THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is Glenn Beck the Future of Television 'News'?

Welcome to the "fear chamber" or "doom room," home to Fox News Channel's political commentator and television news host, Glenn Beck.

Beck has become a media phenomenon. The radio DJ-turned-television host has attracted a remarkable following, resulting in a popular radio show, three New York Times best-selling books and a television program that has made him the object of scorn and praise alike.

No scripts or teleprompters seem to be necessary in the "doom room." Beck's off-the-cuff, extemporaneous and emotive style have rocketed his 5 pm, EST, television news show on the Fox News Channel to the third-most-watched cable news show running over all.

If the medium of television has the unique ability to capture viewers' attention, then for better or worse, Glenn Beck has mastered the medium. And as the ratings make clear, audiences find his show to be compelling, entertaining and engaging.

What exactly makes Glenn Beck's show so appealing to his fans?

Like Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes in Elia Kazan's 1957 film A Face in the Crowd, Beck has a special knack for captivating viewers via the medium of television. In fact, Beck emulates Rhodes' offhand, improvisatory approach and charismatic ability to draw in audiences.

Utilizing his storytelling ability, one that is often couched in high humor and was honed during his years in radio, Beck has managed to create an informal, opinionated and seemingly spontaneous program. But Beck's unrehearsed modus operandi often lands him in hot water. For example, commenting on the controversial arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Beck claimed on-air that President Obama has a "deep-seated hatred for white culture." He also accused the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of operating concentration camps in the U.S., which turned out to be inaccurate.

Beck's approach to news, which he describes as the "fusion of enlightenment and entertainment," has garnered mixed reviews. Some viewers perceive Beck's outbursts as bold, truthful rants that need to be part of the public dialogue. Others, however, view his harangues as unwarranted, incendiary ploys to attract attention and alienate certain groups.

The appeal of Beck's program has a lot to do with his down-to-earth, self-deprecating demeanor ("You've never met a more flawed guy than me," he insists). Bill O'Reilly describes Beck as "just a guy," one whose ordinariness and modest upbringing clearly make him more easily relatable to the average American. And Beck reinforces this impression by avoiding a cranky or pretentious attitude and speaking with--rather than down to--his audience.

With his lucid, lowbrow delivery of news and opinion, Beck comes across as folksy, and his personal biography reinforces this impression. As a recovering alcoholic and recent convert to Mormonism, Beck's on-air rants read on camera like genuine frustrations fueled by a history of personal setbacks. His emotive, rousing tirades against the government, special interest groups and corruption echo the anger and disillusionment shared by many working-class Americans.

Some argue that Beck, a "gifted entrepreneur of angst in a white-hot market," is merely following in a long tradition of paranoia-peddling dating back to the Depression era. For example, during the tumultuous 1930s, radio evangelists such as Father Coughlin catered to the fears and suspicions of Americans who felt marginalized and disenfranchised. Beck's own program segments, titled "Constitution Under Attack" and "Economic Apocalypse," among others, certainly resonate with Americans who are nervous about the current state of affairs in our country.

Indeed, Beck's at-times tearful tirades, fusion of moral lessons, indignation and apocalyptic view of the future stand in stark contrast to the deadpan hosts of other news programs and strike a nerve with viewers deeply concerned with the status quo. With his "9-12 Project," Beck even goes so far as to put forth values and principles that every concerned citizen should emulate to restore America to its original purpose. The project goals are straightforward: citizens are to embody values such as honesty, humility, charity, sincerity and gratitude. Moreover, Beck extols principles regarding the role of government, family and religion.

Yet Beck refutes the notion that he is a pastor or preacher by emphasizing his faults and imperfections. Like a savvy televangelist, however, he manages to get his message across, and that message both proselytizes and galvanizes his viewers.

Clearly, Glenn Beck is not your typical teleprompter-reading news host. Beck admitted to CBS anchor Katie Couric that he was not a journalist, yet he disseminates news, information and opinions to a large portion of the American populace. What is he, then, if not a journalist?

Beck seems to borrow heavily from a variety of trades, functioning as a quasi-comedian, actor, news host, journalist, radio disc jockey, entertainer, author and preacher, just to name a few. He can be as funny and entertaining as the Comedy Channel's satirical hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but he also possesses the gravity and moral certitude of a religious pastor. With his news program as a platform, Beck is able to manipulate two of the most basic human emotions, laughter and anger, and navigates between them in a way that is at once compelling and exploitative.

More so than most journalists and news hosts, Glenn Beck knows how to effectively sell the news to his audience. Moreover, he uses the medium of television to make the process of news-gathering simultaneously entertaining and easy for his viewers. Of course, any semblance of objectivity goes out the window when a provocative and emotive character like Beck takes such a primetime stage.

If Beck is any indication of the future of television news, given his show's popularity and high ratings, we will most likely see an upswing in the amount of emotion and entertainment infused in news production at the expense of careful, objective, balanced and thoughtful analysis among journalistic sources.

But do most viewers want thoughtful analysis? Or do they want to be entertained?