If you asked me a year ago when we were hosting the 2016 Upfront Summit the odds of Glenn Beck speaking at the next Summit I would have emphatically said ZERO.
The first sign that there might be more to Glenn Beck than the impressions I had had from occasionally watching a clip from his show was when he wrote a very thoughtful piece about the Facebook algorithm and I was so impressed with what he had written that I had to publicly acknowledge it at the time on May 20th, 2016.
— Mark Suster 👊🏼 (@msuster) May 20, 2016
During the election of 2016 I started noticing that Glenn Beck was speaking out against Donald Trump and the alt-right and had apologized for his role in helping divide the country through the increasingly fragmented and polarized media. After the election I watched him on a segment of Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” and realized there was more to Glenn Beck than I had imagined.
So when I began programming for the Upfront Summit 2017 event and specifically sought speakers to address the issues of our time: Protection of the Fourth Estate, protection for women’s rights, combating “fake news,” combating online bullying — I looked at my line-up of mostly left-of-center voices and realized I needed to reach out to Glenn Beck and I enlisted my friend Brent Weinstein from UTA to help me.
I knew it was a bit of a risk because while I had watched his evolution I wasn’t sure how the crowd was going to react to Glenn, but honestly I felt it was even more brave of Glenn to accept my invitation knowing full well he wasn’t speaking to a home-court advantage.
On stage Glenn Beck blew the audience away with his candor, his charm, his incisiveness and his challenge to all of us to define our value system and figure out what role we’re going to play in trying to make things better.
When Glenn asked the crowd of more than 800 VCs, entrepreneurs and technology executives how many of them hated him or thought they hated him there were many raised hands. He knew this of course before he came. To give you a sense of how intimidating that must have felt here’s a shot of the room.
By the end of the talk I can assure you if he had asked the question again there would likely have been almost no hands in the air. And as somebody who spent considerable time with him back stage and also watched him talk and discuss topics with other leaders back stage I can tell you he was truly a gentleman who sought to hear others’ perspectives and respectfully offer his own — even when different.
After a few minutes backstage he asked if he could just go out into the main entranceway and talk with anybody who wanted to talk with him and so Glenn, his wife and their team pulled up in a couch in the conference lounge area sat and invited anybody to ask anything.
Glenn Beck owned his past communication style and he wants to move beyond that. If we can’t accept somebody who reaches out like this with open arms even if we don’t agree on policy then we have no hope for healing. I for one am ready for the embrace.
Here is the full interview (I highly, highly recommend — but you really need to watch all 25 minutes because it really gathers steam throughout) and I’ll provide just a few notes below if you’re in more of a rush to give you a sense of why you need to watch this interview. I truly wish we had given him an hour.
We will publish each interview one-by-one of the next several weeks.
On the need to talk with people who aren’t part of your immediate social circles, “Maybe it’s time for us to be uncomfortable and get out of our own bubbles” — which is the reason he attended the Upfront Summit.
On admitting some of his mistakes and showing humility when Brent asked him, “How did you go from being so revered to having half of the country find you scary?” Glenn responded, “Lots of mistakes on my side… One of the reasons I left Fox is I could sense that I was doing more damage than good.”
On how the media chops you up and creates an image of you that is digestible to their audience and thus you become a caricature rather than a person, “Am I the guy that half the country thinks I am? .. I’ve turned myself into a cartoon character. All you know is from clips from YouTube. You have no idea who I am or what I believe. We’ve reduced our relationship down to 140 characters. I go to Medium and write something that is very detailed — all they read is the headline and then bash me for what they THINK I said or what they think I DIDN’T say!”
On typecasting the worst of our respective parties as the ones who wreak havoc, in Milo Yiannopoulos vs. Occupy Oakland … “There’s no good guys here. I mean who are we rooting for? … The media portrays every conservative like Milo and every Democrat like Occupy and that’s not true. I don’t know any conservatives who are as bad as Milo and I don’t know any Democrat friends who would burn a Starbucks to protest hate speech.”
On his sincere desire to have a dialog with the Left or with the people in the audience who previously found him unpleasant, “I apologize if I hurt you. I apologize if it made things worse.”
Most importantly, on finding issues that both sides care about rather than debating the people (leaders) of our party, he discussed his new relationship with Samantha Bee, “What did we have in common? We both cared deeply about the refugee problem. She had no idea that in the last 2 years I had raised $16 million for refugees and we had personally moved 4,000 refugees out of Iraq and Syria — mainly to Australia because the United States wouldn’t take them.” And then he talked about his charity to stop the sex slave trade in Thailand and they’re soon traveling out there together to raise money and awareness and do something about it.
Please watch. At a minimum whatever you think at the end I think you’ll come to the conclusion that every single person I spoke to at the Upfront Summit felt — Glenn is a passionate person who truly cares about making our country better and is willing to apologize and be vulnerable if it has a chance of making things better. And for that, Glenn, I am truly grateful and hope to follow your leadership.
** Note: my quotes above are very close approximates to what was said rather than verbatim for the simplicity of writing and clarity.