Time magazine’s cover story on Glenn Beck by David Von Drehle is a clinic for journalism students who wish to learn about faux balance, false equivalencies, straw men, and omissions of important facts. Nowhere in this piece does Mr. Drehle mention the fact that 62 of Beck’s sponsors have yanked their ad buys to distance their companies from Beck’s recent charge that President Barack Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” And although Drehle tells the story of Beck’s successful effort at drumming out Van Jones from President Obama’s green jobs team, nowhere does he bother to inform his readers that Jones had been a co-founder of ColorofChange.org, the group responsible for the advertiser boycott. These stories are all over the web so Drehle is either a terrible journalist or he purposefully omitted them.
In the first paragraph, Drehle refers to crowd estimates of Beck’s recent “9/12” rally in Washington, D. C.: “If you get your information from liberal sources, the crowd numbered about 70,000, many of them greedy racists.” Drehle chooses not to include another Beck story that is also all over the web and was featured on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, of Beck speculating on FOX the morning after the rally that “the University of — I don’t remember” scientifically analyzed the gathering and estimated it to be “1.7 million” people.
This lie was repeated by right-wing sources, including Michelle Malkin, throughout the news cycle that day only to be handily debunked. The statistician, Nate Silver, calculated the crowd to be about 70,000, and nowhere can be found any “liberal source” calling them “greedy racists.” Drehle not only serves up a straw man in his opening paragraph but let’s Beck off the hook for his wildly exaggerated claim of the size of his protest.
Drehle doesn’t waste any time with his faux balance between “left” and “right.” In paragraph five he draws a comparison “[b]etween the liberal fantasies about Brownshirts at town halls and the conservative concoctions of brainwashed children goose-stepping to school.” But he doesn’t tell us who these liberals are who “fantasized” about Brownshirts at the health care town halls. He must be referring to those of us who denounced the tactics of deliberately shouting down public meetings in an attempt to drown out civil discourse, which was indeed a common practice of various thuggish right-wing groups in Italy, Germany, and elsewhere in the 1920s and 1930s.
As far as “goose-stepping children” goes, Drehle must be referring to the American Right’s freak-out about the president of the United States addressing the nation’s school children to urge them to study hard and to succeed. How that bizarre view of an innocuous presidential address equals the spectacles we saw in August of near violence breaking out at town halls Drehle leaves to his readers to figure out.
(Drehle also sees a false equivalency in the effects on American political discourse of the works of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh on the “right,” with those of Minnesota Senator Al Franken and the Academy Award winning filmmaker Michael Moore on the “left.” There’s no difference in his view, just opposite poles of the same over-the-top phenomenon.)
Drehle acknowledges that Beck’s routine plays on the raw emotions of fear and anger (two reptilian instincts that bring out the worst in people), yet he seems enthralled by him for doing so: “Beck has emerged as a virtuoso on the strings of their discontent.” Fanning the flames of Americans’ basest instincts for fun and profit? Who on the Left is doing that on the public airwaves?
Drehle’s longest quote from Beck in the article is from Beck’s teary-eyed soliloquy about wishing the nation could return to that mythical time right after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Nowhere does Drehle bother to contemplate the possibility that Beck might be crassly exploiting the fear and anguish caused by the 9/11 attacks for his own political and pecuniary purposes just as the Bush/Cheney administration did for seven plus years.
Beck described his shtick to Drehle calling it “the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment,” and Drehle praises Beck for his “flexible narrative” that “often contains genuinely uncomfortable truths.” Drehle tells his readers about Beck’s most recent obsession with President Obama’s policy czars “whom Beck fears Obama is using to subvert constitutional government — and he has some radical-sounding sound bites to back it up.” But Drehle chooses to omit the fact that George W. Bush had appointed even more “czars” than Obama, and that the whole “controversy” is just another desperate and hypocritical Republican talking point.
If Drehle really believes that Beck “fears” a constitutional breach by the Obama White House then why does he choose not to explore exactly what part of the Constitution is being “subverted” and what are Beck’s credentials as a constitutional scholar to make such a claim? And if Beck describes himself first as an “entertainer” then why should we take seriously any of his “fears” about the “threat” to the Constitution that Obama poses? Drehle leaves these obvious questions unanswered.
Perhaps the best example of Drehle’s false equivalency that grants legitimacy to Beck’s brand of red-baiting hate speech is this: “We’re in the flood stage, and who’s to blame?,” he writes.
The answer is like the estimates of the size of the crowd in Washington: Whom do you trust? Either the corrupt, communist-loving traitors on the left are causing this, or it’s the racist, greedy warmongers on the right, or maybe the dishonest, incompetent, conniving media, which refuse to tell the truth about whomever you personally happen to despise.
Here Drehle gets to stand back and remove himself from the pettiness of American politics. He transcends all. He’s neither “right” nor “left” nor part of the “dishonest, incompetent, conniving media” — he’s the disembodied glib voice of reason. The only problem with this artificial construction is that Drehle is writing a cover story for the most politically influential newsweekly in the corporate media.
And he dropped the ball.
Perhaps there are “synergies” between Time Inc. and Beck Inc.’s media production companies? Or maybe Drehle doesn’t want to piss Beck off because he might be asking him for a gig at some later date — print journalism is a tough business these days. In any case, it is a terrible disservice to Time readers to have such a glowing and legitimizing article on a person who is becoming richer each day by playing on the fear and anger of his fellow citizens in a period of economic crisis and practicing the same despicable tactics as Joseph McCarthy.
Originally published by the Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author
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