Friday, September 18, 2009

It's Time out for this Beck article

NO DOUBT Glenn Beck loved this week's cover story about...Glenn Beck. Such glorification of the hysterical right-wing hero, even with a few mild negatives tossed in, are precisely what sustains and exalts media celebrity in America. So when the headline above David Von Drehle's piece rhetorically asks the reader, "Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?" it was merely a teaser to suck you in to a story that never really answers the question. Indeed, it concludes by asking four more questions. Even the reference to "mad" seems to point more to anger than to insanity.

Otherwise, the piece is drive-by puffery that adds few new insights into an often out-of-control demagogue that will please his followers and frustrate his critics. In editorial lingo, it didn't advance the frightful story of Glenn Beck with much new information. Instead, the reader got a heavy serving of gee-whiz flattery of Beck's M.O. from a writer more in awe of his subject than to the gravity of a renegade on the loose.

The author was so politically correct in trying to make Beck and his critics equal participants in balancing the pro-and-con argument that it allowed Drehle a wide range of maneuverabilty in the pretense to be playing fair. Actually, the balancing act was no contest for Beck inasmuch as I didn't find more than a buried reference or two to any response by Beck's critics.

One glaring example of Time's game plan was the article's attempt to show that there was nothing unusual about the great difference in the crowd estimates for the recent angry Beck-hustled Tea Party crowd in Washington. Conservatives gave a soaring number, liberals a much lower figure, Drehle noted, making it a business-as-usual ideological divide. What he didn't do as a reporter was to take the story beyond ideological differences and report that even FreedomWorks, which sponsored the rally, later halved its original crowd estimate from 1.5 million. Suffice it to say the crowd was what it was, allowing either side bragging rights.

In reference to the dozens of sponsors who withdrew their ads from Beck's programs on Fox after he damned Obama as a "racist with deep seated hatred of white people" the article blew off that incendiary issue with a single sentence: "A liberal group called Color of Change has organized an advertiser boycott of Beck's TV show - great publicity for the group and a boon to Beck's ratings." That's it, folks.

As has been reported in other stories and observable to those who have seen Beck tearfully crash on TV, the Time article did describe its protagonist as "45, tireless, funny. self-deprecating, a recovering alcoholic, a convert to Mormonism, a libertarian living with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactive syndrome)." And, I noted, getting by on $23 million a year, a primary measure of broadcasting success.

In its effort to soften Beck's image, the article did add a new way to describe a lie. "Yarns of less substance," says Drehle, of Beck's accusation that Obama wants to establish a "civilian national-security force that is just as strong, just as powerful as the military." And the President plans to do it with his love affair with "volunteerism". Is that the work of a sound mind? Or simply a carnival barker trying to scare the hell out of his willing audience?

As a longtime journalist, I've often wondered whether it's better to treat people like Beck with silence, allowing him his audience while the world tries to move forward. But in this instance, he has such a loud megaphone with Fox that I'm inclined to believe that a constant shower of exposure for this nonsense will inflate him to the point of self-destructing. As for Time's desperate effort to reverse its decline as a general interest magazine with a naked appeal to a self-contained audience of nitwits, it's a readership effort that is destined to fail. And with such shallow cover stories as this one, not a moment too soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

According to tea partiers, over 1 trillion conservatives marched on Washington according to a University Beck doesn't know or remember. All kidding aside, Beck, Bachman, Coulter, Jenkins, Limbaugh, Malkin, Palin, and Wilson are increasingly making the case for being placed in straight jackets.