Washington reporter Mark Leibovich mostly reigned in his trademark anti-conservative mockery in "Being Glenn Beck," his 8,000-word profile of the Fox News afternoon phenomenon, posted at nytimes.com Wednesday and scheduled to appear in the upcoming edition of the Times Sunday Magazine.
But Leibovich still managed to call Beck (photograph by Nigel Parry for the New York Times), who he interviewed and watched perform at various rallies over a period of the last few months, "a voice of the ultraconservative opposition to President Obama."
Leibovich also used Beck as a weapon for backhanded attacks against other conservative hosts, saying Beck "rarely speaks with the squinty-eyed certainty or smugness of Rush Limbaugh or his fellow Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity."
Beck has a square, boyish face, an alternately plagued and twinkle-eyed demeanor that conjures (when Beck is wearing glasses) the comedian Drew Carey. He is 6-foot-2, which is slightly jarring when you first meet him, because he is all head and doughiness on television; I never thought of Beck as big or small, just as someone who was suddenly ubiquitous and who talked a lot and said some really astonishing things, to a point where it made you wonder - constantly - whether he was being serious.
At some point in the past few months, Beck ceased being just the guy who cries a lot on Fox News or a "rodeo clown" (as he has described himself) or simply a voice of the ultraconservative opposition to President Obama. In record time, Beck has traveled the loop of curiosity to ratings bonanza to self-parody to sage. It is remarkable to think he has been on Fox News only since January 2009.
Beck rarely speaks with the squinty-eyed certainty or smugness of Rush Limbaugh or his fellow Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. He often changes his mind or nakedly contradicts himself. "When you listen and watch me, it's where I am in my thinking in the moment," Beck told me. "I'm trying to figure it out as I go." He will sometimes stop midsentence and recognize that something he is about to say could be misunderstood and could cause him trouble. Then, more often than not, he will say it anyway.
That's where the Winfrey comparison falls apart. You could never imagine her joking about poisoning the speaker of the house or talking about choking the life out of a filmmaker or fantasizing about beating a congressman "to death with a shovel" (as Beck did for Nancy Pelosi, Michael Moore and Charles Rangel, respectively). Beck is divisive.
Leibovich's grim recounting doesn't capture the archness of Beck's performance. Those three quotes have been conveniently rounded up at this anti-Beck site. The Rangel quote is nine years old, the Moore quote five.
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