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Confronting the Five Smears in Time's Glenn Beck Cover Story

Posted on September 19 2009 4:36 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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With having been credited for pushing out 9/11 Truther and admitted communist Van Jones from the Green Jobs Czar position Glenn Beck is now the man to beat. Everyone from Media Matters to Color of Change to Keith Olbermann is looking to collect a Beck scalp.

With this exposure came a recent cover story in Time Magazine (see David Horowitz’s discussion of it here.) Despite Beck’s embrace of the story, Media Matters’ condemnation of it, and NewsBusters’ correct judgment that by and large it’s a fairly balanced piece there are still numerous smears in David Von Drehle’s article in need of rebuttal.

Smear #1: Beck is a conspiracist nutjob!

The old American mind-set that Richard Hofstadter famously called “the paranoid style” — the sense that Masons or the railroads or the Pope or the guys in black helicopters are in league to destroy the country — is aflame again, fanned from both right and left. Between the liberal fantasies about Brownshirts at town halls and the conservative concoctions of brainwashed children goose-stepping to school, you’d think the Palm in Washington had been replaced with a Munich beer hall.

Smear #2: Beck is akin to a revival of the John Birch Society!

Like William Jennings Bryan whipping up populist Democrats over moneyed interests or the John Birch Society brooding over fluoride, Beck mines the timeless theme of the corrupt Them thwarting a virtuous Us.

These two smears are really one in the same. Time is trying to associate Beck with the fringe elements of the Right which William F. Buckley Jr. sought to exclude from reasonable, respectable conservatism. I’ve blogged about how leftists frequently do this. Take the kook right elements and parade them around as though they represent Conservatism as a whole. All the while the “mainstream” media ignores when people like Ann Coulter and Mike Huckabee call out trends like the Birther Movement as “crank.” And then, of course, figures like Howard Dean try and rationalize and defend the kook elements within their own movement, like Jones.

At least Time has the decency to admit that sometimes Beck gets it right:

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.

There’s that evenhanded element that NewsBusters affirmed. The difference between Beck’s “conspiracy theories” and fringe right conspiracies is that the ones he focuses on aren’t any big secret. The Left is quite open about its desire to radically change our government and our society. As such, it does not fit the definition of “conspiracy theory” that’s widely accepted.

Never the less, Beck in his enthusiasm will occasionally over-reach — as we all do from time to time. And when he does then it will come to centrist conservatives and intellectual conservatives to rein him in a bit. (One example that Time rightfully identifies is Beck’s fear of President Obama’s volunteer efforts as something sinister. Another that Time fails to mention is Beck’s probable overreach in criticizing Cass Sunstein.)

Smear #3: Conservative pundits are just in it for the money!

How can we trust each other, though, when the integrated economy of ranters and their delighted-to-be-outraged critics are such a model of profitability? A microphone, a camera and a polarizing host are all it takes to get the money moving.

So much of the Time article focuses on Beck the entrepreneur. It talks about how much money he’s made and all the different avenues he has explored to get his ideas out. Why is this part of the story?

This is a classic smear of conservatives. Many leftists cannot understand how anyone could advocate for capitalism if they weren’t bought and paid for by greedy, evil corporations.  Horowitz has dealt with this smear from his old leftist friends and his newer progressive opponents like Joe Conason.

Who really thinks this way, though? What moron would think to himself, “I’m going to make a ton of money by becoming a conservative pundit.” Sure, in the upper echelons of the punditocracy there are some millionaires and superstars. But if one’s objective is to whore out one’s talents for money there are far more profitable avenues than marketing books and publications to a comparatively small niche market of conservative enthusiasts.

Beck bills himself as “the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment.” There’s plenty of money in entertainment — not quite as much in enlightenment. If Beck was really just chasing a bigger bank account then surely he would have never made some of the controversial statements which have scared away advertisers. It would have been bad business.

Smear #4: Conservative pundits are not genuine in their concerns. They’re just polarizing because extremism sells!

The inevitable question is, How much of this industry is sincere? Last year, shortly after the election, Beck spoke with TIME’s Kate Pickert, and he didn’t sound very scared back then. Of Obama’s early personnel decisions, he said, “I think so far he’s chosen wisely.” Of his feelings about the President: “I am not an Obama fan, but I am a fan of our country … He is my President, and we must have him succeed. If he fails, we all fail.” Of the Democratic Party: “I don’t know personally a single Democrat who is a dope-smoking hippie that wants to turn us into Soviet Russia.” Of the civic duty to trust: “We’ve got to pull together, because we are facing dark, dark times. I don’t trust a single weasel in Washington. I don’t care what party they’re from. But unless we trust each other, we’re not going to make it.”

This is a potentially fair point — until you did deeper. Why are critics of Obama stepping up the intensity now when many were more optimistic earlier that the administration would pursue a more centrist agenda? Well, because thoughtful conservatives adapt and change positions as the facts emerge. When Obama was first shaping his team and laying out his agenda the potential was certainly there for America’s political culture to transition into a post-partisan, profoundly centrist era. That’s not really the case anymore — unless Obama chooses to change course.


We’ve had to deal with the Jones appointment. There’s been the revival of prosecuting the CIA for the previous administration’s policies. And Obama’s surrendered to hyper-partisan Democrats (Spider-Woman Nancy Pelosi?) to push through an increasingly unpopular health care plan. Conservatives are shifting into a more aggressive mode because the president is pulling further to the Left to appease his base. If he takes a more moderate, unifying approach and checks his party’s radicals then the MSM will see the Right’s rhetoric and intensity relax a bit. Our demands are not outlandish. Obama does not need to adopt Ronald Reagan’s policies. He just needs to act on the centrist, moderate platform which he sold to the American people in November. Is demanding “truth in advertising” really so unreasonable?

Smear #5: Beck’s brand of conservatism just makes people angry and does not contribute to constructive debate. He’s bad for the American dialogue!

The trouble with this prophecy is that we never find out what happens to the people watching Beale [the figure from the movie “Network” who inspires Beck]. Do they stay mad forever? Does their screaming ever lead to something better? Does the rage merely migrate, sending new audiences with new enemies to scream from more windows? And if the time comes when every audience is screaming, who, in the end, is left to listen?

This conclusion to the Beck story ultimately reiterates the magazine’s headline of “Mad Man.” In all honesty, though, it’s really not a fair assessment of Beck’s programming. Is rage and anger really the main contribution Beck puts out there? Absolutely not. Beck’s program runs the gamut of tones and emotions. Sure, sometimes he’s angry but he can frequently be inspiring, upbeat, informative, and even intellectual. If he was all about stoking anger then he would not have featured a restrained, intellectual interview with Horowitz:

These five smears are ultimately fairly mild in comparison to the ad hominem attack directed at Beck and Horowitz by the leftist internet magazine Salon. Come and join us tomorrow afternoon at NewsReal to see my rebuttal to this much nastier, more dishonest radical assault.

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