What Keeps Glenn Beck Up at Night?

What Keeps Glenn Beck Up at Night?

A few weeks back, I was a guest on Glenn Beck‘s radio show. Something interesting happened before we went on the air. He noticed the book I was carrying — Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines, by the Berkeley physicist Richard A. Muller — and asked me about it. I endorsed it rather enthusiastically. He said it sounded like a book he’d like to read, so I went ahead and gave him my copy (and, yes, Dr. Muller, I ordered another one for myself).

A few days later, one of Beck’s producers e-mailed me to say that Beck too liked the book, and did I have any more recommendations? So I sent him a list, cobbled together from here, here, and from this blog. Then Beck read those books too.

This was the only time I’d ever done an interview and even had someone ask about the book I happened to have with me at the time, much less want to read it, and then read some others. I was pretty impressed. Beck has an awful lot of fans, but he has a lot of detractors too — and my sense is that those detractors have miscast him as a know-nothing villain.

As I was leaving that radio interview, we started talking about safety gear — football helmets, specifically, and how better helmets may lead to worse head injuries, since the extra layers of safety seem to produce more aggressive behavior. That’s when he mentioned his new car, a “death-proof” Mercedes, and he wondered if its amazing safety features were encouraging him to drive more recklessly. (It should be noted that he doesn’t have this new experimental Mercedes, which is apparently even closer to being truly death-proof.)

So I asked him if I could ride home with him one night in his car and talk about these issues. He agreed:

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Molly Webster Beck and Dubner in the “death-proof” Mercedes.

That interview wound up in our first Freakonomics Radio podcast (which you can get here at iTunes or here via RSS feed; by the way, it is currently the No. 1 podcast at iTunes, so … thanks!).

The podcast conversation focused on Beck’s car, but he is a pretty expansive guy, so we talked about quite a few other things as well — Beck’s own fears, rational and otherwise, and the one thing that keeps him up at night.

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  1. tim says:

    “detractors have miscast him as a know-nothing villain”

    The character he plays on his TV show is a know-nothing villain.

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  2. J says:

    “those detractors have miscast him as a know-nothing villain”

    The left’s belief that people who disagree with them are stupid and/or ignorant is arguably the right’s biggest advantage in politics.

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  3. Scott says:

    Tim is correct, there is a big difference between what Beck really believes and what his charachter believes. His Fox and radio show persona is a paranoid condensation of the worst aspects of American political culture. That character is a kind of perfomance art. Beck is laughing all the way to the bank. Or maybe he’s right and we should all buy gold from his advertisers before the Obama administration slaughters us all in the name of socialist collectivism (or something).

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  4. kip says:

    What is it with people at Fox News, when they go on the air they have to act like they are completely uneducated. They’re playing to an anti-intellectual crowd in order to make themselves famous, with no concern as to the consequences of their actions. How long can they call Obama a communist who is trying to destroy our country, before some nutjob decides to save the country by assassinating him. It’s one thing to disagree with him and criticize his policies. It’s quite another to paint him as an extremist Muslim terrorist from Kenya. These supposedly “grass roots” tea party movements are really just a massive marketing campaign by the Fox News corporation.

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  5. Beb says:

    I’m not sure the left views the right as stupid as much as selfish and greedy.

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  6. alan says:

    …and the right’s belief that they know where public opinion stands on issues is arguably the left’s biggest advantage in politics:

    http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/02/republicans-not-obama-more-often-on.html

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  7. Warren in CT says:

    I think of it as “wanton ignorance”, but it is supposed to be entertainment. Unfortunately, it plays into a certain laziness in those who seek simplistic resolutions to difficult problems. For many, it’s easier to complain than to work for a better world. To knowingly engage in this cheapening of the dialog, as is the case with many politicians as well as entertainers, is to abdicate any responsibility as a citizen. That is a burden on the rest of us.

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  8. PaulD says:

    For anyone interested in books about science recommended by top scientists, this is a goldmine:

    http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/bookshelf_byType_list.aspx?typeID=57&pageID=1

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