Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Three years ago, when I started this blog, I made a conscious decision that I was not going to provide Glenn Beck any more ink than the mass media already had. It had already become, by 2008, journalistically trendy to stir the pot by writing defamatory words about Beck. I tried to honor my commitment to myself not to write about him, no matter how objectionable his rhetoric or disgusting his persona. But casting caution to the wind, here it is – a full lead story on Glenn Beck. Sigh.

He is, after all, the most extreme broadcast character America has seen or heard since Dr. Laura Schlesinger (below, left). Schlesinger, you will recall, unceremoniously ended her own career by indulging in her now infamous “nigger, nigger, nigger” rant, live on air in 2010. Schlesinger resigned soon after. But Beck has been hanging on for quite some time now. It was way back in 2009 when he called President Obama a racist who had “exposed himself as a guy” with a “deep seated hatred of white people.”

This happened on July 28, 2009. By the first week in August,, Procter & Gamble and Progressive Insurance, three of Beck’s major advertisers had pulled out of his show. What followed was the snowballing of cancelled advertisers, which ultimately numbered just under 300. Yet Fox saw fit to retain Beck’s services until this past month, when they finally, and mercifully, deleted him from the airwaves. However, even if his face is no longer visible every afternoon on television, his voice is heard daily on radio. And since losing his television show, the vitriol he espouses on his radio show has hit new lows, even for him.

This week, after the tragic shootings at the youth camp in Norway, Beck saw fit to compare the victims to “Nazi youth.” Listen:

Aside from the obvious poor taste he exhibits here, his unseemly comments are an affront to the families of all of those young people who were assassinated. And that was, without any doubt, Beck’s mission. Now that he no longer has access to millions of viewers every time the little red light blinks on the camera, Beck is desperately amping up his rhetoric on the radio. Essentially, he is begging people to listen to him by saying the most outrageous words he can muster.

What we see when we watch or listen to Beck is a man who craves attention in an almost sociopathic fashion. In February of this year Beck called reformed Judaism “radicalized Islam.” This was also the year that Beck feigned vomiting, on the air, when he saw a public service spot about skin cancer in which Megan McCain was supposedly nude (right). That was just after he encouraged people to leave their churches if the clergyman mentioned the words “social justice.” Just last month Beck warned his audience that Obama is out to “de-develop” America and cut average income to $14,000/year. That was the same program in which he said Obama is more corrupt than Richard Nixon and might kill 10 percent of the U.S. population.

Aside from the obvious extremism and lack of factual material, Beck’s on-air persona has certainly cheapened broadcasting in a way no one else has in recent memory. His audience seems to eat it up. But statistics show he is preaching to the choir. According to Quantcast, a company that measures audience traffic and characteristics, Beck’s audience on Clear Channel Radio is 95 percent white, with the largest contingent over the age of 50. Sixty percent of his listeners are male. Beck’s TV audience had actually been cut in half over the past three years, according to Nielsen, from a high of about 2.8 million viewers to a closing audience of 1.6 million.

As usual, one could surmise the numbers tell the story. But do they? One and a half million people is still a lot of people, and how many more do they influence or represent who were not home in the afternoon to listen to Beck’s inane ranting? The history of the broadcast industries in this country suggests that audiences perceive on-air personalities as powerful. (Remember Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America?”)
Entertainers are seen as powerful in that the audience looks up to them in a socio/cultural fashion. But people like Beck, who present themselves as more journalist than entertainer (although he is clearly not a journalist) are often perceived as knowledgeable, wise and authoritative. That above-mentioned choir that Beck amassed over the years showed up in the thousands last year when Beck summoned them to Washington for his “Restore Honor” rally (above, left). He has followers. And we all know how dangerous it can be when a true extremist has followers. They drink the damn Kool-Aid.

At a minimum, Beck is second only to Ann Coulter in his disrespect for Americans. After all, it is he who said, “You know it took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims’ families…When I see the families on television, I’m like, oh shut up…I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.” But at an extreme, Beck’s rhetoric is incendiary at a time in America when masses of unemployed and marginalized citizens are easy prey for a preacher of paranoia and doom. He is an absolute case study in abuse of the First Amendment, and use of the airwaves to promote a personal agenda. His agenda is attention. He lives for it.

Beck’s self- described American hero, Orson Welles (below, right) was in his own way an extremist, but he made it clear he was not political and his mission was drama. Beck, on the other hand, would have you believe his mission is saving America from itself. In the end, Beck is a fraud who needs a spotlight more than he needs clean air to breathe, who craves financial and material wealth to an extreme, who says whatever it takes to force the public to focus on him, rather than the issues, and whose own megalomania will most likely be his undoing. But on the road to that end, he remains inordinately influential in an oversize segment of middle America. It is that audience that seems vulnerable to uninformed rhetoric that assaults the imperfect system that nonetheless offers them the most freedom of any country on earth.

Glenn Beck’s shtick is the stuff of great performance art. Webster’s defines performance art: “A nontraditional art form often with political or topical themes that typically features a live presentation to an audience or onlookers.” Cambridge says this: “A type of theatrical entertainment in which the artist's personality and the way in which they create and develop their ideas form part of the show.” Sounds harmless enough, right? That is, until it becomes propaganda, and until it works to the detriment of those who view it. Glenn Beck’s curtain needs to come down, the sooner the better.

1 comment:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

Remarkable that you just wrote about Beck - that you held your tongue for this long.

His remarks about the youth of Norway were horrific. Reading praise of him for disparate groups is confusing. This in particular I found offensive. It would be like praising Ms. Bachmann for taking in foster children while ignoring her comments about so many other things and people.

Beck's influence does continue, Paul. He, like Palin, will always find a platform. Hate just seems to do that.