As Glenn Beck winds down his stormy and ultimately failed tenure as a FOX News gadfly, it’s important to understand his true legacy: Beck is a cruel and mean-spirited pathological liar who doesn't hesitate to denigrate his own family in his insatiable quest for fame and fortune.
Beck lied (and continues to lie) about the circumstances surrounding the death of his mother, the suicide of his brother-in-law, his alleged substance abuse problems, and his early days in radio. Why? Because Beck thrives on sharing the dark periods of his life, and if he has to embellish or fabricate the events in order to make his story more redemptive, then so be it. The bleak picture that Beck paints in his personal tale presents a narrative that owes infinitely more to the marketing and branding of “Glenn Beck Inc.” than it does to the truth.
Glenn Beck, on an almost daily basis, implores his audience to “tell the truth,” and the fact that his own bio is filled with exaggerations, half-truths, and outright lies doesn’t faze him. After all, this is a “man” who labeled his devout Catholic mother’s accidental drowning death a suicide, thereby accusing her of committing an unforgivable sin in the eyes of her beloved Church. Glenn Beck’s false account of the tragedy would seem to be the actual unforgivable sin, but in his fame-driven world, the end always justifies the means. If the memory of Mary Beck has to be destroyed so that her only son can sell more books, it’s a small price for Beck to pay.
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Mary Beck drowned on May 15, 1979 in the cold waters of Puget Sound, Washington. Beck (who was 15 at the time even though he continues to lie and say that he was 13) has said on countless occasions that she committed suicide. The Tacoma Police Department and U.S. Coast Guard investigations concluded that the drowning was accidental. This discrepancy has been widely reported in the past but since both of the witnesses to the drowning are dead, the veracity of Beck’s weepy claim of maternal suicide and abandonment have been largely unchallenged. But piecing together Beck’s own contradictory statements regarding his mother’s death, reveal solid evidence that he simply fabricated the story.
Addressing a separate family tragedy, Beck told a reporter from the Salt Lake City Deseret News that the suicide death of his brother (whom he referred to earlier and correctly as his brother-in-law and later as a stepbrother), in conjunction with the death of his mother, was a lethal double whammy that pushed the 15 year old future media icon over the edge and into a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abuse. The only problem with this story is that while based on a kernel of truth, it’s filled with cruel lies.
So when Glenn Beck tells his viewers that Woodrow Wilson was more evil than Josef Stalin and that Cass Sunstein is the most dangerous man in America should anyone believe him?
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For the 99.5% of Americans that wisely avoided The Glenn Beck Show, the Reader’s Digest version of his bio goes something like this:
Beck’s mother and brother-in-law took their own lives, sending the future media icon into a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abuse that would last for seventeen years. When he was a mere 15, the talented kid landed his first gig at a major radio station, KUBE in Seattle. But since he was too young to drive he would take the Greyhound Bus 90 miles one-way from Bellingham.
After high school he embarked on a vagabond journey that took him through the world of “Morning Zoo” radio in markets as small as Walla Walla, Washington and as large as Phoenix and Washington DC. According to Beck he was fired from nearly every job. All of this changed though when he found AA, the love of a good woman, and the Mormon Church. The rest, they say, is history.
This would indeed be a compelling story… if it was true..
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“Among other common lies, we have the silent lie -- the deception which one conveys by simply keeping still and concealing the truth. Many obstinate truth-mongers indulge in this dissipation, imagining that if they speak no lie, they lie not at all”. Mark Twain, from his essay, “On the Decay of the Art of Lying.”
Glenn Beck is a master of the art of the “silent lie”… the lie of omission. On numerous occasions Beck has been given the opportunity to correct the record when it comes to the many fabrications that populate his biography, but he always chooses to let the lies stand.
In Beck’s mind, the actual story of the gifted young man from Mt. Vernon, Washington, lacks the pizzazz and drama of your classic tale of redemption.
Glenn Beck reveals that he’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, with the nonchalance of someone who told you that he just ate an orange.
Beck shares the most intimate and dark details of his past. He emotes. He chokes up. He weeps. He makes visceral connections with his devoted listeners. He presents himself as an “everyman,” (albeit an everyman who earns $32 million a year). He looks people in the eye and says, “I’m one of you.” But Beck’s not “one of you” unless you happen to be a pathological liar, who is perfectly willing to dishonor the memories of your own family in order to increase TV ratings and sell books.
