Glenn Beck – A Cause for Concern

The article of the day comes from AAI’s President Jim Zogby in regards to CNN ‘journalist’ Glenn Beck. Full text is below, followed by commentary and analysis:

Glenn Beck represents a truly troubling trend in television journalism. Since May 2006, the radio talk show host has had his own one hour nightly program on CNN’s Headline News channel. While the network may have hoped that Beck’s flamboyant style would increase ratings, the cost to their integrity has been staggering.

It is important to note, from the outset, that Beck doesn’t stand alone. The insertion of the personalities and style of radio talkshow hosts into mainstream television news programming has been taking place for a number of years now. Their crude, cynical and cutting edge commentary, their feigning the role of the common man, and their inflammatory “us versus them” rhetoric is now standard fair on many of the major networks.

The result of this trend is evident on a number of levels. There has been a coarsening and dumbing down of our political discourse on several issues of national importance. When Beck refers to President Carter as a “fathead” or speaks of Saudi leaders as “nut-jobs,” serious discussion is displaced by crude and demeaning jabs.

There is the additional problem that instead of educating the public, this new breed of television pundits reduces issues to their lowest common denominator, thereby reinforcing preexisting, uninformed biases. Never shy to share an unenlightened view, Beck, for example, will note “I’m not an expert, but…” and then proceed to make his case using a mishmash of clichés that reflect the prejudices of conventional wisdom.

While much of the same could be said about a number of other similar personalities that now populate the airwaves, Beck comes with a significant difference. I have carefully reviewed the transcripts of Beck’s shows and his so-called, obsessive crusade against radical Islam left me both horrified and profoundly concerned. In just the past two months, for example, one half of Beck’s shows have focused on matters Muslim. Beck insists that he is not opposed to all Muslims, only what he refers to as the “10 percent who are evil.” He then counters this observation by stating that the vast majority of good Muslims have been cowered into silence by the extremist 10 percent, so that they too stand indicted by their cowardice. Only when they do speak out, Beck says, will radical Islam be defeated and the rest of us be safe from their scourge. The net result of this circumlocution is that the majority of Muslims are to blame.

When Beck is not venting his own prejudiced view of Islam, he invites on-air guests who amplify his views. They are of three types: Israelis, right-wing Americans with a long-established ax to grind against Arabs and Muslims, and lastly, a handful of Muslims who are largely alienated and self-styled outcasts who have found their shtick striking out against their co-religionists.

His right-wing guests or Israelis, like former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who was Beck’s guest for an entire hour on a special program that aired three times in one month) are only too happy to reinforce Beck’s views. His Muslim guests similarly serve to validate Beck’s complaint about the broader Muslim community. In all of this, there is not even the pretense of balance.

The impact has been predictable and frightening. After I raised some concern that ABC’s Good Morning America was hiring Beck to serve as a commentator on that once respected program, I received a taste of what Beck’s impact has been. Emails from Beck’s supporters have called me “an animal Muslim” (I’m a Catholic). They’ve told me that I don’t belong in America (when in fact my family has lived in this country for over 100 years, serving in every branch of the military), and that I am shielding terrorists by refusing to protest against them (wrong on both counts, but my critics have obviously never read my denunciations of terrorism and terrorists).

And it is this that concerns me. We are, in fact, engaged in a troubling conflict against extremism fueled by religious fervor, both ours and theirs. What this period and this conflict require is intelligent discussion, not inflammatory rhetoric. To guide us through this, we need journalists like Walter Cronkite, Edgar R. Murrow and Peter Jennings; we don’t need flame-throwers like Sean Hannity, Don Imus and Glenn Beck. Unfortunately, it’s the later we are getting more of. And it is this I find disturbing.

Why it’s important: Glenn Beck in undoubtedly one of the dumbest human beings to be given the opportunity to present his stupidity candidly on a national news station, which is saying a lot. He has continuously made outrageous statements with little detriment and seems to be in an unofficial contest with Sean Hannity for publicized ignorance and demagoguery. Taking from his reports and treatment of anyone with brown skin as a terrorist and freedom-hater, I suspect he gets the hand-me-down, picture-book versions of the AIPAC talking points written for Wolf Blitzer. In the words of the Beast:

If the dumbing down of political commentary continues along this trajectory, the next pundit to make the grade will be a hyena. Even the leather-winged shouting heads at Fox News look like intellectual giants next to this bleating, benighted Cassandra. It’s like someone found a manic, doom-prophesying hobo in a sandwich board, shaved him, shot him full of Zoloft and gave him a show. What makes Beck special, aside from appearing to have derived his entire geopolitical outlook from a five-minute segment about Iran on “The 700 Club,” is the folksy “golly gee” manner in which he accuses his guests of collaborating with terrorists.

Analysis: People like Glenn Beck exist in this world, but they are usually confined to lower level white collar jobs that outstretch their intelligence, where they exist to talk about the local sports team around the water cooler. Unfortunately, the defeating element is that no matter how many of us analyze and debunk what he puts forth, somehow Glenn Beck has a television show and an audience. See in you Iraq, toys.


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