Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

TIME magazine’s dishonest soft-sell cover story on Glenn Beck earns it the Media Putz

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Originally published on on September 24, 2009


Glenn Beck has been on national television since January 2006. But in 2009, the MSM outside the places where Beck has worked has “discovered” him. The viral videos of Beck crying, his racist cries against President Obama, even the number of advertisers that have fled in droves — all factors that intrigue the MSM.

When it comes time to actually doing a cover story on Glenn Beck, the negative material disappears from the pages as if it were written in invisible ink, leaving a deliberately false impression of the radio/TV pundit. The New York Times had its miserable opportunity, and as bad as that was, TIME magazine took it several steps further.

David Von Drehle makes the same mistake that The New York Times entertainment reporters Brian Stelter and Bill Carter made: he didn’t watch Glenn Beck’s show. If they had, all of them would have mentioned the considerable falsehoods Beck spews during his program. But then mentioning that would disrupt the lovefest theme of Beck as “rebel.”

Von Drehle exaggerates the Beck/Howard Beale connection in ways that even Beck couldn’t fathom.

Starting after the election and continuing into spring, pollster Frank Luntz conducted a survey of some 6,400 Americans, and the first question was whether they agreed with this statement: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Nearly 3 out of 4 — 72% — said yes.

Movie buffs might appreciate this, because when Beck gets rolling on a particularly emotional riff, when the tears glisten and the shoulders shudder, Paddy Chayefsky, the great leftist playwright, looks like a prophet. He’s the man who coined the phrase that, according to Luntz, is the rare thing Americans can agree on. He gave the line to Howard Beale, the mad anchorman at the center of the dark satire Network.

Where do we start? Von Drehle doesn’t identify Luntz as a Republican political consultant and pollster (and also manipulator of words). A more critical person would have gone into why people are upset instead of just noting that they are. Of course, one of the things people are upset about is a lackadaisical MSM, especially during the Bush years.

But Von Drehle misses the key connection between Beck and Beale: Howard Beale was a troublemaker because he spoke the truth in a sea of lies, while Glenn Beck lies, well, in a bigger sea of lies. Beale was “mad as hell” because the truth had difficulty getting through, because lies dominate the airwaves. So, Von Drehle, Beck is actually the antithesis of Beale but borrowing from his playbook.

Unfortuantely for the readers of TIME who might have wanted to learn more about Beck, the facts get in the way of Von Drehle’s drooling for Beck, who he refers to as “this rich and talented man.”

He is the hottest thing in the political-rant racket, left or right. A gifted entrepreneur of angst in a white-hot market. A man with his ear uniquely tuned to the precise frequency at which anger, suspicion and the fear that no one’s listening all converge.

Von Drehle mentions but quickily sidesteps past Beck’s comments on President Obama being racist.

He is afraid that Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people” — which doesn’t mean, he hastens to add, that he actually thinks “Obama doesn’t like white people.”

The quote plays like the one Beck said on “Fox & Friends” but Von Drehle makes it sound — by using the present tense — like Beck said it to him in the interview. Either Von Drehle is lying about the context or Beck said it to him, something that would be newsworthy if Beck had said it twice, especially after getting in trouble the first time.

While Von Drehle elaborates extensively on how Beck helped get Van Jones fired, he provides nothing at all about why Beck went after Jones in the first place. Nothing about loss of advertisers. Nothing about the general consensus that what Beck said about the president of the United States was untrue and beyond the standards of decency.

He is having an impact. Along with St. Louis, Mo., blogger Jim Hoft, whose site is called Gateway Pundit, Beck pushed one of Obama’s so-called czars, Van Jones, to resign during Labor Day weekend. Jones, whose task was to oversee a green-jobs initiative, turned out to be as enchanted by conspiracies as Beck — he once theorized that “white polluters and the white environmentalists” are “steering poison into the people-of-color’s communities” and signed a petition demanding an investigation into whether the Bush Administration had a hand in the 9/11 attacks.

Von Drehle goes harder after Jones, an attitude that he never even considers showing toward Beck, almost as if Von Drehle is protecting Beck.

When Von Drehle finally mentions the boycott much later in the story, there is no tie-in to Jones’ previous ties to Color of Change, or even to the success of the boycott.

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.

They didn’t start the boycott to get publicity: they were sincerely concerned about the words Beck used. TIME and Von Drehle seem to think that the world of punditry is a game, not even considering that people could be affected or offended by anything Beck says, especially when it isn’t true.

This 3,500-word story wouldn’t pass the smell test of a high school journalism teacher. It’s full of gushy comments, key major facts are deliberately left out, and it’s sanitized of anything remotely negative or disconcerting.

But somehow it got through the editorial process at TIME magazine, and regardless of Von Drehle’s crush on Glenn Beck, the magazine is ultimately responsible, and earns this week’s Media Putz.


Written by democracysoup

September 24, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

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