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Glenn Beck’s Miracle | Three 8/28 Thoughts August 29, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Media, Politics.
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Towards the end of his spectacle this weekend, Glenn Beck offered definitive proof of god’s existence.  He started recounting a personal tale about the most holy type of divine intervention: the fundraising miracle.

Beck said that although having raised $3.1 million for a charity he’d pledged to help, he was still $600,000 short of his target.  But alas, there were no more donors to be found.

On the flight back from his final fundraiser, Beck says he raised his face to the ceiling of the airplane cabin and, for the first time, actually questioned god (he cried as he said this).  But that makes sense, because falling $600,000 short of a fundraising target would test the faith of the most fervent believer.

So Beck called out to god.  Then, he tells us, without saying a word to anyone but god, the final $600,000 were miraculously donated in just two days.  God himself saved Beck’s fundraising effort when all hope was lost.  Ask and you shall receive.

It’s a moving story: god helped Beck meet his fundraising target when there was literally no more money to be found anywhere – except perhaps the $32 million Beck made last year…

“The 2010 Wingnut Superbowl” in the words of John Avlon.  I’ve seen bigger.

Three additional observations:

1) Focus. Wasn’t this event supposed to be about supporting the troops?  It was called “Restoring Honor.”  I came a little late to the theatrics, but what I saw was solely about restoring faith.  Glenn Beck just attempted to evangelize America.  Maybe I missed something, but is that really how this event was advertised?

A friend of mine spoke to some tea partiers as they were leaving the rally, and they seemed to echo this sentiment.  To paraphrase them, “we thought he was going to talk about the troops and the Constitution. We thought he was going to tell us what to do since we came all the way here.  Instead, he just told us to go to church.”  I am curious whether there may actually be some resentment from his base about this.

2) Size. Beck and his conservative gang are using the size of the rally as proof of the strength of their movement.  But how big was it actually?  The U.S. National Park Service no longer makes official tallies since being accused of low-balling the numbers for the Million Man March (and because they get nothing out of making the tallies so that’s a lot of hassle and no benefit to them).  Unfortunately, the absence of an official tally opens up the crowd size to conservative hyperbole.

Instead of just guessing, CBS commissioned an estimate based on aerial photos that came to 87,000 +/- 9k.  NBC Nightly News said tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands.  ABCNews said more than 100,000.  The event had a permit for 300,000.  Beck said between 300,000 and 650,000 were there.  Fox News “reported” at least 500,000.  (Just our of curiosity, anything happen if your event exceeds its permitted size?)

But my favorite crowd estimate was conducted by Rep. Michele Bachmann (TP-MN).  At her own little rally at the Washington Monument, she asked her audience how many people thought that more than one million people were there.  The crowd cheered.  And so it was.  Having compiled that scientific data, she said “We‘re not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million people here today because we were witnesses.”

This is exactly the kind of manufactured conservative reality I have been talking about – it’s a “we believe it, so it’s true” perspective.  Democracy is a good form of government, not a good tool to determine what is objectively factual.

3) Class. Beck told his audience that they needed to accept god “so that we can guide [America/the world] down the stairs and out of the building to safety.”  I was confused for a minute, but then I got the reference.  I don’t find that imagery particularly tasteful.

But then what do you expect from Glenn Beck?  John Avlon has a good critique of the rally at The Daily Beast that highlights the blinding hypocrisy of this event.  Beck’s actions invite media commentators to rightly call him out because external criticism only further endears Beck to his faithful audience, and he doesn’t have to worry about them noticing the hypocrisy because they only trust Fox News.

For Sale: The Fourth Estate April 15, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Election, Media, Politics.
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1 comment so far

In a classroom, if you present an argument, it is expected to be logically sound.  If it’s not, you can expect to be called out for that.  As a [relatively] recent college graduate, it has been disheartening to discover that those expectations do not extend to important places off-campus.  Like our government.

