Monday, August 15, 2011

The Preface to Debunking Glenn Beck

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Previously on the Review, the book Debunking Glenn Beck by Karl Rogers was previewedKarl Rogers, PhD, is professor of philosophy and a cofounder and director of the John Dewey Center for Democracy and Education, affiliated with the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN. Dr. Rogers's published works include Participatory Democracy, Science and Technology: An Exploration in the Philosophy of ScienceModern Science and the Capriciousness of Nature; and On the Metaphysics of Experimental Physics. The book cover is a link to the publisher where it can be ordered.

In this post, the Preface to Debunking Glenn Beck: How to Save America from Media Pundits and Propagandist is offered. According to the ABC*CLIO website, the book:

...was written in response to Beck's Arguing with Idiots. Its most immediate concern is with exploring the agenda behind Beck's arguments and exposing the flaws in his reasoning. But this book's real mission is something much broader. Using Beck as an example, author Karl Rogers also shows why media reform is so vital to the future of democracy.

To make that case, Dr. Rogers offers a detailed discussion of the ideas and ideology at work in Beck's arguments, revealing how the well-known conservative pundit has distorted and twisted facts to misrepresent American history, the meaning of progressivism, and even the U.S. Constitution. The book examines topics ranging from the Second Amendment to health care, education, housing, the Supreme Court, unions, democracy, and government. It concludes by explaining how Americans can revitalize the Constitution as a living document and, by doing so, revitalize public debate and democracy itself.

full of bunk


Radio and television show host Glenn Beck is a controversial figure. He has made
his fortune from being a media pundit and propagandist. Describing himself as only
a rodeo clown” and an entertainer in search of ratings, he has regaled his listeners
and viewers with exposés about government conspiracies and plots.1 Declaring that
progressives are secretly attempting to impose socialism on America, he denounces
any kind of “social justice” as being the path towards National Socialism and/or
communism. While advocating his brand of “conservative libertarianism” and
claiming that he is on a mission from God to restore America to its founding
principles, Glenn Beck has become a household name and bestselling author. When I
first saw him on television, I thought that his own description of himself as a rodeo
clown was about right. I watched his show with some amusement, thought “this guy
is nuts,” and gave him no more thought.

Some time later, I was on a flight to Alaska and noticed that the man sitting next to
me was reading a book by Glenn Beck called Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small
Minds and Big Government.2 We struck up a conversation. I asked him what he
thought of the book. He said it was okay. He passed it over to me. Flicking through
it, I was disappointed with its general silliness, as it trotted out cliché after cliché
interspersed with cartoons and random comments. I passed the book back.
However, over the next few weeks, I started watching his show. My first impression
was that his “logic” tended to leap about—in what he terms his A.D.D. moments—
but it conformed to the same formula and was easy enough to follow. Beck takes a
proposed policy, say, public health care, and associates it with an ideology, such as
communism, and then, via that ideology, he connects it with some of the extremes
that have been done in the name of that ideology, say, Soviet gulags. Hence,
according to this “logic,” if you want a taxpayer-funded system of health care to
provide subsidized prescriptions for children or the elderly, then you are on the
slippery slope toward a totalitarian police state and labor camps. Using this “logic,”
he has argued that Christians or progressives who want any degree of “social justice”
in America are on the path to National Socialism, concentration camps, and
attempted genocide. He has urged Christians to leave any church in which the pastor
or priest advocates any kind of “social justice.” He has also called progressivism a
cancer that needs to be cut out and eradicated. These claims seem to be rather
implausible, but it left me wondering whether any people were buying into any of it.
Reluctantly and with some embarrassment, I bought his book and read it from
cover to cover. I found it to be so full of distortions, half-truths, and assertions that it
led me to decide to write a book in response to it.

I don’t think that Beck is “nuts.” He is an entertainer. His show is all about ratings
to gain advertising revenue and make money. It is a commercial endeavor. Beck has
a multimillion-dollar business, with his TV and radio shows, his websites, his books,
and his public performances. And, after all, he is largely preaching to the choir. His
audience tends to be members of the conservative right, self-proclaimed libertarians,
and conspiracy theorists, and Beck tells them what they want to hear. They lap it up.
What’s the problem, then? If I don’t like his show, I can always turn off the TV or
change the channel, right? So why should I care?

