So what do you do? Do you respond to their bizarre, trite and frequently offensive attention-seeking bombast or do you try to deny them the oxygen of publicity? In Britain recently, as Sally Bercow, the motormouth wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, sought to inform the nation about “life between the sheets” and disported herself in front of her window overlooking Parliament wearing nothing but a sheet, the reaction of many news sheets was to ignore her. In a short period, she has so cheapened her husband’s office that even the tabloids have pressed the “off” switch.
A cause for similar reflection came was when Glenn Beck treated his audience to another of his notorious outbursts. Beck is ostensibly employed by Rupert Murdoch as a sort of hired gauleiter on Fox News. But Beck long ago crossed the professional line as any sort of reputable journalist or commentator. He is little more or less than a mouthpiece for Sarah Palin and the ridiculously misnamed Tea Party. According to Andrew Neil’s excellent BBC documentary on the Tea Party, Beck pockets a staggering $30 million a year largely by shouting his mouth off and rejoicing in his own ignorance. Even Murdoch can’t be paying him that much for his services to stupidity, so where does the rest come from?
There are his ranting warm-up spots for Palin, his wretched website, his lachrymose fumbling – almost with an onion in one hand and a handkerchief in the other, and the sort of lunacy demonstrated when he managed to conflate American trade unions with the Muslim Brotherhood. Sadly, the following is not made up. It comes from the foul mouth of Glenn Beck.
“And I want you to listen to some of these demands and see if you have heard any similarities to the community here in America. This is the revolutionary socialists [sic] in Egypt. ‘Glory to the martyrs, victory to the revolution. Mubarak’s departure is the first step, not the last step. The country’s wealth belongs to the people and must return to it. Glory to the martyrs. Down with the system. All power to the people. Victory to the revolution.’
“Blah, blah, blah. I mean – does any of this sound like a pro-democracy, pro-freedom declaration? Not to me. But these groups, and so many more, have organised what is called a shadow parliament. Look it up. Do your own research. We’ll be talking about that in detail tomorrow and the next day.
“The activists, the labour unions, the radicals – they all came together because they can agree on one thing. The Western way of life is over and each of them thinks they have the answer.”
For some, Beck’s assault on the English language may constitute more of a threat to the Western way of life than the United Auto Workers. Unfortunately, there are many not-so-bright, gun-carrying American citizens who share Beck’s demented view of the world.
The rest of us do not have to tune in and Britain does not have its own version of Fox News – as yet. But that does not mean we have nothing to worry about.
The other day, a friend got in touch and said: “Remember Professor Frances Fox Piven? Beck has been trailing her name for weeks as someone responsible for the collapse of American values and now she is receiving death threats.”
For the uninitiated, a flavour of Beck’s demented vitriol can be found on YouTube, along with Fox Piven’s rather more measured response Frances Fox Piven is a distinguished academic at the City University of New Yorks. She is now 78, but still firing on all scholarly cylinders on behalf of the poor and dispossessed of the United States – which is what she has always done. She has been able to marshal serious theory and hard fact throughout her illustrious career in order to advance her arguments. It has been a great privilege for me to share the occasional platform with her in New York City over the years.
It may be tempting to dismiss Beck’s far-over-the-top attack on Fox Piven as the rantings of a lunatic. Indeed, even Bill O’Reilly, a colleague of Beck’s on Fox, thinks he is mad. But this is not a one-off. Beck has repeatedly had Fox Piven in his sights. And eight out of nine of his regular targets, including billionaire George Soros, are Jewish.
According to Beck: “These people are responsible for the era of the big lie.” And he wants to know: “Just who is the intelligent minority?” It is a safe bet that Glenn Beck is not among their number.
I asked Frances Fox Piven about her reaction to the death threats that have followed in the wake of Beck’s foaming at the mouth. In typically calm, almost reflective mode, she had this to say. “It’s tempting, I think, to be amused by the strange stories that Glenn Beck creates on his chalkboard. But the stories gain traction with people who are made anxious by the large changes that have overtaken the United States, including the election of a black president and the increasing racial diversity of the population, deindustrialisation and the decline of American power abroad, and cultural changes in sexual and family norms.
“By telling simple and paranoid fairytales that trace these big and complex changes to the machinations of particular people, Beck makes the changes comprehensible in a way, and also makes the people who are presumably responsible the targets of his listeners’ frustration and outrage.
“This is dangerous for democratic politics, partly because it is utterly irrational and partly because it is an effort to extort silence from leading voices on the left.”
That last line says it all. In essence, this what Rupert Murdoch’s empire is all about: monopoly, control, dumbing-down and an assault on all the voices and forces that refuse to surrender to its small-minded, market-driven view of world. Rupert Murdoch and his sidekicks, notably son James, know exactly what they are doing.
But Glenn Beck is in a league of his own. When such people are able to whip up members of the white, dispossessed lumpen proletariat into a frenzy, they pose a very real threat to public safety.
We saw where this can lead in Arizona when six people were shot dead and 13, including US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, were wounded. Giffords, a liberal opponent of the Tea Party, had been targeted for assassination. In Britain, it is likely that Beck would be prosecuted for inciting violence. An appropriate punishment – behind bars – would certainly give him something to cry about.
In truth, Beck has joined a long line of Jew and red baiters whose ranks include the likes of Josef Goebbels and Julius Streicher. Beck lacks the intelligence and oratorical talents of the former, but Streicher’s vicious Nazi street rag Der Sturmer, which whipped up violence and hatred against Jews, leftists and others, could readily have accommodated his opinions.
Many Americans, including more moderate Republicans, ask what is happening to public discourse in their country. Why is it so full of hate? The answer lies with the likes of Glenn Beck – a ghastly, fascistic fool of a propagandist whom Rupert Murdoch is happy to employ and allow onto the airwaves America needs to wake up before people like Beck and his ilk has it by the throat.
Mark Seddon is a former editor of Tribune