The other day in the fifth installment of my “Adventures In Amplitude Modulation” series I included a clip of “The Glenn Beck Program” and briefly discussed my general dislike of Beck’s radio persona and my aversion to his show. Apparently, some of the bigwigs over at CNN found Beck's glib schtick a little more charming than I did. He just signed a contract with the cable news network and will soon have a show of his own on their “Headline News” channel.
While I don’t really watch television, it saddens me that Beck’s sleazy radio work has advanced his presence in the media. Under fire from the Fox News ratings juggernaut, CNN (from what I’ve read) has made a number of compromises to their programming to make their content more glossy and Republican friendly. But this might be new low.
Along with right-wing talk stars Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Beck’s program is syndicated by Clear Channel’s “Premier Radio Network.” Now based in Philadelphia, Beck is widely heard (on about 200 stations) in the U.S. Nationally, he made his biggest splash as the ringleader and keynote speaker for Clear Channel’s pro-war “Rally For America” gatherings around the country in 2003.
While Beck political spiel falls in line with the armies of right-wing talk hosts who infest the American AM dial, he’s best known in talk radio circles for routinely making outrageous and psychopathic offhand remarks and discussing world issues in a rather cheeky jingoistic manner. A reformed alcoholic, Beck is reminiscent of a barstool loudmouth with a mean streak. However, instead of just being a tavern nuisance, Glenn Beck is broadcasting to a national audience. And now, the once respected cable news giant CNN has seen fit to add Beck’s flip sophomoric hyperbole to their prime time line-up.
Like the mannish and reckless Ann Coulter, Beck becomes another flaky political TV pundit who will say anything to pollute a debate and get a cheap laugh on behalf of the Republican party. The coarsening and dumbing-down of TV and radio political coverage has created a glut of news and information programming in moral free fall. It seems that the checks and balances in our media system, like accountability and public outrage are irrevocably broken. I suppose Rush Limbaugh made irresponsible, unsubstantiated and vicious right wing commentary acceptable and marketable in the name of “entertainment,” but today making offensive remarks about the unempowered, and calling for the torture and death of people you disagree with now passes as hilarious satire. And CNN wants to join in on the fun.
While it might not be fair to judge Beck's upcoming CNN program before its launch, there's no reason to believe he'll be any more reflective or thoughtful on TV than he's ever been on his radio show. Over the last couple years on his program Beck has called Cindy Sheehan a “tragedy pimp,” and said the victims of Hurricane Katrina are "scumbags." And it only took him a year to start really hating some of the families of 9-11 victims. Chances are the same kind of chuckle-nuggets will flow from his television show too.
Talk host Lionel has a somewhat similar history to Glenn Beck, having also launched to fame from WFLA-AM in Tampa, and spending some time on cable TV as well as being one of Premiere/Clear Channel’s crew of talk hosts for a while. But while he can be as flip and silly as Beck, Lionel ultimately respects the power of "the word" and the responsibility of being a national radio voice. Instead of using easy insults or crafting an emotional attack, Lionel sticks to the facts and makes his argument with logic and compassion for all concerned when the topics are serious. On Tuesday night Lionel weighed in on the announcement of Beck’s new TV show, and I thought you might like to hear it. You can download MP3's of Lionel discussing CNN’s decision and the stupidity of Glenn Beck here, and right here.
A personality like Glenn Beck is representative of the pornification of media. Rather than edify or really entertain, Beck stimulates. He stirs up the bloodlust and mook-hormones of his fans, and angers the hell out of some people who think or care or stand against violence. But unlike Limbaugh, O’Reilly or Hannity, Beck doesn’t come off a chiding chirping Republican talkbot. He has a disarming "ordinary joe" grin on his face as he advocates death, despair and torture. The rise of Glenn Beck is just another victory in the neo-conservative media campaign to get common folks to vote against their own interests and morals. Perhaps his detached goofiness is even more dangerous than the growing media pantry of more strident neo-con voices.