There was a time, a rather long time, when it seemed that Glenn Beck would never not have something to say.
He drew massive audiences to Fox News a decade ago, when he rambled for hours about conspiracy theories in which a Jewish billionaire controlled the world, and coded Bible messages revealed that Muslims sought the antichrist.
In person, Beck often spoke like a prophet.
“Something beyond imagination is happening. Something that is beyond man is happening,” he told hundreds of thousands of people a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in 2010 as he promised to lead America out of “darkness.”
Sometimes he spoke as an entrepreneur. “There comes a time when you have to stop complaining and do something,” he wrote in 2010, days after he launched his conservative internet news channel, the Blaze.
Years later, he spoke as a repentant, as one who would undo all the damage of his previous words.
“I did and said terrible things,” Beck told the Washington Post last year, going on at length about his newfound penitence. “I didn’t notice how my language could be interpreted by half the country as racist. I lacked humility. I was the height of arrogance.”
And behind all his grandeur and shifting forms of rhetoric, the Daily Beast wrote last week in an anonymously sourced article, Beck’s empire of talk has been crumbling for years.
After announcing a large layoff last year, the outlet wrote, the Blaze has cut its workforce even further, can find no prospective buyer and “appears to be on its last legs.”
If Beck had anything to say about the Beast’s report, he wasn’t quoted.
Cue CNN’s Brian Stelter, who tried to get him talking again in an interview that aired Sunday.
Stelter sat in his CNN studio, and Beck spoke remotely from the Dallas area in what appeared to be a marbled living room. He had grown a goatee since his Washington rally days, and was very much still in his Beck the Penitent incarnation — eager to explain how Stelter and the media shared in the error of Beck’s old ways.
“You have become me, circa 2009,” Beck said. “None of you are willing to listen to what you’re doing, and you’re dividing us even more.”
Stelter let Beck opine about his favorite topics for a few minutes: How President Trump’s harsh border policies were partially the fault of liberals and the media; how both were poisoning American politics the same way Beck once did.
“All they’re doing is playing politics, and the American people are tired of it,” Beck said. “They’re watching you two, the media and Donald Trump, playing this little game of back and forth, and they’re sick of it.”
Beck complained that no one in the media was willing to meet him off camera and have a quiet conversation. There are too few quiet conversations in the United States, he said.
Stelter contested some of these points, cross talk lapsing into awkward silences. But mostly the host just listened, a wry smile crawling across his face as he finally came to the question he wanted to ask.
“I completely agree with you,” Stelter told Beck. “We all do need to be more self reflective. I have to ask you, there’s this new headline on the Daily Beast saying your company’s in trouble. Is this related to [your] point about people not talking to each other? That you want to create a media company, and there’s not interest?”
Beck stared for several moments across his living room. He laughed briefly. He said, “No!” And then his hand drifted over his lapel, and he unhooked his microphone.
“I think that’s the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard,” said Beck, who had once asked his listeners whether he should kill the liberal filmmaker Michael Moore himself, or hire an assassin to do it.
Beck rambled for a bit about other topics before completing his walkout.
“I’m sitting here ready to talk to you about the detaining of children and parents, and trying to break families apart (something that has been happening since Janet Reno! that’s why it went to the Supreme Court in the first place, with Janet Reno!) It’s been happening. We want to stop it, and you want to play those games.”
And then he stood up and left the camera frame, leaving Stelter asking an empty fireplace: “What game did I just play?”
CNN put up the graphic the network had prepared before Beck walked out. It was an excerpt from the Daily Beast article: “Glenn Beck’s Media Empire Implodes. Again.”
“Frankly, I thought Glenn deserved a chance to address those reports,” Stelter said. “I hope he comes back and talks about it.”
If history is any guide, he probably will.
Selk writes for the Washington Post.