy for the people right now who are saying, “Donald Trump is going to destroy America. We are gonna be in — he’s gonna have concentration camps?” You were thinking that about Barack Obama. How can you not understand that somebody sees this guy, who is much more vocal and has many more tendencies than the last guy, how can you call them crazy?
There are people — I’m finding it fascinating that at this moment where we could have profound understanding for one another and we can say, “I know, I know, I know how you’re feeling, and don’t make the mistake that I made. Don’t do the things that we did.” “Well, nobody could be as bad as you.” Stop it. Stop it. Let’s take this moment at time and say, let’s learn from the past. Let’s not overreact and freak out. And believe me, I’m one of the — I mean, you’ve heard me over the last, what, 18 months about Donald Trump. I’m warning you, grave danger. This guy could go totalitarian on us. He could very well do that. He also may very well leave the Oval Office as a decent president. I don’t know. I can’t see the future. What we should be talking about is not people, not even events, but ideas. And the idea is no one person should ever make the American public, left, right, or all of us, this afraid.
Ms. Tippett: And I mean, so this is another pivot point for you, I sense. And you know, Glenn, that you — “fear” has been a big piece of your vocabulary and you’ve proudly called yourself a catastrophist and you also understand the science of fear. You’ve written about this, how our brains are hard-wired to respond to this. And there is a lot in your writing and your work about groups, right? I mean, the book you wrote in 2016 about “progressives” and just these sweeping statements about groups of people. At the same time…
Mr. Beck: Hang on just a second because I want to make sure we’re really careful here.
Ms. Tippett: OK.
Mr. Beck: Did you read the book?
Ms. Tippett: Yeah.
Mr. Beck: OK. So it’s about early 20th century American progressives. Not just any progressive, but the ones who really understand what progressivism, at its core, at its founding, really is. The difference between a cattle and a rancher. That a real early 20th-century American progressive says, “We know better than the average guy, and so we’ll make the decisions.” I don’t think that’s the average progressive. I don’t think that’s what they are. I don’t think they understand what an early 20th century progressive is. And so this is really a history book to be able to say this is that seed, and it’s in both the Republican and the Democratic parties.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah. I hear you, and I believe you, but I also think there are these sweeping statements that don’t contain that subtlety. Like, “This book will present a clear, concise, and documented picture of progressives as they really are, eugenicists, racists, misogynists, terrorists, and authoritarian tyrants.” And it doesn’t qualify. And I just think — and I don’t think you disagree with this — that this is one of the things that’s gone terribly wrong on both sides…
Mr. Beck: I do.
Ms. Tippett: …that we throw these huge “isms” and these labels at each other.
Mr. Beck: So the problem is, is when we’re trying to make — we can’t qualify every sentence. And I did a calculation once because I lost my voice. My vocal chords went paralyzed, and they said they could come back; they might not. And I counted — what was it — 10 million words in the last x number of years that I have uttered. You can’t utter 10 million words publically and not screw up.
You’re going to screw up. You’re going to say things that you said poorly, you were wrong about, you regret, or were misconstrued or — it’s just gonna happen. We have to start believing the best in each other instead of expecting the worst. And I’m guilty. I hate to say that because I can’t imagine how many people in your audience just rolled their eyes and went, you’ve got to be — coming from Glenn Beck?
Ms. Tippett: [laughs] Right.
Mr. Beck: So I get that. I get that. I’m the worst messenger since Paul. I get that. So, I don’t mean to be the one — just please take it. Pretend I’m somebody you like, and relisten to that.
[music: “Sometimes” by Live Footage]
Ms. Tippett: You can listen again and share this conversation with Glenn Beck through our website, onbeing.org.
I’m Krista Tippett. On Being continues in a moment.
[music: “Sometimes” by Live Footage]
Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, as part of our ongoing Civil Conversations Project, my guest is Glenn Beck. I’ve been conversing with him privately this year about what it will take to heal the divides and misunderstanding among Americans. He is a lightning rod of our ruptures, but for several years, he’s also been acknowledging his own role in the damaged state we’re in.
Ms. Tippett: How would you describe how you — what you do differently now editorially? You are still the same person. I do think — I would use the word “repenting.” I think you have done some public repenting, but you still have very strong political convictions, which are not — which everybody is not going to agree with, and some people will disagree with violently.
Mr. Beck: Sure. But can’t we — hopefully not violently, but can’t we — I want to get back to a place where — I mean, how is it that who we voted for is all we are? I have so much in common with — I mean, Samantha Bee is the best example. I watch Samantha Bee, and I watch her exactly as the way she probably used to watch me. I watch her with my hand over my mouth going, Sam, don’t you know what this is doing to half the country? Half the country is going to hate you for this. But we’ve gotten to know each other. I sincerely like her. She’s really nice. We have so much in common.
