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Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America

Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America

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by Dana Milbank

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Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank takes a fair and balanced look at the unsettling rise of the silly Fox News host Glenn Beck.

Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that “the tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” In America in 2010, Glenn Beck provides


Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank takes a fair and balanced look at the unsettling rise of the silly Fox News host Glenn Beck.

Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that “the tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” In America in 2010, Glenn Beck provides the very refreshment Jefferson had in mind: Whether he’s the patriot or the tyrant, he’s definitely full of manure.

The wildly popular Fox News host with three million daily viewers perfectly captures the vitriol of our time and the fact-free state of our political culture. The secret to his success is his willingness to traffic in the fringe conspiracies and Internet hearsay that others wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole: death panels, government health insurance for dogs, FEMA concen­tration camps, an Obama security force like Hitler’s SS.

But Beck, who is, according to a recent Gallup poll, admired by more Americans than the Pope, has nothing in his background that identifies him as an ideologue, giving rise to the speculation that his right-wing shtick is just that—the act of a brilliant showman, known for both his over-the-top daily out­rages and for weeping on the air.

Milbank describes, with lacerating wit, just how the former shock jock without a college degree has managed to become the most recognizable leader of antigovernment conservatives and exposes him as the guy who is single-handedly giving patri­otism a bad name.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

David Oshinsky
…[a] droll, take-no-prisoners account of the nation's most audacious conspiracy-spinner.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"[A] droll, take-no-prisoners account of the nation's most audacious conspiracy-spinner...Milbank is pitch-perfect in describing a typical Beck performance. He has watched and listened to more Beck programs than I believed possible for the human mind to absord...Milbank is also superb in describing how Beck manipulates his listeners..."
-- David Oshinsky for The Washington Post

"Train-wreck fascinating...Milbank's obsessions about Beck's obsessions can be contagious."
-- San Francisco Chronicle

"Milbank's fast-paced chronicle of Beck World ably details the meteoric rise of a low-rent radio shock jock to national phenomenon in less than a decade."
--The Christian Science Monitor

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt



"I think I'm gonna need more tears," Glenn Beck is saying.

The makeup woman is skeptical, but she comes over to rub some more menthol ointment under his eyes. "A teeny bit," she allows.

The Fox News host fans himself to get the vapors closer to his eyes. He holds his eyelids open. "I think my eyes are getting used to it," he laments.

Finally, the tears come. He puckers his lips. His eyes are glistening. Glenn Beck is crying again.

"Just look at me," the photographer instructs him. Beck looks miserable. The photographer is satisfied. "Instant sadness," she says.

Beck has built his career on tears. On his Fox News show, he cries about his family. He cries about other people's families. He cries because he loves his country. He cries because of death panels. He cries because Barack Obama is turning the country into Nazi Germany, or possibly the Soviet Union or Communist China, or maybe just France.

On this sea of tears, Beck's boat has floated to the top of cable news and talk radio, and put him at the head of a mass antigovernment conservative movement. The tears have made Beck rich and famous-and now, for the photo shoot, he's having himself a good, chemically induced cry.

"Try to keep your eyes open," the photographer counsels as Beck battles the menthol fumes. "I know it's probably, like, impossible."

Beck pouts. The tears flow freely. "You've even got a new runny nose," the photographer observes. The host informs her that those are in fact tears dripping from his nose.

"Wow," Beck says as the ointment kicks in. His lower lip is curled down, his chin puckered.

"What if you were laughing and crying at the same time?" the photographer proposes. "Yeah, yeah. Open your mouth, I think, is good."

Beck is now crying like a baby, red-faced and sobbing. Those in the room laugh as he attempts a silent scream.

"Open your mouth really big, like you're wailing. Eyes big, too-make your eyes big."

Beck obliges, and sticks out his tongue for added effect.

"Try to sit up straight," the photographer asks. "Sorry, too much instruction," she apologizes. Now: "Look up to the heavens. Like, curse-curse God."

Beck pretends to curse God. The photographer laughs.

"Put your face a little more toward me. That's good. Eyes bigger if you can. Can you open them any more? Look like you're horrified."

"Horrified?" Beck asks. He adopts a horrified look. It's a wide-eyed, shocked look.

"That's good. Your eyes are really watering." Beck now looks stunned. "What if you're laughing?" she asks.

"Ha! Ha! Ha!" The weeping Beck laughs. He raises his hands, like a mad scientist.

"No hands, actually," the photographer says.

Glenn Beck cried on his very first day on the job. Call it opening- day jitters.

