Salena Zito

Asked why his new show on Fox News Channel is so popular, Glenn Beck is uncharacteristically muted: “I am just a guy …”

Beck is a guy, but "just" is not the word that most people would use to describe him. Just ask any fan or foe.

The radio talk-show host, former host of a CNN Headline News program, and now Fox host owes his success largely to an every-man appeal, spoken without a filter.

In other words, he forgets to use his “inside” voice.

“His success is pretty simple,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. “He puts on a consistently good show that is a great mix of culture and entertainment, with painstaking research to back it up.

“Plus, Beck’s show is personality driven. People genuinely like him.”

And some people genuinely dislike him.

His critics include Comedy Central’s Steven Colbert, who loves to ridicule Beck for shedding tears. He is not alone: Markos Moulitsas, founder of the liberal Daily Kos website, quipped on Twitter last week, “I also love to see Glenn Beck cry. Luckily, he delivers nearly daily.”

Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, a frequent cable-news guest, says Beck is popular because of his sharp edges. “It's not about politics or ideology, it's about personality,” he said, the same reason people tune into Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann.

“It's not about the news,” McMahon explained. “It’s about their take on the news.”

Beck has plenty to say about his take on the news. A conversation with him on current events pricks the senses – not because of his point of view, but because of the array of knowledge he releases in a stream of unfinished sentences.

He has a lot of respect for how Fox operates: “It is very entrepreneurial. They hold you responsible for what you do, make sure you are accurate and, after that, well, whatever.”

He dismisses the urban legend that his show caters to Republicans: “I am more mad at them than I am the Democrats. The proof is in the show and how many times I have had it out with various members of the GOP over some of their bonehead decisions.”

A registered independent, he was way ahead of the curve predicting that a populist revolt – such as the anti-Washington “tea parties” rolling across the country – was afoot. When gas prices soared last summer and the country unknowingly stood on the precipice of the banks, Detroit and the rest of the economy foundering, Beck said the country was "carrying-pitchforks" mad.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.