Ms. Tippett: I really — you went on her show, and it’s very, very funny. You were there both as this soul-searching person you are with me, but also as a performer, as a comedian, really. I mean, one of things she said is, “In case you haven’t heard, Glenn Beck is acting really weird.” This was her introduction. And she said to you, “My audience wants to kill me for normalizing a lunatic like yourself.” She said to you, “For people in my world, even if all you said for the rest of your life were reasonable things, I feel like you’ve still earned a permanent side-eye from them.” And you kind of took that.
Mr. Beck: I can understand it. I can understand it. And I hope that one day, somebody on the left can also come out, and those also on the right too — I don’t mean to single out just the left — but somebody like Sam can come on my show, and I can say to her, “The things you’ve said, my audience will always have a side-eye to you.” And I would hope that she would say, “I understand that, and I kind of deserve that, and I get it.” But then, at that point, what do you do about it?
So now, how do you balance comedy at this point in American history? And I hope every thinking person with a microphone or a camera is thinking about every word they say and trying to figure out, “How do I bring my audience to a better place?” And it’s not reasonable to ask people just — “Well, then throw away your career and just stop doing that.” But that’s not reasonable. I have 300 employees that count on me getting up every single day. That’s not reasonable. Now, how do I change? How do I make this work so I don’t flush the jobs of 300 people?
Ms. Tippett: Yeah. I mean, let me — so let me ask you about a specific way that I think you’ve had a change of heart, you had a pivot point. And this would be — this is interesting to me. After the shooting of the five police officers in Dallas, you started to shift your thinking about Black Lives Matter. This is why it was interesting, is for a lot of people who were opposed to Black Lives Matter, or just disinterested or skeptical, took that shooting of police officers in Dallas as further proof of that, right? So why did you have a different experience?
Mr. Beck: We are in — I’m in Dallas, Texas. That’s my home. Texans do not screw around, especially when they come to our police officers. And you’re right. A lot of people said, “See? Look.” My staff was down covering that parade or march and — excuse me for calling it a parade — but that march. And so when the shooting happened, the people who were marching, along with my people, went behind cars and into alleyways, and they were in it together. So they went through that experience together. And they realized, in that experience — because they had a time to talk and to be there, and they talked for about an hour or two after — and they realized we’re exactly the same.
And so I brought those people in that were with my staff. I brought them in. I think there were five of them, ranging in age, and I said, “So let’s just talk. Nothing off limits. Let’s just talk.” And we had a fascinating conversation. And I realized what they’re saying is, “Our community is in trouble. Our community is in pain.” Well, I understand that. I get that. And that we can unite on.
Ms. Tippett: You in — on The Blaze, which is your — would you say that’s your primary platform now, which you founded and…?
Mr. Beck: Yeah.
Ms. Tippett: OK. So you, in 2016, at some point, said, “I want to apologize for being a catastrophist,” although I still — I think you still claim — do you — you claim that.
Mr. Beck: I am a catastrophist.
Ms. Tippett: [laughs] OK. You are, and you apologize for it.
Mr. Beck: Oh, yeah.
Ms. Tippett: So in that same post, you said, “We’ve got to stop scaring the kids because that’s what we’re doing. We’re scaring the here out of the children.” And you know, Glenn, I have to say, you’re — because I’ve been following your work, your show, your various shows, and your website, and your daily email, for a while — and it’s such a mix, right? Because there are these healing stories and these completely — these juxtapositions and these relationships that you have. Like, you just told a story of Black Lives Matter or with Riaz Patel that are so counter to the Glenn Beck persona the Glenn Beck concept of old. But there’s also a lot that is scary, I mean, that catastrophist still comes through. And I — yeah, I’m just sharing.
Mr. Beck: But wait. Gift of fear. Gift of fear. There’s nothing wrong with — and this is when — people say, “Well, you sell disaster food.” Yeah, you mean the same kind of food that I’m reading about now in Variety about how all the Hollywood stars are stocking up with the food, building bomb shelters? Yeah, I get it. But to me, that’s not part of being a catastrophist. What I’m trying to do is be more of a mile marker and going, “You’ve passed the last exit. You know that, right? You should stop at the nearest safe point and turn the other direction because it’s going to — the things that I said were coming, many of them are happening, and we’re in the direction of bad stuff. Prepare yourself now and be strong to stand against it and to be a beacon of light.”
Ms. Tippett: Do you — I was gonna ask you how — we mentioned a while ago that you converted to the LDS church. You’re a Mormon. It’s an important part of your identity and your family. And I was going to ask you how your faith and your theology — I mean, I think I may just have heard it there, but — does your faith give a blessing on this, the catastrophist…?