Increasingly, mass media has dominated public debate in America. With
intensified media consolidation, TV, radio, and newspapers give voice to the
interests of fewer people—the owners of media corporations. While media pundits
represent themselves as reflecting the concerns and views of their audience, they
express and represent the message and interests of their employers. The Internet has
become factionalized, with people only interested in sites that reinforce their own
opinions and views, when they are not indulging in gossip or pornography. What has
happened to the promise of the Great Conversation? Where are public debates and
the frank exchange of views? It seems to me that they have all but disappeared.
Media pundits and propagandists have taken over. They preach to the converted, and
their distortions and lies are disseminated unchallenged to reinforce the views of
people who already want to believe them. In cable TV newspeak this is called
narrowcasting. It refers to the deliberate formatting of TV talk shows and news to
appeal to a targeted and politicized audience to reinforce their already held beliefs
and assumptions.

Under such circumstances, public debate is almost impossible, and the breeding
ground for extremism is fertile. And without public debate, democracy is stifled and
the public merely become the pawns of media control and propaganda. Glenn Beck
provides us with an example of how corporate media attempt to stifle public debate
and manipulate public opinion.

In order to understand Glenn Beck, he must be situated within the wider context of
Fox News and the conservative right-wing media strategy of divide and conquer
among the American working and middle classes. A divided citizenry, at odds with
even the idea that government can be a force for good, expecting corruption and
incompetence to be the inevitable outcome of politics, remain powerless in the face
of the relentless rise of unrestrained corporate power and the corporate takeover of
the American government. We are already well past the dawn of the construction of a
New Gilded Age. What is Beck’s strategy? He is largely preaching to the converted,
reinforcing their views and prejudices, aiming to convince his audience that any kind
of progressive change or reform is a part of some Marxist or revolutionary plot to
gain government control over America and destroy it. Hence, any kind of finance
reform to protect consumers and prevent the kind of irresponsible practices that led
to the 2008 financial crisis is represented as an attempt to control the financial sector.

Any kind of reform to provide all Americans with affordable health care is
represented as an attempt to control the lives of Americans, to set up “death panels,”
and to ration health care (ignoring the fact that private insurance rations health care
to those who can afford it). Any support of trade unions and organized labor, to help
workers gain better wages and working conditions, is represented as an attempt to
take over industry. Any call to reduce military spending in order to balance the
budget or reduce the national debt is represented as an attempt to destroy the military
and subvert the people who defend the Constitution. Any attempt to improve
people’s lives by providing public education, affordable housing, public transport,
unemployment welfare, or social security is represented as a plot to increase dependency
on government. Calls to preserve Net Neutrality to protect the Internet from
being taken over and controlled by corporations (as well as by the government or
anyone else) are represented as part of an attempt at government control over the
media. Any law to improve the quality of food, air, or water by reducing pollution
and unsanitary practices is represented as totalitarian and oppressive government

Beck describes American progressive youth movements and American trade
unions as part of a Marxist plot to take over the world through “democratic
revolution.”3 He claims that progressives are radicals “infesting” education and
unions, to the extent that “our society is riddled with them,” and that they aim to
overthrow the capitalist system. Hence Beck urges his viewers to wake up, open their
eyes, and “think out of the box.” “The Revolution Is Now!” he tells us.4 His strategy
is to scare his viewers, to make them afraid of anything that will change the status
quo, but leave them feeling powerless to stop that change—apart from stocking up
on canned food, ammunition, and buying gold. By urging support of the Tea Party,
he offers his audience “hope” to “restore honor” and “take back government,” but he
is supporting pro-corporate candidates and the same corporate forces that are
overtaking government and using it as their instrument. In other words, his whole
antigovernment rhetoric is directed toward terrifying his audience that all social and
political reforms are bad, and it is best to support business as usual by supporting the
Tea Party, while at the same time leaving his audience feeling that this somehow puts
them in touch with the foundations of the American Revolution and the Republic, as
presented to them by Glenn Beck.

