This was going to be a piece on why Keith Olbermann is not, in fact, the Glenn Beck of the left. But Mitchell Bard over at Huffington Post stole my thunder, so take a minute to read his thoughtful argument. I’ll be here when you’re finished.
I think it’s more than fair to say Keith Olbermann is no Glenn Beck. Neither is Rush Limbaugh, for that matter.
Nobody is Glenn Beck. At least, not anyone they allow on the airwaves.
I haven’t fully wrapped my mind around exactly what Beck is supposed to represent. Is he trying to be a professor? A rabble-rouser? A rodeo clown? At times, he seems or claims to be all three. But no one who is genuinely any of the three is very likely to be any of the others. Not that Beck is actually any of those things.
First off, Beck’s no professor. That’s an ironic facade even for the fake parallel reality of today’s far right, given that he logged virtually no time in college. He seems to think that wearing glasses and a jacket and scrawling on a chalkboard makes him a professor. And somehow, he is not completely alone in that notion.
|I had to do something like this in third grade. I managed not to leave out any letters.|
|I got nothing.|
And about that chalkboard. Has anything on it ever made sense? Beck makes connections that put John “Beautiful Mind” Nash’s to shame.
|Pictured: Glenn Beck's office.|
Even my most extreme professors never engaged in such chalk-dusted madness. And if they had, I would have probably run straight to the registrar’s office.
No, Beck did not get a formal higher education. Instead, he cut his teeth on the morning radio zoo-crew circuit, making jokes about miscarriages, minorities and people he’d like to smash with a shovel. Just the kind of guy you want disseminating your cable news.
Beck often likens himself to Thomas Paine, of “Common Sense” fame. He also attempted to co-opt Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in the inspired bit of performance art that was the Restoring Honor rally. Obviously, those two historical icons are hard to top, and Beck hardly rises to the challenge. But even more than that, Beck is a reputational parasite. It’s hard to imagine either Paine or King touting themselves as the new saviors for a generation. People who truly change the world don’t have time to assign themselves like that. And they don’t have to repeatedly remind people of their role, either.
|The fusion of entertainment |
apparently produces this.
As for the “rodeo clown” bit, that’s probably the one of these three self-caricatures that Beck comes closest to fulfilling. But even here, it’s inaccurate. Glenn Beck is smug, smarmy and very high on his own alleged intellect, but he isn’t funny. Unless you consider non-sequitur sex jokes about Hillary Clinton and talk of poisoning Nancy Pelosi’s coffee funny. The only humor to be ascertained from Beck is his flailing, paranoid nutjob schtick. But his target audience isn’t laughing at that. And for those who would otherwise laugh, it’s tempered by the clout that this man has with too many Americans.
Like many pundits who repeatedly cross the line, Beck often employs the “rodeo clown,” I’m-just-an-entertainer defense. Though it’s hard to tell exactly when he’s joking and when he isn’t. I imagine that his crying over his country and his stated concerns about Obama’s associations aren’t meant to elicit laughs. I guess he’s joking only when he gives obscure people or groups like the Tides Foundation a national spanking, and then the agency becomes a gunman’s target. Or when he stokes hysteria about Obama and all of his frightening plans for the citizenry, and then a man kills cops from his front porch, later citing Beck as an influence. And I guess he’ll be joking if ever his paranoid froth about how progressives are America’s enemy results in another tragedy.
As I said in the aftermath of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, pundits cannot be blamed for the actions of a lunatic. And obviously, not everyone who enjoys Glenn Beck is going to ape the actions of people who were clearly delusional to begin with. But again, this is where the media has to take responsibility for itself.
Glenn Beck appeals to people who, in all likelihood, already harbored similar views and angry resentment. And Beck’s presence on the airwaves gives those feelings a sick, frightening legitimacy at a time when reasoned discourse is needed more than ever. His success in the media is the ultimate triumph of ratings over responsibility. As loathsome as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Co. are, they don’t even approach the free-speech limits that Beck straddles on a daily basis.
As a journalist, I am offended by Beck’s shtick, and doubly offended at CNN Headline News and Fox News for giving this unqualified, paranoid man airtime that could be used by a better analyst (of any political persuasion) to improve our national dialogue.
Because I love my country.