What Motivates Glenn Beck?

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Dave Weigel has an interesting Q & A with Alexander Zaitchik, who’s in the midst of a publicity tour for his new Glenn Beck bio, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance. Zaitchik, whose book evolved from the must-read profile he penned last fall on the conservative talk show host, sees Beck as less of an ideologue than a shrewd self-promoter who realizes courting controversy is the easiest way to pry open checkbooks. Says Zaitchik:

Beck understands that controversy is the closest thing to a publicity perpetual-motion machine. He’s been courting controversy for decades. That’s the name of the game he learned in radio—get them talking about you, raise your profile—and it’s in his blood in a way it can only be for someone who has been fighting for his survival in ratings wars since he was a teenager. It’s all about being in the news, finding the next biggest stage on which to promote his shows and his sponsors. Beck loves it when people go after him for crying, or blog about silly questions like, “Did he really boil the frog?”

Back in Baltimore in the early ’90s, he crafted this whole extensive bit around hamsters and snakes in order to get PETA protesting in the station parking lot. He’s a positional marketing mastermind. It’s not a coincidence that the “third most listened to” show on talk radio is so well branded as being hosted by “the crying conservative with the chalk board and the Truth.” He knows exactly what he’s doing.

For his part, Weigel, who covers the conservative movement for the Post, says, “Would I recommend the book to Beck fans? It will tell them more than they’ve ever known about Beck, but it will challenge the premises of his stories and his crusades.” Somehow I suspect that’s not a conversation his fans are eager to have.