What Keeps Glenn Beck Up at Night?

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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.

David Choi

Stephen Dubner having something sympathetic to say about Glenn Beck would have lost him any credibility he had if he hadn't already thrown it away with SuperFreakonomics.


Glenn Beck makes some sense sometimes.



It's not that Glenn Beck is ignorant, it is just that so much of what he knows is not true.

Larry Chamblin

# 2, J: The original Know Nothings were not, by definition, stupid. The term came from their willful, intentional bigotry and rejection of immigrants. Asked about the secret party, a member would answer, "I know nothing about it." Your confusion between ignorance (real or pretended) and stupidity is a problem in political dialogue today. I do not believe Beck is stupid. But I do believe he is selectively ignorant and that is a strategy of his style of political entertainment. But he is trouble for the country because so many people follow him--through ignorance or stupidity.


A lot of the Fox anchors are doing the same thing --- for example Gretchen Carlson whom Jon Stewart pointed out is constantly pretending to be an idiot who has to look up words like "czar" and even "ignoramus", yet graduated from Stanford with honors, attended Oxford, and is a classical violinist. It's a terrible, manipulative scam being played out in front of the American people; hard to imagine there's any other motive than simply profit.

Hal Wilson

Before we throw such weighted terms around as "McCarthyism" and "manipulative" i would urge all readers from across the political spectrum to look at all viewpoints (and historical evidence as in the case with Joe Mac or for that matter Hitler) and then decide whether or not an opinion has any truth or relevance to how the world is ordered.

The genius of our society with its system of checks and balances as well as the rule of law is that truth and speech sometimes are aligned but neither the government (the State) nor the people can dictate what that truth is. We are a free people to decide with our feet, our wallets, our voice, and our ballot, what is right for us.

For me, I think what the Left really fears is that small voice in their head thinks that the Right is closer to the truth of what mankind is all about. What i think the Right most fears is that they are correct.

I do not think Beck is anymore destructive than Olbermann is. So long as both can compete openly let the people decide. If an Air America, or a MSNBC, or some newspapers fold then there still will not be reason to worry so long as the universities and the internet allow alternative voices freedom of speech.

Just dont force me pay for it.



who is this guy glenn beck? is he somebody important?


Nice job by poster #20 of believing what he wants to believe despite the evidence.


Beb, I guess you must've missed the article in the NYT's about how conservatives give more money to charity than liberals. So much for your "greedy" and "selfish" stereotype.

D.B. Cooper

Glenn Beck is no ignoramus - he just plays one on TV, like all of Fox's regular commentators (cf. Gretchen Carlson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gretchen_Carlson#Controversies)


This article has the tone of one self-promoter promoting another.



It's interesting how you guys manage to incur the wrath of these leftists without disagreeing with them, even implicitly, but merely by referencing a hot-button subject of theirs without explicitly stating that you agree with them.

You'd think with these responses that you had said global warming is an outright lie and Glenn Beck is a political genius whom you agree with on every issue.

You can tell it's not just their ideas that they're passionate about, but the assumption that they can intimidate people into treating every subject with the exact simplified click-buzz-whir response that they consider socially acceptable. Global warming? Doubters are irrational sub-humans. Glenn Beck? People who don't hate him are irrational sub-humans. Any conceptual, analytical talk about these subjects makes them insecure, because their beliefs about them aren't rested on actual understanding but their confidence that they can intimidate people into beliving anything other than those click-buzz-whir resposnes are socially unacceptable. Which you put into question every time you say "global warming, here's an unusual idea about it..." or "here's something you may not have known about Glenn Beck..."

You don't have to say you disagree with their views on Global Warming and Glenn Beck. You just have to talk about them without the same self-righteous cliche-filled anger, and the leftists hate you.

Keep on ignoring the smears Dubner and Levitt. Keep up the good work.



This man is so afraid of the future he talks about buying gold. And he loves America more than Obama, liberals or almost any one else. Yet he drives a high end brand new Mercedes?

When will the Fox viewer wake up and see what a ride they are being taken on. These guys are laughing all the way to the bank.


Also, looking at the picture, Beck is not even driving. He has a driver.

What man of the people!


Glen Beck stupid? Maybe. Glen Beck a flim flam man, ala Burt Lancaster in "The Rainmaker," who would regularly insult the intelligence of anyone in his audience who might happen to be thinking? Absolutely.


So what you're saying is...he's not really an aswipe, he just plays one on tv. It's the American way. Controversy sells.


This is hilarious. All of these commentors, who are so 'obviously' regular listeners of Beck, making fun of people who listen to Beck. They don't even realize when they are referring to themselves as stupid, paranoid, or un-educated. Priceless.


I see great parallels between the Glenn Beck crowd and the never-ending stream of tent-evangelists (now tele-evangelists) that have operated in America since its beginning (think Elmer Gantry). They are intelligent and charismatic individuals who have discovered they have a talent for manipulating the gullible. For both groups this invariably translates into a fat wallet.


I just listened to your show and I find it hilarious that the guy who is one of the persons most responsible for ratcheting up fear is on a show about how people can't accurately judge risk and fear things that are not statistically significant.

Did any of the meta-criticism rub off on good ol' Glenn?

Dan Freeman

Do you now realize the crazy, irrational, haters that make up the NY Times audience? You would do much better at BigGov.com or one of Breitbart's sites.