The Tea Party is the means by which people who were disenfranchised by
government and the bailout of banks were funneled back into the Republican Party.
Beck’s strategy is not to return America to its foundational principles but to preserve
the status quo wherein corporations are able to consolidate further their control over
finance, the Federal Reserve, health care, industry, wages, working conditions, and
the media. His strategy is to conceal the corporate consolidation of control over
government (and the military) by misdirecting people from the source of their
disenfranchisement. This is why he tells us about the leftist plot by Marxists and
anarchists to infiltrate the government and destroy America, a plot that must be
stopped by the conservative and libertarian right in the Tea Party in order to restore
the rule of the “free market” (which is dominated by corporations). His strategy is to
conceal the extent that corporatism is the cancer destroying America by telling us a
spook story of impending revolution and anarchy, thus presenting corporatism as the
solution to America’s problems. Hence, what lies behind Beck’s “conservative
libertarian” rhetoric is a corporate ideology that aims to conceal the rise of the
corporate state behind the mask of its opposite—radical left conspiracy—which can
only be prevented by supporting the Tea Party (which, of course, preserves the
corporate hegemony).

Perhaps one of the most disturbing episodes of his TV show, “The War Room,”
was one of his earliest with Fox News. In it, Beck “speculated” on the possibility of
mass insurrection to overthrow the government and gave us a picture of the “worst
case” scenario for 2014.5 While he repeatedly distanced himself from any claim to
be making a prediction—instead he claimed to be only exploring possibilities and
“thinking through the unthinkable”—he also repeatedly connected his narrative to
the present by saying that this is beginning now and referred to past predications of
his that had come to pass. Topped and tailed with caveats distancing himself from his
“speculations,” probably for legal reasons, Beck described the collapse of American
cities, the imposition of martial law, financial meltdown, hyperinflation, the
clampdown on free speech (Beck cited the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act as
an example), the rise of street gangs, and civil war. He told us about looming civil
unrest, militias, and insurrection, and describes “the bubba effect,” whereby isolated,
self-reliant, armed, and paranoid communities of alienated and disenfranchised
people will rise up to defend themselves against tyrannical government (and
wayward Mexicans.) All of this was blamed on the incompetence of the government,
the bailouts, and a lack of border control.

Arguably, Beck’s antigovernment rhetoric could be construed as a call for
insurrection and the violent overthrow of the government, but he distances himself
from the charge of sedition with claim that this is “speculation” and by stating that he
hopes this does not happen. In “The War Room,” we can see how panic and hysteria
are important parts of Beck’s narrative. He needs to convince his audience that a
crisis is at hand, that the world will never be the same again, that a revolution is
happening—a growing state of chaos and destruction—and that martial law and
societal collapse are imminent. This feeds into people’s own sense of alienation and
anxiety but misdirects it into blaming an imaginary conspiracy. He calls it “the
perfect storm,” whereby covert revolutionaries in the government create the crises
they can then offer solutions for. His task is to intensify the degree of frustration and
fear among his increasingly polarized and factionalized audience—to create a “themand-
us” struggle for survival—which increases mistrust and further damages the
possibility of public debate and discourse. This is worrying after incidents such as
Byron Williams’s failed attempt to shoot people at the Tides Foundation, which
Williams confessed to be as a result of listening to and believing Glenn Beck’s
exposé of this nonprofit organization as a front for conspirators plotting to undermine
America.6 It is also worrying when, unperturbed by his possible influence on
Williams, Beck continues to target Frances Fox Piven, a seventy-nine-year-old
professor of sociology, even though she has received death threats, arguably as a
result of his accusations.7

