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Ganging Up on Glenn Beck

August 15, 2009

It doesn’t surprise me that the educated gentlefolk of the left hate Glenn Beck. Since Obama won the presidency back in November, this baby-faced, quasi-bipolar, ready-to-weep TV and radio personality has morphed into something even stranger than he used to be.

I’d listen to Glenn Beck’s radio show a few times a week during my morning drives. He was a master of his craft… still is. Able to swoop effortlessly from outlandish comedy to mesmerizing melodramatics, he could make you hang on every word as if you were listening to the Gettysburg Address delivered by its author. He could say more with five seconds of silence than most radio personalities do in half an hour of gabbing.

Then came the strange and unsettling metamorphosis. Something about Obama’s election darkened his soul. (Either that or his bosses told him to crank up the partisan rhetoric.) Beck had never been especially partisan before. He was more of a libertarian maverick, sympathetic to the right but not bound by Republican articles of faith (like preemptive war and love of investment bankers).

Now he began to rant regularly about socialism, Obama, leftist tyranny, the evils of nationalized healthcare, and the inevitable silencing of dissident right-wing voices. He painted a bleak picture of an America stripped of liberty and justice by the demons of the left. He essentially slipped into the role of right-wing populist demagogue, urging his angry followers to rise up against ObamaNation through tea parties and noisy town-hall meetings.

When Obama initially sided with Henry Louis Gates after the Harvard scholar’s arrest for disorderly conduct, Beck turned livid. In an interview on national TV, he called the president a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people.”  

That was too much for some folks. James Rucker, a HuffingtonPost blogger and executive director of, a black activist group, has launched an attempt to drive Beck off the air by undercutting his sponsorship.  In a letter to 600,000 COC members, he wrote:

Together we can stop Glenn Beck. Starting today we’re calling Beck’s advertisers, asking them if they want to be associated with this kind of racist hate and fear-mongering. When they see tens of thousands of people signing on behind that question, we believe they’ll move their advertising dollars elsewhere, damaging the viability of his show and possibly putting him out of business.

As of yesterday, 75,000 followers had signed the petition and ten sponsors (including big-gun advertisers like GEICO, Procter & Gamble, Radio Shack, ConAgra, Roche and S.C. Johnson) had agreed to pull their ads. Rucker triumphantly announced his victories on HuffingtonPost. Most of the left-leaning audience shouted huzzahs in their comments, though there were a few dissenters. I was one of them. I wrote:

As irresponsible and inflammatory as Glenn Beck can be, he has a right to air his views. Petitioning his sponsors to drop him is tantamount to attempting to silence him. When we start to muzzle people we don’t like, we’re sliding toward precisely the kind of authoritarian state that Beck and his followers are squawking about.

To which a loyal Huffingtonite responded:

Pullling corporate sponsorship is not muzzling anyone. [Beck] has no “right” to air his opinion on the airwaves, anymore than anyone else. Having your own show to voice your opinion is not a constitutionally protected right.
Of course, the U.S. Constitution has little to say about radio shows and sponsorship. Even the First Amendment promises only that
Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…
The good document makes no pronouncements about left-wing activists who cleverly use the capitalist system to undermine  and eliminate opposing viewpoints. So Rucker and the Huffingtonites appear to be standing on solid legal ground. As for the ethical ground beneath their feet — well, it still seems a little boggy to this staunch moderate.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Priscilla permalink
    August 15, 2009 11:06 am

    Speaking as someone who finds Beck extraordinarily entertaining and enlightening, but also more than a bit crazy and over-the-top, I say to the lefties, “go for it”. Boycotts and petitions are fair play and, if they wish to punish Beck for his sins against political correctness, then this is the way to go. I do think that it is hypocritical, but, then, what is political correctness if not thoroughly so?

    In the long run though, I think all of this attention will simply drive up Beck’s popularity with the right, and increase his book sales, so I’m not sure that a “successful” boycott will be anything more than a Pyrrhic victory ( and, yes, I did have to look up the spelling of “pyrrhic”).

  2. August 15, 2009 6:11 pm

    Oh, I’m not worrying about Glenn Beck’s ability to support himself. He has a #1 bestseller and could probably live off his nest egg the rest of his natural life (and then some). It’s the whole intolerant “If we don’t agree with him, let’s shut him down” mentality. And it seems to be more common among liberals than conservatives.

    I agree that the lefties are going about it in the way that makes the most sense: instead of direct censorship, they persuade the sponsors to bail out. (Of course, the conservatives can’t retaliate, because NPR is non-commercial!)

    Right now the left is scared because the right is starting to resemble a lunatic fringe. The right is scared because they sense that the country doesn’t belong to them any more. So I don’t put it past anyone to act irrationally at this point. But we definitely need to talk ourselves down from the current craziness. It’s starting to alarm me.

