More about the autor

Morning Feature: TGOP Backlash, Part II – War of the Words

October 1, 2010

Morning Feature

Morning Feature: TGOP Backlash, Part II – War of the Words

“It’s fairness. He’s very fair.”

“What it is, is, he’s an honest person. He believes what he says”

“He loves this country.”

“I always felt like he judged people on how useful they were going to be to him. That seemed to be his main thing … Glenn Beck moving forward.” (More)

TGOP Backlash, Part II – War of the Words

This week Morning Feature explores Will Bunch’s new book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama. Yesterday we waded into the grass roots of today’s Tea Party Republicans. Today we examine the astroturf: their corporate funding and media messiah. Saturday we conclude by asking if this political force of 2010 will still have legs in 2012 and beyond.

All of the comments in the introduction were made about Faux Noise and talk radio host Glenn Beck. The first three were said by fans at a book signing near Philadelphia last October. The fourth was offered by a high school friend. Perhaps the difference in their perceptions lies in when they knew Beck. Or maybe it lies in whether fans really know him at all.

War of the Words.

Glenn Beck’s childhood idol was Orson Welles, less as a film director than as a radio entertainer. And Beck’s favorite broadcast was the famous 1938 Halloween episode of Mercury Theatre of the Air, where Welles adapted H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The broadcast made history because – although Welles included several disclaimers that it was fiction – the show’s news-reporting style triggered a nationwide panic. Years later, young Glenn Beck listened to the broadcast again and again, his sights already set on a career in radio.

Beck’s radio career began early. By age 13 he had won a young deejay contest, and by age 15 he was working a weekend overnight shift at a Seattle station. He never attended college because he already had the job he wanted, and for 20 years he bounced around the country, from the “Morning Zoo” format eventually into news talk. Although Beck’s history of drug and alcohol abuse and the religiosity of his recovery mirror a common pattern among high-profile conservatives, his political views were – and arguably still are – more opportunistic rants than reflective opinions. He was, simply, willing to say anything to get ratings … even that “it took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims’ families.”

When Will Bunch reported that at Media Matters, he thought it might end Beck’s career. Instead the controversy seemed to propel Beck into his first cable television job, at CNN Headline News. His show had low ratings, but that did not stop Faux Noise from signing Beck in late 2008. Beck’s Faux premiere – featuring guest Sarah Palin – came on January 19, 2009, the day before President Obama’s inauguration. Less than two months later, on March 13th, his “We surround you” broadcast gave birth to the 9-12 Project and his most recent foray into opportunism: political messiah.

Mixing half-baked conspiracies in historical crockery – and knowing that fear trumps fact – Beck turned the tricks of Welles’ War of the Worlds into his own War of the Words. He told viewers that President Obama “has a deep-seated hatred of white people and white culture,” and was “leading America into communism.” That President Obama was raised in a white family, and that even the Chinese are turning away from communism, were reasoned but irrelevant. No Martians landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey on that Halloween night in 1938, but that didn’t stop listeners in Concrete, Washington from panicking after a transformer explosion and blackout happened during the broadcast.

Beck knows how to spin coincidence into causality. A woman fainting but otherwise fine at a rally in Orlando became a miraculous healing wrought by the crowd’s singing of “Amazing Grace.” Geese taking wing when a crowd erupted into cheers became “God’s flyover.” Like so much of Beck’s life, it is yet more rhetorical opportunism. And if his fans don’t surround the nation, they did surround the block at that bookstore outside Philadelphia. He says what they believe, so in turn they say “He believes what he says.”

A well-funded megaphone.

Beck may be the loudest voice of the 2010 TGOP, but he’s hardly the only voice. Clinton-era veterans like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich remain prominent, and upstarts like Sarah Palin have joined the right wing chattering class. It pays better than being Governor of Alaska; Palin went from a salary of about $125,000 to an estimated $12 million as a media celebrity.

And the pay isn’t the only perk. Governors and other political leaders must make difficult decisions with real consequences. That may even mean negotiating and compromise. Media celebrities can issue batty but bold declarations without any basis in fact, and without accountability. So long as the money rolls in, it doesn’t matter if your policy proposals could work … or whether you propose any policies at all. If one idea isn’t outrageous enough to attract attention – and it’s increasingly difficult to do as right-wingers leap further off the cliff – say something even more outrageous.

