Few of us had heard of Glenn Beck a few years ago. Now the conservative talk-jock is everywhere. His radio show reaches eight million people. He's performing live before sold-out crowds on a comedy tour.
He's had No. 1 bestsellers in both fiction and nonfiction -- plus a new book, "Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government" came out this week.
And now he's host of his own Fox News show, which, even though it airs in the ratings desert of late afternoon, has a bigger audience than every show on the other cable news channels.
Why is he so popular? Beck says it's because he really believes what he says. I don't buy that. Rachel Maddow and Lou Dobbs believe what they say, but their audience is a fraction of Beck's. I hope he's popular because of what he says, like: "Both parties only believe in the power of the party"; "if we get out of people's way, the sky's the limit"; and the answers to our problems "never come from Washington."
Much of the mainstream media despises Beck. "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart quipped, "Finally, a guy who says what people who aren't thinking are thinking." MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has repeatedly named Beck "worst person in the world," and one of his MSNBC colleagues compared his TV show to watching a "car accident." On "The View," Whoopi Goldberg called him "a lying sack of dog mess."
Some of his critics dislike Beck because they consider him a Republican lapdog, but he attacks both parties. He criticized the Bush administration's spending and bailout of AIG. He says that politicians from both parties are "lying to the people that they're supposed to serve," "flushing our country down the toilet for power" and ignoring the Constitution.
He points to the takeovers of General Motors and AIG as examples of government grabbing power it doesn't legitimately have. "We're giving our freedoms away," Beck says. "The American experiment was about freedom. Freedom to be stupid, freedom to fail, freedom to succeed."
Though Beck is a success now, he struggled for years with serious personal problems. His parents divorced when he was a teenager. "My mother was an alcoholic and a drug addict," he told me when I interviewed him for a "20/20" profile. She later committed suicide.
"When I hit 30, I was going down that same path. I tried for almost two years to stop drinking. I was a jerk. I fired a guy one time for bringing me the wrong kind of pen,"