29 September 2010

Glenn Beck, Nazi Hunter

Glenn Beck ~ Both Portraits
© Nigel Parry for The New York Times.

Today we are treated to the latest installment in the series of New York Times puff pieces on right wing ideologues. We already have had portraits (all by celeb photographer Nigel Parry) of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. This time the portraits are less scary, but they remind me of Richard Avedon's portrait of Karl Rove - the similarly buffoonish look on both faces is striking.

Karl Rove, Republican National Convention, NY,
2004 © Richard Avedon.

The problem, of course, is that Rove and Beck are no joke. They use their cleverness in more or less thoroughly malevolent ways. The Times reporter depicts Beck as genial and approachable and sensitive and so forth. The guy (Beck) is full of it. And instead of an argument he regularly simply closes off debate in the best way possible - accusing those he disagrees with of being Nazis.

ON THE AIR and in person, Beck often goes on long stretches that are warm, conciliatory and even plaintive. He says he yearns for the cohesion in the country after Sept. 11, 2001, and will speak in paragraphs that could fit into Barack Obama’s plea for national unity in his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “There’s a lot we can disagree on, but our values and principles can unite us,” Beck said from the Lincoln Memorial.

But “standing together” can be a tough sell from someone who is so willing to pick at some of the nation’s most tender scabs. Beck’s statement that the president’s legislative agenda is driven by Obama’s desire for “reparations” and his “desire to settle old racial scores” is hardly a uniting message. While public figures tend to eventually learn (some the hard way) that Nazi, Hitler and Holocaust comparisons inevitably offend a lot of people, Beck seems not to care. In a forthcoming book about Beck, “Tears of a Clown,” the Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank writes that in the first 14 months of Beck’s Fox News show, Beck and his guests mentioned fascism 172 times, Nazis 134 times, Hitler 115 times, the Holocaust 58 times and Joseph Goebbels 8 times.

In his quest to root out progressives, Beck compared himself to Israeli Nazi-hunters. “To the day I die I am going to be a progressive-hunter,” he vowed on his radio show earlier this year. “I’m going to find these people that have done this to our country and expose them. I don’t care if they’re in nursing homes.”

“Raising questions” is Beck’s favorite rhetorical method. Last year during the health care debate, Beck compared Obama’s economic agenda to Nazi Germany — specifically he paralleled the White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s statement that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” with how Hitler used the world economic crisis as a pivot point. Photos of Hitler, Stalin and Lenin then appeared on screen. “Is this where we’re headed?” Beck asked. He allowed that “I am not predicting that we go down that road.”

If you treat people as Nazis, then you hound them like criminals and dismiss (or worse, eliminate) them rather than, say, addressing them as a interlocutors to be taken seriously enough to disagree with. That's Glenn Beck, Nazi hunter.
Update: Today, Michael Shaw, perpetrator of the terrific BagNewsNotes, poses this nice query the folks at The Times at HuffPost: just what is your puffery meant to convey? The problem with The Times is that when their ideology is not just blatant (as when they disparage any vaguely progressive politics), they tend to pretend that being objective means being 'non-committal' or 'neutral' (whatever that means). And they end up being irresponsible by giving right-wing nutters a pass.

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