Glenn Beck rules the (cable news) world

The off-the-wall Fox News host is climbing fast up the ratings charts and now consistently beats most rivals.

Published March 16, 2009 11:05PM (EDT)

It's easy to dismiss Fox News host Glenn Beck -- heck, I've done it plenty of times myself. The man does, after all, come off as something of a crank: He's often wrong, he's frequently alarmist and he occasionally seems like he's, in Stephen Colbert's words, "an unstable individual." But the television and radio personality has rapidly ascended to a position where he can no longer just be waved away.

In fact, Beck has been dominating cable news recently. According to TVNewser's charts of Nielsen ratings, out of all the cable news networks, his Fox show has consistently placed second in the key demographic of viewers aged 25 to 54 over the past couple weeks, beating even Sean Hannity's and trailing only "The O'Reilly Factor." When it comes to total viewers, too, Beck's been cleaning up, generally placing third, just behind Hannity.

But Beck got his biggest audience numbers yet for a special he hosted on Friday, a special so ludicrous and over-hyped that Fox's own Shep Smith couldn't help but have a little fun at his colleague's expense.

But it paid off: That one episode of Beck's program got the highest ratings in the key demographic for the entire month of March so far. In total, TVNewser reports, "There were more viewers watching Beck's 5pm show than watched the entire prime time (8-11pm) lineups on CNN and MSNBC."

Given Beck's often apocalyptic worldview, especially since President Obama was inaugurated, I think it's fair to ask: What does his newfound popularity say about America and about Americans' current attitudes? I doubt the answer's one many of us want to hear.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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