Fox News host Glenn Beck delights in provocation — see his well-publicized spats with James Cameron, Rep. Anthony Weiner and others — and, according to Alexander Zaitchik's new book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, he's always had the knack. Indeed, the book, which Firedoglake calls, "careful and studious...part biography, part deconstruction," reads like an extended list of all the folks the outspoken conservative pundit has irked during his rise from local radio host to national media icon. Here's a rundown of Beck's early enemies, and how he made them:
As a young DJ on WRKA in Louisville, Kentucky, the 21-year-old Beck needled Curtis, a rival talk-radio host who was known to be overweight. For two years, Beck cracked endless, "increasingly unhinged" fat jokes at her expense, "employing Godzilla sound effects to simulate Curtis walking across the city." Curtis never responded, which "only seemed to fuel Beck's hunger for a response."
Another rival, this time during Beck's stint at Phoenix station Y-95, saw the ugly side of the radio host's personality in "one of the cruelest events in the history of morning radio," writes Zaitchik. A couple of days after Kelly's wife had a miscarriage, Beck called her live on air to ask if it was true. When she said yes, he joked how Kelly "can't do anything right — he can't even have a baby." Kelly and Beck had once been friends, but after this stunt their friendship "soured beyond repair."
Beck made an early enemy out of the advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after a stunt on WBSB in Baltimore when he announced he would place a live gerbil in a bank's pneumatic tube system. Beck then pretended the gerbil had been eaten by a snake, and proceeded to "kill" the snake live on air. PETA picketed the station every day for weeks, according to a former programmer at the station.
While at WFLA in Tampa, Florida, Beck got into a spat with Joe Ruddner, a local strip club owner. Ruddner somehow tricked Beck into saying he was bisexual on air, but the radio host got his own back by re-editing an interview that Ruddner had given to a rival station, making "him sound like a proud sex offender."
A liberal columnist and fellow WFLA host in Tampa, Ruth became a Beck target when the two clashed during the Terry Schiavo right-to-die debate. Beck said he would like to "murder" Ruth, and gave out his personal phone number, office address and e-mail address on the air. Ruth, who subsequently received death threats from pro-life advocates, tells Zaitchik, "You can imagine the kinds of messages I was getting from Beck's deranged fans."
By 2005, Beck was already well on his way to becoming a broadcasting phenomenon, but he couldn't resist revisiting "some of his favorite perennial gags." In April of that year, Beck spent a week promising listeners he'd be airing a "live abortion," but then, at the scheduled time, played a clip from Air America's "The Al Franken Show." The point, he told listeners, was that not everyone should be on the radio. "This is the most sensitive and expressive medium there is," Beck said. "This does take some talent."
Source: Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, by Alexander Zaitchik (John Wiley, RRP $25.95)
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- How I lost all my money
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- How to save money: 12 great personal finance tips
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The best books we read in 2014
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
Subscribe to the Week