By Beck’s own account he’s a man who suffered great tragedy as a kid, grew up living the life of a “hopeless alcoholic and drug addict” and now calls himself a “recovering scumbag.”
From the CNN program “Nancy Grace,” May 5, 2006:
GRACE: … But a lot of people don`t realize where you`re coming from with your life history, and I`m referring specifically to your mom and brother.
BECK: I mean, I`ve grown up -- I`ve had a lot of experiences in my life. My mom committed suicide when I was 13; my brother has committed suicide. I`m an alcoholic in recovery, did drugs every day of my life for many, many years. I like to say I`m a work in progress, a recovering scumbag.
If he continues to tell this story Beck should consider dropping the word “recovering.”
The Death of Mary Beck
The facts behind Beck’s claim that his mother’s death was a suicide were first called into question by Alexander Zaitchik’s in an article that was published by Salon.com, on September 21, 2009. (Even though Beck continues to assert that he was 13 at the time of his mother’s death, he was 15).
Early one morning in May 1979, a 41-year-old divorcee named Mary Beck went boating in Washington's Puget Sound. Her companions on the expedition were a retired papermaker named Orean Carrol, whose boat she helped launch near the Tacoma suburb of Puyallup, and Carrol's pet dog. What happened next remains shrouded in morning mist, but among the crew, only the dog would survive the day.
The boat was recovered late that afternoon adrift near Vashon Island, just north of Tacoma. It was empty but for two wallets and the frightened animal. Mary Beck's body was discovered floating fully clothed nearby. Carrol's corpse washed ashore at the Vashon ferry terminal the following morning.
The county coroner found no evidence of violence on either body. Police investigators told Tacoma's News Tribune that the double drowning appeared to be a classic man-overboard mishap -- a failed rescue attempt in which both parties perished.
In a New York Times interview dated September 29, 2010, writer Mark Leibovich asked Beck how he knew that his mother’s death was a suicide. The slam-dunk answer that Beck should have given Leibovich is the same one that he told Rick Farrant of the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette seven years earlier: “My mother left a suicide note next to the family’s Crock Pot.” A handwritten note is prima facie evidence of suicide. No other explanation is needed. Nothing he could say would be more persuasive than “my mother left a suicide note.”
But Beck didn’t mention the existence of the suicide note to Leibovich. Instead he laid out a rambling, nonsensical, and unconvincing scenario that raised more questions than it answered.
“The man who drowned with her was that same abusive boyfriend, he said. Either the two of them jumped overboard at the same time, or Mary fell in and the Navy man jumped in to save her — and that was unlikely. Why? Beck said he been out on a boat with the boyfriend before, and the man preached to him never to jump in and save somebody who is drowning. It only endangers the would-be rescuer. Throw in a life preserver instead. Plus, the Navy man’s clothes were found neatly folded, along with his wallet and watch.”
How could Beck possibly know the sequence of events? He ignores the very real possibility that Mr. Carroll, when faced with the reality of his friend Mary Beck struggling in the cold waters of Puget Sound, ignored his own advice and dove in to save her. He also doesn’t consider the possibility that it was Carroll who fell into the water and Mary Beck dove in to save him. Beck’s claim that Carrol’s clothes were neatly folded and his wallet and watch were still in the boat, are puzzling non sequiturs.
The joint investigation, conducted by the Tacoma Police Department and the Coast Guard makes no mention of the suicide note. The note is not in the police file. On the day of Mary Beck’s death, the then 15 year old Glenn Beck told police officers that his “mother left to go fishing and never came home.” If a suicide note was subsequently discovered, Beck’s family never notified authorities. And if Beck knew of the note in 2003 why didn’t he mention it to the New York Times in 2010? It wasn’t true and he forgot his 2003 lie. If Mary Beck had written a suicide note, Glenn Beck would have remembered.
From GlennBeck.com, June 13, 2008.
“And I’m going to be real honest with you. My mom wasn’t mother of the year. My mother, my mother had real deep, deep problems. She was doing her best, but she left the family to deal with suicide when I was 13 years old.”
For Beck to say that “she left the family to deal with suicide” is another lie. Mary Beck didn’t leave her family. She left her husband. Big difference. She sought and was awarded custody of her two underage children, Michelle and Glenn, and moved with them to Puyallup, Washington after the divorce was final. She didn’t leave Glenn… in fact she went to court to keep him.