After a successful run at CNN, Beck had just switched to a more logical home, Fox News, where he was about to turn the sleepy 5 P.M. time slot into a cultural phenomenon. His first show was January 19, 2009, on the eve of President Obama's inauguration. His guest: Sarah Palin, the failed 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate.

"I first started reading about her last spring, when she gave birth to her son Trig," Beck began. He got no further. His voice started to catch. "I'm the dad of a special needs child," he said, choking up at the mention of his grown daughter with cerebral palsy. "And we had something in common." He soldiers on, bravely and with great difficulty. "And I called her up because I just was moved by the way she reacted to the birth of her child. She was real. I for once didn't feel so alone." Beck still had not fully composed himself. "This is before the media circus, before all the political bullcrap," he continued. "Sarah Palin was just a mom of five doing a job that needed to be done. She was my kind of leader."

The image of the Alaska governor appeared on the screen. Beck was no longer crying. "You are one hot grandma," he said. "I'm just sayin'."

Once he hit the Fox airwaves, Beck's rise was meteoric. Unfortunately, he had no time to enjoy it. This is because the end of the world was coming. And this made Glenn Beck cry.

"Every time you turn that television on," he said in his March 13, 2009, broadcast, "it just seems like the whole world is spinning out of control." Particularly if your television is tuned to Fox News at 5 P.M. Eastern Time.

"War. Islamic extremism. Europe on the brink. Even pirates now," Beck went on. ". . . Six thousand were killed or beheaded on our border just last year . . . Our companies faced new union mandates and global cap-and-trade and the second-highest corporate tax rate in the world . . . Meanwhile, over four million friends and neighbors have lost their jobs in the last four months alone . . . What happened to the country that loved the underdog and stood up [for] the little guy? What happened to the voice of the forgotten man? The forgotten man is you."

He then recalled a better time. A time when George W. Bush was president. A time when we had just been attacked by terrorists. "Our hearts were full of terror and fear," Beck narrated. "We came together . . . On September 12th, and for a short time after that, we really promised ourselves that we would focus on the things that were important-our family, our friends, the eternal principles that allowed America to become the world's beacon of freedom."

The camera was on Beck, who was still backstage. He hadn't even walked onto his set yet, and he was already ferklempt.

"Are you ready to be that person that you were that day?" he asked, stifling a sob. "After 9/11, on 9/12. I told you for weeks, you're not alone." Beck could not hold back the tears. He looked at the ceiling to try to regain control of himself. "I'm turning into a freaking televangelist," he said in exasperation.

You think?

But Beck was becoming more than a televangelist. He was installing himself as leader of a new movement, the 9/12 Project, which would have a mass march on Washington on, naturally enough, 9/12.

He showed images of people around the country who would be his followers in this movement, going from a shot of Chuck Norris in Texas "to military bases in Iraq where real heroes have gathered." At the mention of the heroes, Beck choked up anew, cleared his throat, and soldiered on.

He was finally composed enough to walk out onto the set, this time decorated with a "We the People" backdrop. "The real power to change America's course still resides with you," he went on. "You are the secret, you're the answer." He started to cry again and put his hand on his chest. He looked down in an unsuccessful attempt to hold back the floodgates. "I'm sorry," he said. "I just love my country and I fear for it." He looked around, trying in vain to stop the tears. He wipeed his eyes. "And it seems like the voices of our leaders and special interests and the media, they're surrounding us. And it's, it sounds intimidating, but you know what? Pull away the curtain. You'll realize that there ain't anybody there." He wiped away another tear- and, with that damp beginning, a movement was born.

Beck's tear ducts were fast becoming a very valuable organ. "Only in America," observed Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, "can you make that much money crying."

Obviously a sensitive man, Beck addressed his lachrymose ways one night on TV. "Yes, I do, on this program, cry like a little girl sometimes. I'm sorry, actually, if that destroys my credibility with you." Actually, the credibility problem is what comes from his mouth, not his eyes, but that wasn't the point. "I've stopped hiding who I am and being ashamed of who I am a long, long time ago. And if you don't like it, that's okay. There are other shows on TV. Watch them. I am who I am, like it or not. Big girls don't cry, oh, but I do from time to time. Why? Because as I told you before, I feel passionately about my country, and the people in it."