The corporate funding of tea party activities through PACs like FreedomWorks has been well-documented. Indeed the 2009 Tea Party Convention was a for-profit affair, with ticket prices over $500 … though only $350 if you came just to watch Palin’s speech. Whatever its roots in rural indignation, tea party activities quickly became more about huge wads of money: from corporate seed money to hucksters selling emergency survival seeds. And don’t forget to buy gold before the Obamalypse collapses the dollar. In fact, such sponsors kept Beck’s program on the air after conventional advertisers bailed.

Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds lasted only an hour. The TGOP’s War of the Words has run for 20 months, and its influence in the 2010 elections is undeniable. But how long can a movement run on outrageous opportunism? We’ll discuss that in tomorrow’s conclusion.


You’ll want to rally ’round your Kossascopes in today’s Campus Chatter.

Happy Friday!

  • JanF

    The saddest part of the Beck story?

    He was, simply, willing to say anything to get ratings … even that “it took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims’ families.”

    When Will Bunch reported that at Media Matters, he thought it might end Beck’s career.

    …that hating the grieving families of 9/11 victims did NOT end his career.

    …that CNN or any media outlet would give a person like that a megaphone.

    It is less Beck’s fault than the fault of a media so obsessed with ratings that they do not see that they have an obligation to the American people to not give any attention to someone as dangerous as Beck. And it is not because Beck believes the garbage he is peddling but because the people listening to him do.

    And the rest of the media is equally complicit by sending news crews to his rallies as though they are anything more than a Beck Infomercial.


    I hope you have good news for us tomorrow because it is going to be hard to not be cynical on Non-Cynical Saturday.

    • NCrissieB

      That is the sad part, Jan. Our ‘news’ (really infotainment) executives know that fear is the most powerful emotion for selling product, and they’re about selling product … not about ensuring citizens in a democratic society are informed enough to participate in government.

      But there is good news, and the good news concerns someone we know … someone the TGOP have ignored completely in 2010 but cannot ignore in 2012: Fred.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

    • J Brunner fan

      This to me is the biggest reason I don’t watch TV news very much, JanF.

      It isn’t. Before anyone pulls out the flame throwers, I am talking about the spokes people on CNN, Fixed, MSNBC (during the day). I am not talking about the people who do the real reporting and real journalism. The news is just another form of entertainment and not serving the public trust.

      This is why my “consumption” of MSM is minimal. I don’t get what I need, and it just makes me angry when I watch or read which is the point, I guess?

      thanks agaiin

      🙂 🙁

      • NCrissieB

        I don’t watch cable news either, JBF, unless they’re covering an ongoing event that has my interest (e.g.: a storm, or election night results). Most of it is infotainment opinion-prattle. I read a lot of news, and all the more because I usually source-check the stories I read. Whenever possible, I try to find first-hand reporting or peer-reviewed academic research. I don’t care what media celebrities think about current events … and I certainly don’t watch their opinion-prattle as if it were actual news.

        Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • winterbanyan

    Beck and Limbaugh were never anything but entertainers who found a schtick that worked. They’ve never been about what’s good for this country, they’ve always been about what’s good for them. I wish I believed either of them had a conscience that would eventually wake up and trouble them, but it’s probably been so silenced by money, drugs and booze that it’s dead.

    Heaping piles of scorn on these two, and I feel sorry for people who feel so insecure and frightened that these two gasbags actually seem to deliver the only hope and truth they get. It must be a sad world to live in.

    • NCrissieB

      Bunch distinguishes Limbaugh and Beck. He seems to think Limbaugh is a political conservative to his core, while Beck is a opportunist who recognized conservatism as a useful target audience. What I found most interesting was the nexus between Beck and Orson Welles … Beck’s War of the Words expressly patterned after the entertainment techniques of Welles’ War of the Worlds. Like Welles, Beck presents fiction – with just a scrap of inside-out reality here and there – as if it were news. And like Welles’ audience, Beck’s audience responds as if it were news.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

      • JanF

        I also found that interesting. Besides the cute play on words in your title ( 🙂 ) the fact that Beck was intrigued by the ability of Orson Welles to wreak real world havoc via his radio broadcast was very eye-opening. I wonder if Beck also tortured kittens…he has that kind of mentality.

        • NCrissieB

          Beck’s original sub-S corporation was titled Mercury Radio Arts, named after Welles’ Mercury Radio Theatre. Once he hit the big time, he changed the corporation’s name to …

          … Glenn Beck, Inc.

          Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • J Brunner fan

    Morning all,
    excellent analysis, Crissie.


    A mighty fist bump to you all!


    • NCrissieB

      Thank you, JBF. It’s really Will Bunch’s analysis. I’m just summarizing it as best I can. This book should be required reading for progressives, so we can better understand what the 2010 TGOP is … and what it isn’t.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::