I now live in Washington, DC, the front-line of a polarized America.  And from the floor of the Senate to the op-ed page of the Washington Post, I am disgusted by the deliberate mistruths and toxicity that have polluted the national dialogue. Name your issue, they’re there.

I have taken to watching Fox News at the gym; say what you will about Glenn Beck, but I have yet to find anything that keeps me as fired up – provided I can overcome the urge to assure passersby that I am not a Tea Partier.  But if you actually watch the programs, it becomes clear that these talk shows are a cleverly wielded and dangerously effective political tool.

Listening makes me want to run harder. Looking makes me want to keep running.

It is true that MSNBC runs similarly structured programming and is guilty of some of the same partisan tactics.  Both “news” organizations should clean up their acts.  But MSNBC does not operate with Fox’s defiant shamelessness, and ideological opposition does not automatically confer equivalency.

Many people I’ve talked to argue that Fox News is irrelevant because it yells into its own echo chamber and thus does not affect moderate, independent or undecided voters anyways.  But even if I were to concede that premise, in the media’s current state, I have to disagree with the conclusion.

Last year, I lamented Fox’s apparent victory as the mainstream media embraced “balance” as their primary value, unseating objective accuracy.  Consider a linear spectrum from liberal to conservative.  As long as balance trumps accuracy, whenever conservatives dive to the right, no matter how outrageous the claim, media outlets must move at least half as far in that direction to stay in the center.  That taints everybody’s news.

Instead of trying to perfectly straddle that mobile center, media outlets have increasingly drawn upon punditry; pair each comment from the left with a comment from the right and you have ostensibly achieved balance – at the expense of the truth.  Case-in-point: CNN’s recent hiring of the despicable, foul-mouthed conservative blogger Erick Erickson.

If the news is just a soapbox for politicos and outlets are afraid to call out disprovable lies, the system has collapsed.

When the now infamous Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) interrupted President Obama, he didn’t yell, “I have statistical data that casts your theory into doubt!”  A baseless claim, “you lie!” now suffices as a political riposte.  And the solution to this behavior is not an equally extreme liberal demagogue like Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL).  Just tell the truth!

The nastiness of our political discourse is unprecedented, but not inexplicable.  Our two-party system has had this all-out combative capability since Jefferson and Adams.  It has just been held in check by the media…until now.

With its financial survival threatened, American journalism has sold out and compromised its ideals.  Accusations of media partisanship have begun to stick partly because they’ve begun to be true.  And with its objectivity in question, one of our government’s most important safeguards has failed: the loss of accountability is to blame for our current political climate.

Politicians used to be restrained by unbiased fact-checking and investigative journalism.  Trusted, objective news coverage once held extreme rhetoric in check.  Today, American news outlets are either perversely partisan or utterly defanged.  And when the referees are biased or silent, the game quickly turns violent.

Knowing what we’ve lost is the first step towards replacing it.  But I’m not sure how to take the second.  Journalism didn’t fall from grace because it grew tired of protecting of our democracy, it succumbed to increasing financial pressure and failed to adapt.

There is money to be made in opinion journalism because we, the public, are demanding it.  So we must instead demand that news sources provide news, not spin or the political talking points du jour.  If that means stop watching MSNBC and Fox News, we must do that too – I once managed to motivate myself without staring at Glenn Beck’s curvaceous bod, I can do it again.

Fox News created the tea party movement. That isn't news reporting, it's news-making. That is not what media outlets do.

Even if we cannot sway the national media, we are not powerless to turn back this ugly tide.  We can’t pick the refs, but we can pick the players.

Believe it or not, it’s already another election year.  Many primaries are just next month, and in November many of us will be able to elect a new U.S. Senator and Representative.

So let me be the first this year to say, “please vote.”   As an official DC resident, I essentially no longer can.  It’s one of the many things I miss that I was able to do in college.

A version of this post appeared in The Chronicle at Duke University.