One of the exciting things about Beck's tears is you never know exactly when they will come. They caught viewers quite off guard on February 3, 2009, when he introduced an interview with William Slemaker, whose stepdaughter, Yvette Martinez, has been missing since 2004. "She disappeared just a few blocks away from our U.S. border," Beck said, then paused. He closed his mouth as the tears began to come. "Two years ago, I made her father a promise that I would not let this story dry-uh, die," he continued, eyes moist. "However, I had to break that promise," he said, pausing again to fight for his composure, "because I am now working"-another pause for composure-"at a network that will follow through on a story. I am not a journalist"- he is losing the battle with his emotions-"I'm just a guy who cares." He chokes up anew. "I'm sorry. I'm just a guy who cares an awful lot about my country. And I think you do, too. But sometimes, for political reasons or whatever reasons, people just won't follow a story."

He got through his interview with the stepfather relatively dry-eyed, then concluded: "It is a real blessing for me to be able to tell you, sir, that the cavalry has arrived. Fox is here, and we are doing everything we can, and we'll have you back, sir, and God bless."

"Glenn, thank you and everybody at Fox and I appreciate it and I hope to be back soon," Slemaker said.

That was the last time Slemaker or his stepdaughter was mentioned on Fox News, according to a search of transcripts. As for Beck's previous network, CNN reported on the Martinez case several times. So did the New York Times, ABC News, People, and Time magazine-all before it came to Beck's attention.

Beck was known to have himself a televised cry even before Fox came calling. In a 2008 interview, he wept while describing his recovery from the days when he was a "hopeless alcoholic, using drugs every day" and jobless. His future wife wouldn't marry him unless they had a mutual religion, and his friend suggested the Mormon Church. When he found out his daughter liked the church, "it was then I thought I don't care if there's Kool-Aid down in the basement. I'm drinking it because I want to be like that."

The tears were beginning to well. "We were baptized

on a"-Beck, choking up, cleared his throat-"baptized on a Sunday, and on Monday an agent called me out of the blue." The agent wanted to get Beck in touch with an executive at Clear Channel, the conservative radio outfit. "As he said that, no kidding"-Beck looked away and cleared his throat to fight back the tears-"my call waiting went off," and it was the man from Clear Channel himself. "I went back to my agent and he said, 'Wow, do you ever feel like someone upstairs is watching over you?' And I said"-here Beck choked up anew, then looked away-"_'Yes, sir, I do.'_" He wiped away a tear.

These days, Beck has causes greater than himself to cry about-such as Obama's plan to impose Nazi population control methods on America. That's what he alleged on August 11, 2009, during the summer of the town-hall meetings aimed at sinking health-care reform.

"Tonight," he began, "we have a special on the czars"-

that's what he calls many White House officials-"and some of the statements that should horrify America . . . particularly if you're elderly, handicapped, or have a very, very young child." In conspiratorial tones, Beck said he was "under a great amount of pressure to not bring you this news."

Beck maintained that he was "following the directions of the president of the United States," who had recommended people judge him by the advisers he selected. This, naturally, took Beck to Nazi eugenics, which he said originated with American "progressives" such as Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, the latter endorsing a book "that Hitler once referred to as his bible." Beck credited these American presidents for inspiring "the Nazi eugenic idea [which] evolved naturally into the eventual Holocaust and the deaths of six million Jews."

Still with him? "The builder of the master race was only part of the problem in Germany, made possible after they began to devalue life. They tried to figure out how much is a life worth, and put a price on how much each individual was worth-and some were worth more than others."

Here Beck began to feel the familiar sensation. He paused and looked down to stop the tears. "I want to show you a poster," he said, displaying a Nazi propaganda image making the case for weeding out the infirm, "and I want you to know that I have a daughter that was born"-his voice started to break-"with cerebral palsy"-more choking up-"and they said when she was born that she would never walk or talk"-pause for composure-"or feed herself." He cleared his throat, then, fighting tears, explained how the Nazi propaganda poster showing a man whose hand was severely disfigured "reminds me of my daughter's hand."

Recovering, Beck went on to compare the Nazis to the Obama administration, based on "what the president of the United States has told us today." He said the administration has "just started to print money" the way they did in Weimar Germany. "Is it possible that our debt is so high that we can't pay it back or we have to make tough decisions and possibly ration health care?" Beck asked. "The answer everyone will tell you is yes."

Beck explained, without benefit of actual fact, that Obama's advisers favor health-care rationing and even sterilants in the drinking water. He then endorsed Palin's allegation that Americans "will have to stand in front of Obama's death panel so bureaucrats can decide . . . whether they are worthy of health care."

Voilà! Beck had traced a line from Adolf Hitler's eugenics to Barack Obama's health-care plan, via Teddy Roo-sevelt and Woodrow Wilson. It's enough to make you want to cry.