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“Tonight, I want to talk to you a little bit about the truth. It’s actually a pretty simple concept.” Glenn Beck, August 10, 2010
In the interview with Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette, Beck revealed to journalist Rick Farrant that he had a brother-in-law who committed suicide during the same time period as Mary Beck’s death. However, in subsequent interviews and comments, Beck referred to the male suicide victim as his brother instead of his brother-in-law. To further confuse matters, the most widely reported versions of the event claim that the person was Beck’s stepbrother.
The process of determining exactly who the “male relative” was that took his own life severely challenged Beck’s assertion that “the truth is a pretty simple concept.”
The following version of events appears dozens of times in pieces written about Beck, including his “official” Wikipedia article and there is no evidence that Beck or his PR people have ever attempted to correct or clarify the conflicting record.
“After their mother's death, Beck and his older sister moved to their father's home in Bellingham, Washington, where Beck graduated from Sehome High School in June 1982. In the aftermath of his mother's death and subsequent suicide of his stepbrother, Beck has said he used "Dr. Jack Daniel's" to cope.”
In the Journal Gazette piece, Mr. Farrant wrote:
“But the same year he started in radio, his alcoholic mother, Mary, left a suicide note by the family's crock pot and drowned herself in a bay near Tacoma.
Later, one brother-in-law would commit suicide in Wyoming and another would have a fatal heart attack in the same bay where Beck's mother perished.
Beck, like his mother, became an alcoholic (and a drug user), burying his insecurities and anger over his mother's death in copious amounts of Jack Daniels.”
Beck had discussed the death of his mother as far back as March 17, 2000 but the Journal Gazette interview may have been his first public reference to the suicide of his brother-in-law. Farrant’s article implies but does not explicitly state that the two events happened within a short time span.
On November 25, 2006, Glenn Beck spoke to Lynn Arave of the Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Arave wrote:
He (Beck) is a self-described reformed alcoholic and drug addict. And there's more darkness in his past -- his mother committed suicide when Beck was 13, and his brother also committed suicide.
In the aftermath of those two family tragedies, Beck said he used "Dr. Jack Daniels" to cope. That led to his alcoholism and drug use and also his divorce from his first wife.
In this piece, written three years after Farrant’s article, Beck identified the victim of the second suicide as his brother, rather than his brother-in-law. Arave’s article makes a clear point that both suicides contributed to Beck’s substance abuse problems.
To resolve the discrepancy between “brother-in-law” and “brother,” I contacted both Mr. Farrant and Mr. Arave. In both a phone conversation and email exchange Mr. Farrant told me:
“Had I acquired the information by some other means, I would have attributed it to the source, especially since it is so sensitive. Then I would have asked Glenn about it. Another piece of supporting evidence: Glenn told me he read the article and liked it. He did not dispute a single thing in the article”.
In an email response to my query, Mr. Arave stated:
“I interviewed Beck for 45 minutes on the phone to put that story together. Beck really scrutinized the article, because he was headed to Salt Lake the following week to meet with some LDS General Authorities.
The only thing he changed (and the article includes this change) was a single word.
I had originally written that Beck had said he was God's most IMPORTANT child, when he really said most IMPERTINENT child.
Even my notes have most “impertinent” child written down, I had just mistyped “important” for the word. That's quite a mistake I originally made. Other than that, Beck approved everything else, so I'd say you can trust the article as much or more than anything that's out there on him.”
From a November 24, 2008 article that Beck himself posted on GlennBeck.com:
“This note could have been written by me in 1995. It could have been written for me in 1984. I had two serious bouts with Depression that went, and my mother committed suicide, my brother I lost to suicide. I understand it. I get it. If I would have gone then, I convinced myself, ‘Gee, I’m not good for anything; I just keep hurting people, everybody I meet, everything I touch.’”
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Brother, stepbrother or brother-in-law?
Glenn Beck never had a brother. According to public documents, William and Mary Beck were married in 1956 in Everett, Washington, 30 miles north of Seattle. They had three children; Coletta, Michelle, and Glenn. This was the first marriage for both. According to one of Glenn Beck’s relatives, who requested anonymity, neither Mary nor Bill brought any children into the marriage.
