As you you might have heard, Glenn Beck recently confessed to Fox News' The Kelly File that he "played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart."
This is both introspective, and a terrible indictment of his work. But first, here's the quote:
I remember it as an awful lot of fun and that I made an awful lot of mistakes. 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 and it’s not who we are and I didn’t realize how really fragile the people were. I thought we were kind of a little more in it together. Now I look back and I realize if we could have talked about the uniting principles a little bit more, instead of just the problems, I think I would look back on it a little more fondly. [The Blaze]
Does a confession make it all better?
One problem with letting bygones be bygones is that it provides a disincentive for future good behavior. It basically says that someone can cater to the lowest common denominator, help tear the country apart for years, and then — when it's convenient — wash their hands of the past, reinventing themselves as a statesman.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not for harboring personal grudges (it hurts the person holding the grudge the most), and yes — sometimes people do change — but I'm also a believer in incentives. And I think how we collectively respond to something like this might impact how future showmen conduct themselves in the public square.
And I think it's worth making a distinction between somebody who errs in the personal realm versus an adult who uses the large megaphone he's been given in order to make the world a worse place. That microphone is a gift. Rush Limbaugh jokes that his talent is "on loan from God," and there may be some truth to the sentiment. People who are granted giant audiences are also given a huge responsibility to use their talents for good — or, at least, not evil. And based on Beck's own words, it sounds like he believes his contribution might have been a net-negative.
While individuals should not harbor bitterness toward him, should our society collectively forget his (fairly recent) histrionics and the paranoia he helped spread? He already has the money. Should he be welcomed back into polite society?
One's vocation is an extension of their purpose. And if Beck really believes that his work was a net-negative for society (and some skepticism is warranted given his contrarian tendencies), he ought to be doing some serious soul searching.
Wouldn't it have been terrific if he had this epiphany when he still had his popular Fox News show? In a way, this reminds me of how celebrities only come to conservatism after their careers have languished. In this case, Beck probably contributed to negative stereotypes about conservatives.
Others see different parallels. Caitlin Dickson calls it a "too little, too late" apology, and compares it to Robert McNamara's disavowal of his role in Vietnam, among others. That might be going a little too far.
The good news for Beck is that he still has a huge platform. And if he is sincere, there is much good he can still do in the world. Let's see if he goes about doing good, or if this is merely the latest example of a master showman reinventing and repackaging himself for the times.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- 10 things you need to know today: November 23, 2014
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
Subscribe to the Week