“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!