In 1977 they divorced, citing that the marriage was irretrievably broken. Mary Beck was awarded custody of Michelle and Glenn. Coletta, who was of legal age at the time, was not a party to the child support or custody issues.
During this same time period William Beck moved north to Bellingham, Washington and on September 30, 1978 he married Dee (last name withheld). Dee had a 14-year old son named Jeff from her prior marriage. Dee and her first husband divorced in 1975 and divorce records indicate that Jeff, 10 at the time, was their only child.
In 1979, immediately after the death of Mary Beck, Michelle and Glenn moved to Bellingham to live with William, his new wife Dee, and her son Jeff. Jeff is Glenn Beck’s only stepbrother and he is very much alive and living in the Bellingham area.
Sadly, it turns out that Glenn Beck did have a brother-in-law (name withheld) who took his own life. So was this the tragic event, along with the suicide of his mother that propelled the teenaged Beck into his long, dark period of drug and alcohol abuse?
No it wasn’t.
The death of Glenn Beck’s brother-in-law took place on June 15, 2003… 24 years after the death of Mary Beck. Beck was 15 when his mother drowned and 39 when his brother-in-law died.
The death of his brother-in-law occurred eight years after Beck took his last drink, smoked his last joint, and snorted his last line of coke. By 2003 Beck had published his first bestseller, “The Real America,” his nationally syndicated radio program was growing by leaps and bounds, and he was married to Tania, the love of his life. He also had embraced the Mormon faith, which culminated with his baptism into the church.
The death was no doubt a devastating loss for Beck, but for him to falsely link it to his own alleged substance abuse problems, displays a heartless disregard for both the truth and the dignity of his own family. But apparently Beck sees nothing wrong with co-opting a family crisis in order burnish his phony credentials as a man who has seen the depths of hell, and found his way to a 5:00 pm time slot on Fox News.
Tim Hattrick, Beck’s colleague at KOY-FM in Phoenix, told me, “You could never talk about anything, and I mean anything with Beck without him trying to figure out how to somehow work it into the show.”
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The Lies Surrounding Beck’s First Paid Gig
Glenn Beck has often shared the story of when he sent his audition tape to KUBE Radio in Seattle, at the ripe young age of 15. KUBE management, not aware of Beck’s youth and inexperience, were impressed enough with the tape to give the kid a shot. He worked weekend shifts and because he was too young to drive, he had to take the Greyhound Bus to Seattle and sleep on KUBE’s conference room floor. In later interviews Beck would state that his father drove him the ninety miles to Seattle. It doesn’t matter which way Beck tells the story; both versions are false.
According to Beck’s Sehome High School friend and classmate Pat Wolken, Beck was 17, not 15, when KUBE hired him. Wolken said, “Glenn got that job in the summer between our junior and senior years. When I read that he said that he took the Greyhound Bus I laughed my head off. Glenn had a car and he drove to Seattle. Also, when he went down to Seattle he stayed at one of his relatives.” The fact that Beck drove to KUBE’s studios is corroborated by Beck classmate Marcus Purnell.
Proving Wolken’s claim that Beck was 17 and not 15 when he began the job is the fact that KUBE Radio didn’t exist until March 17, 1981, just weeks before the summer between Beck’s junior and senior year and a month after Beck’s 17th birthday. Before that the station was known as KBLE-FM, and presented a Christian format.
On the surface this seems like a harmless lie but it goes to Beck’s inability to accept the events of his life as is without trying to make them seem more compelling.
Glenn Beck’s phony teenaged drinking problem.
Paula Zahn began a March 15, 2007 segment of her CNN show “Paula Zahn Now” with the following:
“We're devoting a whole hour to addiction and one of my colleagues has a remarkable story of his own to tell. Headline Prime's Glenn Beck started drinking and doing drugs when he was just about 13, just after his mother, an addict herself, committed suicide. He smoked pot every day between the ages of 13 and 30. And then his life started to unravel. His doctor told him he would die within six months if he didn't change. I recently spoke with him about his struggle in a very raw and emotional interview.”
This is another of many times that Beck has been given the opportunity to correct the record on his age at the time of his mother’s death, but declined to do so. In his latest book, “The 7” which was published in January, 2011, he not only sticks with the lie but repeats it four times.
While Beck almost certainly developed substance abuse problems later in life, they didn't exist when he was a kid or young adult, according to high school classmates and a colleague at Y95 radio in Phoenix.
