Why I Mourn for Glenn Beck
Fox News says Glenn Beck's daily program will "transition" off the network some time before the end of this year. Beck cosigned the statement and confirmed this on his show, speaking vaguely of sustaining the two-year relationship with Fox by "developing things." He sounded shell-shocked, like a man who'd been shown the door.
Rupert Murdoch's political commissar in America, Fox President Roger Ailes, confirmed this impression by telling AP that "Half of the headlines say he's been canceled. The other half say he quit. We're pretty happy with both of them. We felt Glenn brought additional information, a unique perspective, a certain amount of passion and insight to the channel and he did. But that story of what's going on and why America is in trouble today, I think he told that story as well as could be told. Whether you can just keep telling that story or not ... we're not so sure."
Ailes politely didn't mention the advertising boycott of Beck's show, nor the drooping ratings.
Beck consoled his fans by assuring them that "we'll be showing you other ways we will continue," but I'm cast down. Seeing Beck trudging off into the twilight, leaving the fetid embrace of Murdoch's Fox, will be like seeing Dracula head out of the castle without his coffin.
I've always been a big fan of Beck, partly because of his deep roots in the mulch of American nutdom, fertilized by the powerful psychic idiom of rebirth and redemption.
His mother drowned in Puget Sound, off Tacoma in the state of Washington, when Beck was 15. He says she was a suicide. He also says he was on booze and drugs from 16 to 31, when — through one marriage and out the other side — he eschewed the suicidal path of his fellow Washingtonian Kurt Cobain and joined AA. He left the Catholic Church and became a Mormon.
Beck says his intellectual development was nourished by close reading of Nietzsche, Hitler, Billy Graham and Carl Sagan. He started his Mercury Radio Arts company in 2002 and in less than a decade was earning $23 million per year with a big national audience.
Hitler taught him the uses of fear, and also the total irrelevance of criticisms that the fears he touted were phantasms from some distant time — the '60s, the '30s, the early '20s, all patches of the 20th century when the left had some heft.
To Americans in the late '90s and current decade, maxed out on their credit cards, with negative equity in their homes amid a political culture swerving relentlessly to the right, Beck endlessly promoted the conspiracies and looming threat of a left in this country, which in reality has effectively ceased to exist.
"Progressives," today's milquetoast substitute for old-line radicals, have trembled at his ravings about the left's conspiracies against freedom.
Who but Beck could dredge up Frances Fox Piven as a woman, now in her late 70s, whose theories threaten to drag America into serfdom? Piven and her late partner, Richard Cloward, developed, back in the early 1960s, what was to my mind always a batty notion: that American capitalism would crumble and the arrival of new age of liberation be advanced in schedule if everyone went on welfare.
There was no streak of cynicism in Beck, unlike Limbaugh, Hannity and the other right-wing lords of the ether. He lived up to the admonition of the founder of Britain's popular press, Lord Northcliffe, who told his journalists, "Do not put on the table of Demos (i.e., the people) what you would not put on your own."
Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, D.C., last August was a striking event. Beck not only gave a speaking slot to Alveda King — one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s nieces, but also paid close attention to race throughout the day. The lineup for the presenters of the three civilian badges of merit for faith, hope and charity were an American Indian presenting to an African-American, a white man presenting to a Dominican and a Mexican-American presenting to a white man, with a black woman accepting on his behalf.
"The key message of the 'Restoring Honor' rally," reported Robert Jensen to CounterPunch the next day, "was redemption, personal and collective, the personal intertwined with the collective. Unlike some reactionary right-wingers, Beck spoke often about America's mistakes — though all of them are safely in the past. Rather than try to downplay slavery, he highlighted it. ... 'America has been both terribly good and terribly bad,' leaving us with a choice, he said. 'We either let those scars crush us or redeem us.'"
Limbaugh could not have said those words, nor Ailes nor Murdoch. Rave on, Glenn Beck, but welcome to the margins of the political culture, wherein dwell so many radicals, some of whom you rescued from obscurity and gave them respect, unlike the progressive Jon Stewart, who loses no opportunity to deride them.
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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