OFF THE GRID

What Exactly Is Glenn Beck Talking About?

Aug 31, 10 | 7:53 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Nobody of a more or less liberal cast knows what to do about Glenn Beck.

We don’t know what he’s saying. What he means. What he wants. Or really who he is.

Rupert Murdoch, who pays him, doesn’t know either. Those exact questions above have worried him and he’s tried to have the discussion about Beck’s nature with Roger Ailes, the Fox chief who hired him, but gotten no real satisfaction. Murdoch’s wife, Wendi, makes fun of Beck. She’s quite a funny woman, and Beck is one of her punchlines. She says Beck’s name and guffaws and follows up with waves of titters—which makes her husband scowl. Murdoch’s children, with their controlling stake in News Corp., have also asked all of the above questions with some concern—and with no answers.

Without reasonable explanation, Beck has become a force in the land. Possibly a mighty one.

Or not. He’s just a talk-show novelty. That’s actually what Ailes told Murdoch, because Ailes doesn’t like his performers, who he regards mostly as props and children, to be bigger than him. That’s the tragedy of Roger Ailes. He is so good at picking strange talent that they become bigger than him. Murdoch is afraid of Ailes. But Ailes is afraid of Bill O’Reilly. (Bill O’Reilly, it is said, is afraid of Glenn Beck.)

Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington over the weekend was, it seemed, conducted in a secret language. Many signals were obviously being sent but nobody whose job it is to interpret signals could interpret them.

It might really be just about entertainment, with any luck. Beck, after all, is principally an entertainer. Indeed, it is part of the genius of Roger Ailes and of Fox News to be able to entertain that part of the American audience that most of the rest of the media doesn’t much care about (not least of all because they tend to be older, poorer, and more rural, and, hence, less valuable to advertisers), or is embarrassed by.

The question that everybody wants to know, including the Murdochs and, likely, Ailes himself, is if this is actually a political movement, too. Beck himself would probably like to know.

Right now, you have something like a revival tent joined with a veterans hall with a cast of visiting talkers and exhorters who convey a sense of patriotic and small-town bonhomie.

Is it more than that?

That’s what everybody is waiting to find out. That’ll be the November surprise.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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