Sehome High School classmate and former Beck roommate Marcus Purnell said that Beck was a very occasional user of marijuana. Purnell said, “He talks about how he was so addicted to pot and drinking. The reality is that isn’t true. He used pot occasionally on weekends, in moderation… it was the seventies and eighties. Glenn did not by any means have a problem. He was very straight-laced compared to the other students at Sehome and he took great pride in that.”
Purnell continued, “So again here’s another situation where [Beck] took something and used it to his advantage by playing the victim and aligning himself with people, which he does very well. He makes them feel comfortable with him, while he’s feeling victimized, so they can put him on a pedestal as someone who knows how to solve the problems of the world. He’s always played the victim role. Nothing has changed.”
Andy Somers was another one of Glenn Beck’s high school friends. “Glenn’s focus was always on excellence and how he presented himself and in the way that he sold himself… how others perceived him,” Somers said. “In high school he bought a small two-seater sports car. He wanted to be perceived as this dashing kind of guy”.
When asked about Beck’s alleged substance abuse problems Somers said, “I never knew him to drink. He was a “Biff”… preppie… very much into projecting that image. I’d be very surprised if he was ever an alcoholic. As far as drugs, in high school he didn’t do much of anything and I would have known because I did pretty much everything. There may have been a time when he got high in my presence but I don’t remember it. He always came across as pretty straight-laced. He never hung out with the stoners.”
Somers lost a girlfriend to a drug overdose. “I’ve dealt with people with serious drug and alcohol problems all my life. I know what those people are like. Glenn isn’t one of them. If he ended up with a drug problem it certainly wasn’t happening in high school.”
In 1988, when Beck was 24 and supposedly up to his neck in drinking and drug problems, he went to work for Y95 radio in Phoenix. His partner was a local man named Tim Hattrick. I asked Hattrick about Beck’s substance abuse problems. “I never saw any evidence of drug or alcohol use,” Hattrick said. “Beck wouldn’t let anything get in the way of his focus, his drive, his ambition. I spent a lot of time with him both at the studio and away from the studio. My wife and I used to get together with him and Claire (Beck’s first wife)… go to dinner. He never even had a glass of wine because he never wanted to wake up with a hangover.”
Alcoholics and drug addicts are very adept and masking or hiding their disease but they don’t live in a vacuum. It would have been impossible for a 15 year old Glenn Beck to be high and drunk every day without the knowledge of his friends and colleagues.
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Glenn Beck sells the sizzle not the steak and somewhere along the way he came to the conclusion that his life story just didn’t have enough sizzle. “My brother-in-law took his own life eight years after I got clean and sober,” isn’t nearly as theatrical as Beck’s version of the story.
“I drove my own sports car to my gig in Seattle when I was 17,” doesn’t pack the same punch as “I got hired when I was 15 and had to take the Greyhound Bus 90 miles one-way to work.”
When you’re selling the public stories of faith and redemption, the number one rule is, “Ordinary doesn’t sell.”
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Glenn Beck, like nearly every other person on the planet, has suffered misfortune in his life, but unlike the vast majority of his fellow Americans, he has also experienced phenomenal success. While he no doubt possesses more than his share of inner-demons, by all accounts he’s living the life that he always dreamed of.
According to Purnell, Beck’s “lifelong goal was to make it big in radio and become rich and famous.” Mission accomplished.
Beck (or his ghostwriter) wrote in, “The 7”:
When I turned eight she [Mary Beck] gave me a collection of comedy and drama productions from the 1930’s and ‘40’s called “The Golden Age of Radio.” I became mesmerized by how the words on those albums created pictures in my mind.”
According to various biographies, Beck listened to those records constantly. During long afternoons and late evenings the gifted kid from the Skagit Valley holed up in his bedroom and honed his craft. He studied the masters. He developed a flare for the dramatic. He listened. He learned how to be creative. He idolized Orson Welles and wanted to be just like him when he grew up. He developed his own voice. He learned how to become Glenn Beck.
Or maybe that’s all bullshit too. I didn’t fact-check it.
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“We have to question with boldness and we have to stop taking listening and taking things at face value… even on this program. CHALLENGE YOURSELF DAMN IT! Read. Question what I tell you.” Glenn Beck, “The Glenn Beck Show,” January 24, 2011
“Question what I tell you.” Now that’s some damn good advice.