Salena Zito

It struck a nerve. Immediately, CNN’s offices filled with hundreds of pitchforks from listeners across the country.

“CNN security was not happy with us,” said one long-time Beck staffer.

(Oh, a reminder to his critics: The pitchfork moment was a recognition of how much people were frustrated with bloated government, and it came when President George W. Bush – a Republican – was in office.)

Beck is an emotional personality – and it's not a Margaret O’Brien cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat act – because certain issues just get to him. If the subject veers towards an act of patriotism, a silent heroic act, or a concern that the country is veering too far from the Constitution, Beck has no problem letting loose.

Right now, he enjoys an unheard-of audience of more than 2 million viewers in his 5 p.m. EST time slot, when most people are heading home from work, making dinner or shuttling kids to soccer practice.

“His format makes for compelling viewing,” Syracuse’s Thompson said. “Not everyone tuning in is head-nodding in agreement … some people are probably throwing things at their television.”

Beck takes none of this for granted, and does his best to keep two feet on the ground.

“I am just a guy…,” he repeats, his focus already shifting to another subject.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.