It was a Christmas miracle.
There was Samantha Bee, a comedian who has savaged Donald Trump and the far right, and Glenn Beck, town crier of the liberal-induced apocalypse, putting aside their differences to sit side by side on a couch. The two even managed hold hands and smile as they sorted through the wreckage of a divisive presidential election in order to find common ground.
“We disagree on some pretty big things,” Beck says in an interview with Variety, “but there’s more we agree on than disagree. I just felt that’s where we need to go as a country or we’re going to eat each other alive.”
|JAKE CHESSUM for Variety|
Video of the confab quickly went viral when it debuted last month, attracting more than a million views on YouTube. The Bee-Beck sit-down was played for laughs — both participants wore garish holiday sweaters, and the piece ended with them devouring a cake adorned with pastry versions of the two of them lying in bed. But there is a serious underpinning. Beck seems sincere about his desire to bridge the political and cultural divides currently roiling America, even at the expense of his own career.
His appearance on “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” is the latest stop on a mainstream-media apology tour. He has spent the past few years talking with the likes of The New York Times and Vice, offering up mea culpas for calling Barack Obama a racist, and for what he describes as his role in “tearing the country apart.”
As he winds his way through the lion’s den, he presents himself as softer and wiser — a man who once used his airtime pointing to chalkboard doodles outlining elaborate George Soros-backed conspiracies, but who stared over the precipice and then renounced his former ways. Declining to offer up specific statements he regrets having made, Beck argues that he has changed and wants others to learn from his example.
“It’s time to say, ‘Let’s not focus on the things that happened five years ago,’” he says. “Why don’t we focus on the things that are happening right now. Can we change the things that we’re doing right now? Each of us.” He adds, “I’m not the man I want to be. I’m not the man I need to be. But, thank God, I’m not the man I used to be.”
While the rise of Trump has been a boon for conservative outlets, Beck and The Blaze, his new media company, have struggled to keep pace. Beck’s radio show still reaches an audience of 3.6 million — making it the third most popular talk-radio program — but that’s down from the 9 million listeners it attracted in 2010.
The issues have spilled over online. In November 2014, The Blaze had 27.4 million unique visitors, according to Quantcast, whereas the number for November 2016 was 8.8 million. There have been layoffs, and The Blaze has cycled through four CEOs in two years. Beck downplays the issues at the company, saying that with 234 employees, it has nearly as big a staff as it did when it launched in 2011.
|“Thank God, I’m not the man I used to be.”|
“It seemed that I was supposed to be out of business two years ago. And then somebody reported last August that I was definitely out of business by the end of August,” he says. “There are jobs that we’re filling. I don’t think that’s a sign of despair.”
He does acknowledge, however, that digital entrepreneurship is a challenge. “It’s tough, and you risk a lot, and you take it on the chin a lot, and you make a lot of mistakes,” he says.
Part of the issue is that Beck was one of Trump’s most vocal critics, throwing his support to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and opting not to vote for Trump after the billionaire businessman sewed up the Republican nomination.
You could argue that Beck backed the wrong horse. After all, other conservative outlets, such as Breitbart and InfoWars, saw their profiles rise after they enthusiastically got on the Trump train. Beck argues that his position “stunted” the company’s growth but is adamant that he won’t back down from criticizing the new president.
“I was against him as a candidate,” he says. “I am for my president, but, just like Barack Obama and George W. Bush, I will judge him on his actions. And when he’s president, I will either speak out for his policies or against his policies. But my ruler will be the Constitution.”
Despite his talk for greater civility, Beck hasn’t sanded off all of his rough edges. His most recent book, for instance, was entitled “Liars: How Progressives Exploit Our Fears for Power and Control.”
“A), Don’t judge a book by its cover,” says Beck, “and B), For anybody who has ever written a book, you don’t necessarily get to chose a title. The publisher is heavily involved in that, and they are looking for a provocative title.”
He points out that the book takes shots at Republicans as well as Democrats, with targets that include Trump and Theodore Roosevelt.
|“When he’s president, I will either speak out for his policies or against his policies. But my ruler will be the Constitution.”|
Beck still hasn’t abandoned his pessimistic worldview. He continues to believe that the Republic is in mortal danger, that the Fed is wreaking havoc on America’s financial system, and that the United States will eventually be brought low by the national debt. “I’m still a catastrophist,” he says.
He also scoffs at the idea that his extended apology tour is motivated by commercial considerations. There’s not a lot of overlap between Beck listeners and, for example, the readership of The Times, so it’s difficult to see him suddenly earning a lot of converts among the left.
“Let’s see, I’m going to take an uber-conservative audience and piss them off, to then go to a group of people that wouldn’t trust me for anything and somehow rope them in,” he chortles.
“There’s no evil genius to this. That doesn’t work. If somebody knows how to make that work, please contact me.”
He has gained one friend from the experience — Bee. Beck says the pair bonded over their concern about Syrian refugees, and that he’s talked to the television host about traveling with him to Haiti, where he’s working with charitable groups to stop sex slavery.
“We have things much bigger than politics in common,” says Beck. “That’s the point. We have to start seeing each other for how we really are. Not the cartoon character that she is on television, or that I am.”