By Richard Stone
Radio and television show host Glenn Beck is a controversial figure. He has made his fortune from being a media pundit and propagandist. Describing himself as only “a rodeo clown” and an entertainer in search of ratings, he has regaled his listeners and viewers with exposés about government conspiracies and plots. Declaring that progressives are secretly attempting to impose socialism on America, he denounces any kind of “social justice” as being the path toward National Socialism and/or communism. While advocating his brand of “conservative libertarianism” and claiming that he is on a mission from God to restore America to its founding principles, Glenn Beck has become a household name and bestselling author. When I first saw him on television, I thought that his own description of himself as a rodeo clown was about right.
Thus begins the preface to Debunking Glenn Beck: How to Save America from Media Pundits and Propagandists. Karl Rogers, its author, was visiting our area and I was able to meet him to discuss his book. [Author’s note: I have read only the preface; the book is due to be released at the end of October by Praeger (www.abc-clio.com/product.aspx?isbn=9781440800290).]
Rogers is a native Brit who has traveled the world, including a long recent stay in South America. He currently presides as the founding director of the Center for Democracy and Education under the aegis of the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota (ias.umn.edu). His original fields of study were physics, philosophy, and political philosophy, and he has an extensive bibliography related to these topics. So why a book on Glenn Beck?
“It all started innocently in a hotel room,” he says. “I just turned on the TV, and there was this crazy neo-Nazi ranting away. I thought no more about it—he’s not the only one performing this act.
“But soon thereafter, on a flight to Alaska, the man next to me was reading Beck’s book Arguing with Idiots. I asked to look at it, and even at a glance, I could see it was full of distortions of history and the Constitution.
“After another accidental TV encounter, I went and bought the book—I felt like I needed to carry it in a plain brown wrapper. I began to ask ‘Who believes this stuff, and why?’ and I began to write rejoinders.”
The book, Rogers goes on, was first conceived as a “counter-text” for student use, but then it evolved into a multipurpose discourse: 1) to challenge Beck’s major assertions; 2) to uncover his ideology as a pro-corporate shill, not at all a conservative in any meaningful way; 3) to examine how someone so shallow and obviously hypocritical (or self-contradictory, if you will) can attract so large a following; and 4) to discuss what’s gone wrong with contemporary media, and how to defend free press and net neutrality.
Rogers (like Jim Hightower, also featured in this month’s Community Alliance) sees the current era as another Gilded Age requiring a progressive movement to take back the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution through a restructuring of our basic
political and economic institutions.
Besides a deep concern about the future of freedom on the Internet, Rogers is specifically disturbed by major media’s trend toward “narrowcasting”—seeking out a niche audience by speaking only to the biases and prejudices of its listeners, excluding any contradictory evidence or arguments while claiming free speech rights to make inflammatory and even untrue statements.
Rogers mentions that he is planning a “radio tour” to promote the book that will include appearances on the shows of local Rush and Sean wannabes. I tell him the experiences we’ve had in Fresno on such shows, where we were cut off and treated rudely. “Yes,” he says, “since they’ve lost the arguments all they can do is try to silence you. But I think I’m up to the task.”
I ask about how to engage others outside “the choir” to talk about contentious issues. He says, “You have to begin by finding common ground. With healthcare, for example, I’ll start by talking about ensuring that veterans get adequate treatment.”
The book includes chapters on a variety of issues that Beck harps on—the Constitution, housing, global weather patterns, and conservation, etc.—and includes point-by-point refutations of Beck’s so-called reasoning. But it also expands into a larger discussion of progressive responses to oligarchy throughout American history, and a rebuttal to the “myth of the free market.”
Rogers says, “We need to see progressivism as a continuation of the American Revolution, a voice against corruption and elitism.”
For those of us who, as part of Citizens for Civility and Accountability in Media (CCAM), have been trying to highlight the dangers of broadcasters such as Beck and Limbaugh, as brought to us on one-note stations like KMJ, Rogers’ book is most welcome. It seems to have both the scope and context to strengthen the argument that this narrowcasting phenomenon is a true threat to the very Constitution of our nation.
Richard Stone is on the boards of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and the Community Alliance and is a member of Citizens for Civility and Accountability in Media (CCAM). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.