Mr. Beck: Oh my gosh, no. No, I know I’ve done damage to really good people of my faith. They are such good people that mind their own business and want to be left alone and just — and I’ve — no. They don’t like showboats. And I just feel compelled to warn people of what I see, and unfortunately, I think I’ve made a lot of Christians look bad and a lot of people of faith look bad. And I will pay my price for that.
When I went to Fox, that weekend I met with my family, and I said, “I don’t want to do this, and if I go there, this is going to change our life because it’s so big, and it’s just gonna — it’s not gonna be good.” And the family said — I said, “I believe these things are coming, and I believe I have to warn people. Are we all in?” And my kids, my older kids, voted on it and said yes. And I said, “Then if I go, you have to do one thing. Everybody in the family has to keep a diary because I know how the world will remember me. And you need to tell the truth to my grandchildren. ‘That’s not who grandpa was.’” Because I knew that warning people never goes well, and then I really screwed it up on top of it.
I do what I feel I’m prompted to do. I take the stands that I do because I feel that I’m supposed to take those stands. Unfortunately, the framing of those stands — all me. That’s where it gets screwed up. The presentation of that is all Glenn.
[music: “Her String” by Clown N Sunset Collective]
Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, with Glenn Beck.
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Ms. Tippett: I was aware all through last year that whoever had won in November, the presidency, what was just laid bare are these fractures, the fact that we don’t know each other, these just chasms among Americans, that we don’t know our fellow Americans in every direction.
Mr. Beck: You sound like a catastrophist. [laughs]
Ms. Tippett: [laughs] Well, but I mean, I…
Mr. Beck: Right.
Ms. Tippett: Right. But, so…
Mr. Beck: You’re worried and warning. Yes.
Ms. Tippett: And then I’m asking, also as somebody in media, a very different kind of arm of the media, and yet, in media, and seeing the imperfections and how the old model is just not serving us all around, the way things have been always — have done. But what would you — just thinking — I always say anger is what pain and fear look like when they show themselves in public. And that’s all out on the surface all around. And I’m really aware of the pain and fear beneath that, and I think you are too. How are you thinking now about the work not just of telling the truth and even making the truth dramatic enough that people pay attention to the danger, but to the work of healing? Or is that just not your calling?
Mr. Beck: No, I think it is. I haven’t figured out how to do it exactly yet and make it — for instance, we’re — I mean, I went down to the border two years ago when the border thing was really high. And my audience was so angry with me because…
Ms. Tippett: Well, you were handing out toys and clothing and food to undocumented immigrants on the border.
Mr. Beck: Yeah. To the kids. And my audience was beside themselves for about four weeks. And I kept trying to explain there’s a difference between policy and principles. We can agree on policy that, yes, they shouldn’t be here. Yes, they should go home. But the principle is they’re people, and they’re here. So now what? We can argue about this in Washington, but we have to help people. We have to stand by and see the need in people. It was never reported, but I think we sent almost $3 million down and 18 or 19 semi trucks full of food. And that money was all raised by my audience, that once you broke down and got past and said, “Look, don’t make this about politics. Let’s make this about who are we as people.”
The next thing that we did was we have rescued 6,000 — and it’s probably more — probably closer to 6,500 or 7,000 refugees in Syria and Iraq. And then, right now, I’m really working on a project that I helped start called “Our Rescue.” It’s an operation underground railroad.
Ms. Tippett: Right, working on this global slave trade.
Mr. Beck: How do you present that one? I can’t get anybody to look at that. My audience — I can’t find a way to make that palpable or not even — safe enough for people to watch it, so they avoid it like the plague. We can change the world, but I’ve got to find a way to reach into people’s hearts without manipulating anything to get them to say, “OK, I’ll look at this.” And my calling now, I think, is to try to find a way back to the heart. Once the heart closes, the Bonhoeffers of the world lose.
Ms. Tippett: And do you feel that hearts also get opened by being outraged? Is that also that line you’re walking?
Mr. Beck: No, I don’t think — no, I think outrage is — you’re right about anger. It comes out from a place when you are afraid. And if you’re afraid, your reason centers shut down. And I’ve made mistakes in the last year by being too forceful with my words where I should’ve said, “Talk to me. You don’t need to hear me. Talk to me. Tell me what you’re feeling. I understand that.” Because I do now. I understand what they were feeling, and I understand what the Hillary Clinton people were feeling.
