Pundit Watch: Glenn Beck

Criticizing Glenn Beck is an unsatisfying thing.

Part of the reason for this is that it's so easy. After all, the guy is, like Limbaugh and Hannity before him, utterly untrained for what he's come to do. Rush was a sales rep; Sean was in construction; Glenn Beck was a Top-40 DJ. Three of the loudest voices for the new conservatism, all of whom discovered that making purposefully crude and obnoxious things was a quick way to the top of the right-wing talk-radio heap.

And what a heap it is.

The other reason this exercise is boring is that, for most thinking people, it's a non-issue. It's like arguing that the earth is spherical, or that Ray Parker Jr. peaked with “Ghostbusters.” Likewise, most people will just stipulate that Glenn Beck is an ignorant bag of gas. And so perhaps it doesn't get said often enough.

It's not even so much that his style of one-guy's-opinion editorializing has become so popular, though it's disconcerting that the "one-guy" in this scenario too often doesn't know what he's talking about. Too many Americans seem to have confused overconfident bombast with frank and thoughtful honesty.

So no, I'm not writing this to point out that Glenn Beck is ridiculous, or uninformed, or false in the conviction with which he so often chooses to speak. Fish in a barrel. Instead, I want to point out the problem with this skewed perspective that's become too prevalent in what's too-often considered real political discussion.

Specifically on March 4, 2008. One of the guests that night on Glenn Beck's CNN show was televangelist John Hagee, who was invited on mainly to talk about his recent and controversial comments attacking the Catholic Church. But right before they cut to break, Beck threw out one more question:

“Let me ask you…I get so much email on this, and I think a lot of people do, and I've only got a couple of seconds…they say "Glenn, you in the media, you've got to wake up. Barack Obama's making people faint and cry and everything else. And he's drawing people in and…there are people—and they said this about Bill Clinton—that actually believe he might be the Antichrist. Odds that Barack Obama is the Antichrist? To Hagee’s credit, his response was: “No chance.”

Beck laughed it off, of course, as though it were a joke. He laughed it off again—indeed, made fun of it—when this stunt was criticized on mediamatters.org and got him named “Worst Person in the World” by Keith Olbermann. Beck said that he’d been making a joke. “See me laughing there?” he said on his show later that week. And, in fact, he had been.

But that’s the problem. It wasn’t funny.

What it was is another question entirely. Either it was giving voice to a very dangerous segment of the population, and Beck being gullible or deluded enough to think that this was a sentiment widely enough held among the population so as to warrant its inclusion on CNN (even if he was making fun of them as he did it). Or, more likely, it was a cynical and bad-taste attempt at a joke that ignores the ramifications of putting something like that on the air. At best, it’s irresponsible and stupid. And it begs the question: how in the world is Glenn Beck not on FOX?

But then, Glenn Beck’s presence on CNN is just CNN trying to out-FOX FOX. Beck’s nothing more than a socio-political shock-jock. Beck’s act is the commentary equivalent of the Kielbasa Queen and Stuttering John. Nothing real, nothing important, nothing integrous, and certainly nothing worthy of “the most trusted name in news.”

Glenn Beck, like all gasbags, will slowly deflate over time, and return gently to earth. But odds that Glenn Beck will do it with class?

No chance. -- Teague Bohlen

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Sean Cronin