Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beck's World

There is perhaps no greater status signifier, no clearer guidepost of having arrived than to be featured on the cover of Time.

Of course, the headline "Mad Man" may mitigate the honor a bit.

Glenn Beck is suddenly hotter than a pistol, his ratings are soaring, and he is being hailed by many on the right and savaged by much of the left.

He was the chief cheerleader for last weekend's 9/12 protests. He forced the resignation of White House aide Van Jones. He has been pounding the drum on ACORN and those devastating hidden-camera videos of workers advising two undercover conservative activists on how to conduct a prostitution ring without getting caught.

And if he seems a little loco in the process, well, that probably helps at the box office.

Beck loudly proclaims his disdain for both parties, but the man who called President Obama a racist certainly seems to siding with the inflammatory wing of the conservative movement.

I interviewed Beck two years ago, on "Reliable Sources," when he was with Headline News. I asked him about his own interview with Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress: "What I feel like saying is, sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies, and I know you're not. I'm not accusing you of being an enemy. But that's the way I feel and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way."

I told Beck I found that "horribly offensive."

"I can appreciate that," he said. "It was a poorly worded question. And I apologize for a poorly worded question. However, I think we're all living in denial if we are really saying to each other that a -- a world that we live in now, where we can't -- where we have to shut up because of political correctness and we can't say Muslim extremists are bad, 10 percent of Islam is extreme and want to kill us."

So how much of a cultural force is the Fox News host becoming? He didn't grant Time an interview, but here's the piece--"Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?"--by David Von Drehle:

"No one has a better feeling for this mood, and no one exploits it as well, as Beck. He is the hottest thing in the political-rant racket, left or right. A gifted entrepreneur of angst in a white-hot market. A man with his ear uniquely tuned to the precise frequency at which anger, suspicion and the fear that no one's listening all converge . . .

"His fears are many -- which is lucky for him, because Beck is responsible for filling multiple hours each day on radio and TV and webcast, plus hundreds of pages each year in his books, his online magazine and his newsletter. What's this rich and talented man afraid of? He is afraid of one-world government, which will turn once proud America into another France. He is afraid that Obama 'has a deep-seated hatred for white people' -- which doesn't mean, he hastens to add, that he actually thinks 'Obama doesn't like white people.' He is afraid that both Democrats and Republicans in Washington are deeply corrupt and that their corruption is spreading like a plague. He used to be afraid that hypocritical Republicans in the Bush administration were killing capitalism and gutting liberty, but now he is afraid that all-too-sincere leftists in the Obama administration are plotting the same. On a slow news day, Beck fears that the Rockefeller family installed communist and fascist symbols in the public artwork of Rockefeller Center . . .

"Beck mines the timeless theme of the corrupt Them thwarting a virtuous Us. This flexible narrative often contains genuinely uncomfortable truths. Some days 'they' are the unconfirmed policy 'czars' whom Beck fears Obama is using to subvert constitutional government -- and he has some radical-sounding sound bites to back it up. Some days 'they' are the network of leftist community organizers known as ACORN -- and his indictment of the group is looking stronger every day. But he also spins yarns of less substance. He tells his viewers that Obama's volunteerism efforts are really an attempt to create a 'civilian national-security force that is just as strong, just as powerful as the military.' . . . In his recent instabook -- Glenn Beck's Common Sense, a huge best seller, with more than 1 million copies moved in less than four months -- he wrote, 'Most Americans remain convinced that the country is on the wrong track. They know that SOMETHING JUST DOESN'T FEEL RIGHT but they don't know how to describe it or, more importantly, how to stop it.' "

Oh, and this tidbit: Forbes estimates that Beck is making $23 million a year, "a ballpark figure confirmed by knowledgeable sources."

Wouldn't that tend to make you a little less mad?

I found the piece fair, though the advertiser boycott of Beck's program should have been mentioned. But Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell denounces it as "an apparent effort to woo the rightwing with a ludicrously 'balanced' treatment of equally dangerous and wacko 'ranting' coming from left and right.' "

The Time cover was batted around on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," as Mediaite reports.

"Scarborough summed up his thoughts. 'Glenn Beck's really taken off and despite the fact, maybe because of the fact, he said some very intemperate things,' he said. 'When you try to nail him down he'll go 'oh I'm just a rodeo clown.' Well this rodeo clown is making a lot of people very angry.'

"And Beck fans are sure to love this description from Mika Brzezinski. 'I will say that my reaction is one of real concern,' she said. 'I think it's because I feel like the conservative voice isn't being well-represented. That he's tapping into something that may not be so constructive in terms of raising the bar of the conversations and representing the conservative voice in an elegant way.' "

Oh, and Gawker has great behind-the-scenes footage of Beck looking weepy at a photo shoot.

A DNC ad about the "czars" issue is almost all footage of Beck. And CBN's David Brody debunks much of the indictment:

"The Obama administration is pushing back against conservative media outlets on the so called ' Obama Czars Controversy' and you know what? They have some legitimate points . . .

"Here's a simple fact: The Czar list compiled by Fox News and other outlets is just not fully accurate. They are listing people like Cass Sunstein, John Holdren and a few others as Czars but these folks have been confirmed by the Senate. That is significant because the main contention here is that these Czars run around unchecked and unaccountable to Congress. Their list shouldn't include them. If you want to make the argument that Sunstein and Holdren shouldn't be nominated by President Obama because of things they've either said or done in the past then fine but to add them to the Czar total is really misleading.

"Look, you can make the argument that the Obama administration has increased the number of so-called Czars and it has even concerned liberals like Senator Russ Feingold and Senator Robert Byrd. Still, if you want to bring credibility to your argument you need to get your facts straight. Conservative media outlets hurt themselves when the information they provide isn't the total picture. It may play well with Obama's staunch critics but doesn't the full truth matter?"

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