Ms. Tippett: [laughs] What, if you could…
Mr. Beck: This makes me sound like a lunatic, doesn’t it? [laughs]
Ms. Tippett: No, no, it doesn’t. It’s — no. You know what I’m thinking of? I did a public conversation with Matt Kibbe, who’s a libertarian…
Mr. Beck: Oh, yeah. I know Matt.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah, and Heather McGhee who’s a progressive activist. And I ended up at the end quoting — because what came to mind was — quoting Walt Whitman. And actually, I’m getting it on my phone because I want to say it right. “Do I contradict myself? / Very well…” Because “I am large, I contain multitudes.” And the fact is we all do. And you are just — you’re being very honest. You’re laying this out there, your multitudes.
Mr. Beck: Can I tell you — but we are all like this. We are all like this. And we want, for some reason, we want to put everybody else into this box. I don’t know why. We’re all like this.
Ms. Tippett: And I think your critics would say that you’ve done that, and I think you’re confessing that. I mean, do you understand why people are confused by you? [laughs]
Mr. Beck: Yes. Yes, yes. And I think — and I want to be really clear. I accept responsibility for a lot of it, a lot of it. And all the big ones that I’ve spent two years talking about, I take responsibility. But we all have to take responsibility as well for only listening to the clips, only listening with a hard heart. And I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about people on the right and the left, listening to people that don’t agree with them or don’t fit into that box, immediately expecting the worst. Immediately going, “OK, I’ve heard — so I know. You also are this.” No. Maybe not. Maybe they are, but maybe they’re not.
Ms. Tippett: So let me just end by asking — I really want to believe, and I do believe that there’s overlap between our audiences.
Mr. Beck: I think there are.
Ms. Tippett: And my audience is not just a public radio audience anymore, but even so, we can get too narrow a vision of that and of your audience. But I would like for you to say — what would you like, let’s say, people listening to public radio to know about your audiences as their fellow citizens that you think they don’t know, this complexity that feels important to you, that we hear, that we see?
Mr. Beck: I don’t want to assume that I know what your audience knows or doesn’t know, so.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah. But you know what I…
Mr. Beck: I do, so…
Ms. Tippett: I mean, these are artificial constructs, and there’s a grain of truth, and they’re not the whole truth. But to that grain of truth.
Mr. Beck: So what I would say if I were introducing two friends together? You guys aren’t going to think you have anything in common. But all of the big things you do have in common. All of the big things, all of the — there’s no one in this, within the sound of my voice that doesn’t believe in the freedom of speech, in the freedom to have your private life not being snooped in, that you can live next to your neighbor and they can be different than you and they can believe different things. And you could be an atheist, and they could be a Christian, and you could be best of friends. There’s nobody that I believe — that I know in my real life that is that kind of person that says, “Well, I only want people like this.” And I live in Texas.
We’re so much alike, and we’re being defined, and I believe whether people know it or not, being used and manipulated and pushed into making caricatures of each other. My audience is — I really truly believe — they are open-hearted people who, for the last eight years, have been really frightened. And if you will listen to them and get past the things that you think you understand, you will recognize many of those things you’re frightened of too. It’s just different packaging.
Ms. Tippett: You’ve also said — I mean, we talked about how you said, when you say the last eight years, that’s the Obama presidency. You’ve talked about being freaked out, and a lot of people were freaked out, and this is something that’s hard for people on the other side to understand. But you’ve also recently said that Obama has made you a better man. What do you mean by that? What’s that?
Mr. Beck: I don’t think we’d have the same conversation today that we had eight years ago because of the things that have happened in my life, because of the things that I’ve done, both good and bad, I’m a better person. I’ve taken the good, as I believe the imposter that it is, and not taken that as a badge of honor. And I’ve taken the bad to heart enough to go, “Is that true?” to be able to grow. If I could rewind the clock and keep the knowledge that I have, I’d be a totally different man than I was at Fox in 2008. I don’t know what I would do if I still believed the same things that I did then and I do now. I don’t know how I would present it, but I wouldn’t do what I did.
Ms. Tippett: Well, Glenn, thank you so much for this. There’s nothing tied up in a neat bow here, and that is the way life is, right?
Mr. Beck: It’s one of those movies that — it ends, and you’re like, “I’m not sure I like the ending.” And you’re like, “Yeah, I know, but that’s the way it is.” [laughs]
Ms. Tippett: [laughs]
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Ms. Tippett: Glenn Beck now broadcasts on The Blaze, a multi-platform news and entertainment network he founded. He’s the author of many books of fiction and non-fiction, including The 7: Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life.
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Staff: On Being is Trent Gilliss, Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, Maia Tarrell, Marie Sambilay, Bethanie Mann, Selena Carlson, and Rigsar Wangchuck.
Ms. Tippett: Special thanks this week to Rabbi Irwin Kula for helping make this conversation possible.
Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoe Keating. And the last voice you hear singing our final credits in each show is hip-hop artist Lizzo.
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