In late September, President Barack Obama conducted a series of five one-on-one White House interviews with reporters from CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and Univision. For some reason—perhaps he’s housing a secret civilian security force in the Roosevelt Room and doesn’t want any fair and balanced reporters snooping around—the president didn’t invite Fox to participate. For Glenn Beck, the host of the hottest show on cable news, this Oval Office slight offered an opportunity to provide some trenchant perspective. “Does the president consider Fox some sort of enemy?” he exclaimed, chortling with amiable resentment. “I mean, no, it can’t be that, because, no, he’ll sit down with our enemies. He’s even offered to sit down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And that guy, I mean, you call me nuts?”

The bit was Beck at his best: shrewdly self-marginalizing, bitingly funny, and executed with perfect timing. A radio veteran who got his first job in the business at the age of 13, Beck, it turns out, is also a TV showman on par with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But while America’s favorite fake newsmen have clear-cut identities as comedians, the question of how to categorize Beck is more perplexing.

When Beck was 8 years old, his mother gave him a record of old radio programs that included Orson Welles’ famous performance of War of the Worlds. Apparently the fictionalized news report of an alien invasion became a foundational text for him, an archetypal example of how you could create crazy, vivid, apocalyptic drama out of mere words. To pay tribute to Welles’ work, Beck starred in a live version of War of the Worlds that aired on his syndicated radio show on Halloween night in 2002. Shortly thereafter, an heir of the radio play’s author sued Beck and his producers for copyright infringement and won an injunction that prevents Beck from ever performing the play again.

Read More: By Greg Beato, Reason Magazine

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