Sometimes, the simplest thing can make Beck weep-even a cold soft drink. Once, during a discussion about why so many Obama advisers worship Chairman Mao, he took an unexpected turn and played the old TV commercial in which a boy offers his Coke to a roughed-up football player. "It's okay, you can have it," the boy says. Next, Beck played the old Kodak commercial with Paul Anka singing "Times of Your Life."

"If a politician told you right now that he could make that happen again, you could go back to those simpler times when people were together, you'd do it in a heartbeat, wouldn't you?" Beck asked. Then, the telltale pause. The crying was coming. "But the truth is"- Beck shook his head, looked down, and contorted his face to hold back the tears-"no politician could take you there.

"You know," he went on, still struggling for his voice, "America, we've been at a party that we weren't supposed to be at." He likened the nation to a kid going home past curfew and knowing "you're going to get your butt kicked." The thought of this, too, choked up Beck. He spoke about America forced "to stay home on a Saturday night because we're financially grounded." This proved so overwhelming that Beck struggled for nearly eleven seconds before completing his next thought.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

DANA MILBANK is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post and a prize-winning White House reporter. He has written three books, including the national bestseller Homo Politicus. He lives in Washington with his wife and daughter.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America 2.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
PortlandLiberal More than 1 year ago
A reporter friend of mine at a large West Coast daily gave me an advanced press copy of this book last week. I would have learned more about Glenn Beck by bouncing around Media Matters for an hour. Save your money.
Hugo-Z-Hackenbush More than 1 year ago
Unlike many, I have read this book; It was an unexpected Christmas gift. Also unwanted, like a glimpse of Joy Behars face when channel surfing. Here is the problem with this book: It is simply mental masturbating. Beck bad, people who like Beck bad, Fox News bad, George Bush bad, Sarah Palin bad, Facts bad, Flyover Country bad. Of course there aren't any footnotes, and the font is large, and there is lots of blank room on the pages to doodle. Which makes it the perfect gift for a hairy palmed lib Kool Aid drinker.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately there isn't a rating lower than one star. Another feeble attempt at political pseudo-intellectualism, yet in typical liberal fashion, the author attacks Glenn Beck as a person instead of his points or own argument.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
very poorly written,does not have her facts correct... apparently did not read mr. becks books or her outlook would be entirely different.. sounds like a sorehead to me .. i do not recommend this book...
Kitty26 More than 1 year ago
How can this book have a rating of three stars? I have never read such garbage in my life. He has a show on FOX noise, what can you expect. Not worth the paper it's written on. Better off burning the money than spending it on this junk.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a total opinion based book and only ment to fill your head with a bunch of garbage and lies about Glen Beck. This autor was probaly hired by some left wing extremists.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After the whoppers told last week by the press, even the title here is offensive. Dana Milbank has made of living mocking other people and writing hateful rhetoric. Let's not fill his coffers for writing more trash with a perverted title.
BRULI More than 1 year ago
Perhaps Beck did not finish high school, but at least he does or have somebody do research when he talks or writes, which is more than I can say about the big pile of manure Dana Milbank writes about...this is true junk and lies about Mr, Beck and the Tea Party movement. This author is bought and paid for by the left agenda, who invested himself so much into this latest Government which has bankrupted our kids and several generations of our grandchildren, that he can not stomach any honest disagreement of the wrong agenda for this country. Why instead do a book about the ZARS this Government has appointed, but, that would be journalism, something Mr. Milbank is incapable of.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just plain hateful trash talk :( however, not upset at BN like some customers...let us remember the value of free speech!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ever heard of the dumbing down of america? This is where it came from
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was supposed to be objective and fair, meaning it looked at all sides including Becks, but the title pretty much says it all, the attacks on Mr. Beck were very personal and not really about disagreeing with his beliefs and offering alternatives but simply left wing attacks on the person in question, there is nothing in this book that you haven't heard before on MSNBC. A very disappointing book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After reading this book, I figured if you have a high opinion of Glenn Beck, then you will rate this book poorly and if you have a low opinion of him, you'll rate it much higher. I have only seen Beck's show once and neither found him agreeable nor disagreeable, but instead simply boring--so much so that after ten minutes of chalkboard lessons, I changed the channel. Yawn. I think I would have enjoyed this book much more if it followed more of a chronological story of his life and how he got to where he is and how his views of the world were formulated. One thing he has capitalized on, however, is the polarization of America. Why are we always presented as if the only choices politically are between extremes? I guess that's where the money is, but I much prefer to hear commentary that shows us the plusses and minuses of issues from various viewpoints and why it is so difficult to forge legislation that is beneficial to as many people as possible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
See title
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