Beck’s antigovernment rhetoric—linking progressives, radicals, and revolutionaries—
claims that the U.S. government under the Obama administration has
seized control over the finance sector, health care, industry, welfare, the media
(citing Net Neutrality as being a FCC plot for government control), and food prices
(citing the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act), with only the military resisting
government control (apparently, according to Beck, the military should not be under
government control). Without any hint of irony, in a hushed voice, Beck implores
every service man and woman to remember their oath to the Constitution. (Wouldn’t
that be the same Constitution that places the military under the control of Congress
and the president in times of war?) It seems that, according to Beck, progressives
have been acting as a fifth column within the government, plotting to control every
aspect of every American’s life. Glenn Beck has twisted the meaning of “regulation”
to mean “control,” as if placing enforceable standards on the quality of drinking
water means that the government controls America’s water supply. Hence, although
the idea of Net Neutrality means to prevent anyone from controlling the Internet, it
means the opposite according to Beck because it does not let powerful corporations
do what they please with the Internet. Yet he does not explicitly state this. Instead, he
misrepresents Net Neutrality as an attempt at government regulation of the Internet—
the imposition of the Fairness Doctrine. Similarly, although the 2010 Food Safety
Modernization Act actually gives agribusiness control over food production and
supply by making it even harder for small farms to compete, Beck tells us that it is a
government takeover of food in order to raise prices and cause riots. Hence, when
food prices rise due to the reduction in market competition, Beck can blame leftwing
conspirators within the government. Time and time again, Beck misrepresents
the U.S. government in terms of a covert Marxist plot, as a red cape to distract the
people, the bull, from the sword of unrestrained corporate power. Behind the
government stand cartels of corporations carving up the country, not shady Marxist

While this book is an attempt to challenge the distortions made by Beck—an
example of a contemporary media pundit and propagandist—it is not my intention to
attack him as a person. He is as entitled to enjoy his First Amendment rights to free
speech as anyone else is. However, Glenn Beck is a symptom of what has gone
wrong with mainstream media. My intention in this book is to discuss and critique
his ideas and arguments. A growing number of books have been written about Glenn
Beck.8 These books have largely dealt with the phenomenon of Glenn Beck: his
background and rise to fame. Other books have discussed him in relation to Fox
News and/or media in general. However, none of these books have given a detailed
and critical analysis of his message and arguments. In Debunking Glenn Beck, the
ideas and ideology at work in Beck’s arguments are discussed in detail and critically
analyzed. This book shows how he has distorted the meaning of the Constitution,
American history, and the facts and aims of progressivism. The book concludes by
explaining how Americans can revitalize public debate and democracy in America.

I hope that you enjoy it.
For a summary about Glenn Beck, see "Becoming Paul Revere"
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1. Brian Stelter and Bill Carter, “Fox New’s Mad, Apocalyptic, Tearful Rising Star,” New York Times, March 29, 2009, 
2. Glenn Beck, Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government (New York: Threshold Editions, 2009) (hereafter cited as AWI). 
3. Glenn Beck (TV Show), Fox News Channel, December 8, 2010; videos and transcripts of Glenn Beck’s TV program can be found at the Fox News website, index.html/, and at Beck’s own website,; see also The Daily Beck, 
4. Glenn Beck (TV Show), December 9, 2010. 
5. Ibid., February 20, 2009. 
6. Bob Egelko and Henry K. Lee, “I-580 Shootout Suspect Mad at Left-wing Politics,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 2010; and “Highway Shooter Targeted Tides Foundation, ACLU,” Bay City News, July 20, 2010; John Hamilton, “Jailhouse Confession: How the Right-Wing Media and Glenn Beck’s Chalkboard Drove Byron Williams to Plot Assassination,” Media Matters for America, October 8, 2010, 
7. Brian Stelter, “Spotlight from Glenn Beck Brings a CUNY Professor Threats,” New York Times, January 21, 2011. For Glenn Beck’s response and continued targeting of Frances Fox Piven, see the Glenn Beck Program, January 24, 2011, 4.56 p.m. EST; audio from Glenn Beck’s radio show can be found at his website, 
8. Dana Milbank, Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Teabagging of America (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 2010); Alexander Zaitchik, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance (New York: Wiley, 2010).