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Glenn Beck isn't a politician – at least not officially – but he's doing quite well in the polls.
The right-wing weeper and his bosses at Fox News scored big in unrelated surveys that together reveal divisions along partisan lines not only in politics, but in news and entertainment – all of which are becoming increasingly intertwined.
A survey by Harris Interactive found Beck to be the country’s second-most popular TV personality, placing behind only Oprah Winfrey. While Winfrey has been a list mainstay for years, this marked Beck's debut showing.
Meanwhile, a survey by Public Policy Polling found that Beck's employer, Fox News, is the country’s most-trusted news network, Politico reports. CBS and ABC, which don't have pundit-driven cable new arms, placed in a virtual tie for least trusted.
Now polls aren’t a perfect measure – as E.B. White said, “Although you can take a nation's pulse, you can't be sure that the nation hasn't just run up a flight of stairs.” But let's take a stab at the possible meaning of these two surveys, both of which touch on Fox ("House" star Hugh Laurie and Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly also made the top 10 TV favorites list).
We're seeing an increasing melding of punditry, politics and entertainment – Fox is home to commentators who are presidential candidates in waiting (Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee – and yes, even Beck whose name has been floated for office and who recently announced his “100 Year Plan” for America).
They’re all entertainers: Huckabee is witty. Palin can charm and outrage. Watching Beck is to never know what absurdity will pour from his mouth, while guessing when the tears will flow.
So maybe it's not a shocker that Beck's drawing a crowd. What is surprising, though, is shifts in perceptions of what constitutes "fair and balanced" reporting, on all sides of the spectrum.
Or, as Public Policy Polling President Dean Debnam told Politico: "A generation ago you would have expected to place their trust in the most neutral and unbiased conveyor of news. But the media landscape has changed, and now they're turning more toward the outlets that tell them what they want to hear."
What people want to hear reflects larger divisions in the country.
Nearly three-quarters of registered Republicans said they trusted Fox News as opposed to 30 percent of Democrats. The partisan split extended to the TV personality realm: Winfrey, who used her platform to support President Obama's campaign, was favored by self-described Democrats and moderates.
Beck placed first among Republicans and independents. Political satirist Jon Stewart, who came in sixth overall, was the top pick of liberals. (It's unclear how the brilliant and acerbic Dr. House plays politically, but Laurie was No. 1 in the West).
So we're two countries, not only when it comes to politics, but news and even favorite TV personalities. Glenn Beck is a big star in this skewed universe, where news is opinion that people want to hear and all of it is supposed to pass for entertainment.
Who's crying now?
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.