  3. Chris permalink
    August 18, 2009 12:11 pm

    ” It’s the whole intolerant “If we don’t agree with him, let’s shut him down” mentality. And it seems to be more common among liberals than conservatives.” – Thats a completely absurd statement. Glenn Beck is constantly on the air doing blatant fear mongering. This It’s the whole intolerant “If we don’t agree with him, let’s shut him down” mentality. And it seems to be more common among liberals than conservatives. the man who took a story about is daughter overcomming her diabilities and exploited it to compare the Obama administration to the Nazis. Do you realize what he is saying? He is comparing our democratically elected goverment to the people who committed genocide on over 3 million people. I have no problem with someone giving their opinion about politics or whatever on their show but Glenn Beck works on a network called FOX NEWS, which prides itself for being fair and balanced but in reality could not be further from it. What is his show supposed to be, news or comedy? People take him seriously and he has spent a great deal of time telling his viewers that their rights are being taken away and that they should stand up against the government. Many people have taken this to mean that the government is coming for them and their guns so they have committed to “give the governent their guns, one bullet at a time.”
    Glenn Beck is playing with fire and I believe it will end in violence, we’ve already had the man who shot up the Holocaust museum and now we have people bring guns to presidential rallies, do you think that wil end well?

    As for your statement I quoted, the veiwers have the right to complain about a programs content if this offends them. Beck’s racist claim really has no basis in reality. It’s silly to say that liberals have the mentality you described when for the last 7 years anytime some one questioned or criticized the government they were called Un-American or their Spouces secret CIA cover was exposed or they were spied on with an illeagal wire tapping program.

    • Chris permalink
      August 18, 2009 12:18 pm

      I accidently pasted the comment twice, as I was typing this out on my phone.

  4. August 18, 2009 2:28 pm

    Chris: The left and the right both have their own special tactics when clashing with the other team. You’re absolutely correct that the right resorts to fear-mongering and paranoia, which is what Beck and his cronies have been doing. I think it’s dangerous, too, and I’ve said so. I’m afraid we might be headed for violence if the hysteria keeps escalating.

    But the solution isn’t to muzzle those dangerous opinions. It’s not up to you or me or the left to decide which views are suitable for public consumption and which should be censored. We all know what the answer would be: we’d hear only those views approved by the liberal PC board of review (I know there’s no such thing, but there might as well be). That’s why I’ve objected to the pressuring of Beck’s sponsors to drop him. It’s the left’s way of making the world safe only for safely liberal opinions.

  5. Priscilla permalink
    August 19, 2009 10:29 am

    I’m not sure that expressing fear and paranoia is the same as fear-mongering. Also, I think that comparisons to Nazis have become meaningless…I’m hoping that allegations of racism aren’t going in the same direction ( you know “you’re a nazi!” “no, YOU”RE a nazi!” no, YOU are!” and so on…..)

  6. Priscilla permalink
    August 19, 2009 12:42 pm

    Expressing fear vs. fearmongering…this has actually been something that has interested me for a while. Lo and behold, shortly after posting my comment, I read this column by Nat Hentoff, certainly not a right winger by any means:

    Now, if someone like Beck says the same thing, is he fearmongering? I think not. Of course, I understand that Beck is an entertainer- a “pundit” – and, as such, will often tread on, or cross, the line between fearfulness and fearmongering. But, I have heard many of the supporters of Obamacare accusing those who show up at the Townhall meetings of being “right wing fearmongers”, when what I see are some really scared oldsters.

    I think moderates are in a position to assess the difference between the two and tamp down the rhetoric – I agree with you, Rick, that the situation is escalating dangerously, and has been for some time. Hopefully, our leaders (such as they are) will find a way to bridge the divide, although I am not optimistic 😦

    • August 20, 2009 2:14 pm

      Good article, Priscilla. Hentoff zeroes in on the “death panel” issue and clarifies it for me unlike anyone on the right or left. So, technically, those dreaded end-care “consultations” for Grandma and Grandpa ARE voluntary, as the left would like us to believe… but they’re voluntary in the way that buying Time-Life Books was voluntary: they’d send you the book without your approval, but you had a chance to say “no” and send it back. That’s essentially how these government panels would operate… but a little more persuasively than Time-Life Books, no doubt. After all, how many 85-year-olds would question a government expert’s decision to scale down the amount of federally funded medical care they receive?

      What a mess. We definitely need more affordable and widely available health insurance NOW, but the way the current healthcare debate is bogging down in partisan bickering, I’m afraid nothing will change. Well, at least all the divisive rhetoric makes the moderate perspective more essential than ever. I should be glad about that much. I really should.

  7. Taliesin Knol permalink
    January 6, 2010 2:52 pm

    I think you missed the danger of fear-mongering on Fox news, (average IQ 50)stupid people are gullible, they don’t find Beck entertaining, they take him seriously! Then they show up at rallies with guns, or bomb abortion clinics. Glenn is a polarizing threat to the country, and just because you can say what you want doesn’t me we have to put up with it. The government might have to, but corperate America doesn’t, one of capitalisms few advantages.(sometimes)Slander and Libel are crimes however, and the government is fairly clear on that.

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