March 7, 2011

POLICING OURSELVES:

The Decline of Glenn Beck (James Downie, March 3, 2011, New Republic)

Meanwhile, as a group, prominent conservatives have seemed more willing to speak out against Beck recently. Though some on the right always disparaged him—several profiles last year included anonymous Fox insiders criticizing Beck—almost none were willing to do so with their names attached. Recently, however, conservatives have been criticizing Beck openly. Bill O’Reilly, who feted him for an hour after the Restoring Honor rally, has rapidly become more and more dismissive. The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol has criticized Beck’s “rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East.” Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin called Beck a “ranting extremist,” and former Bush administration staffer Pete Wehner wrote for Commentary’s website, “If conservatism were ever to hitch its wagon to this self-described rodeo clown, it would collapse as a movement.”

What happened? Beck built a following by making outlandish, conspiratorial claims—about ACORN, Obama, and so on. (Bizarrely, his extremism may have augmented the number of curious liberal viewers tuning in: A Pew Research Center poll from last September found that 9 percent of Beck’s Fox viewers identified as Democrats, and 21 percent as moderates or liberals.) But “anytime you have extreme stimulus,” says Alexander Zaitchik, author of the unauthorized Beck biography Common Nonsense, “you’ll have diminishing returns.” Beck, says Zaitchik, was caught “in a vicious circle”: To keep viewers coming back, he had to keep creating new, more intricate theories. Last November, in a two-part special that indirectly invoked anti-Semitism, he accused liberal Jewish financier George Soros of orchestrating the fall of foreign governments for financial gain. During the Egyptian Revolution, Beck sided with Hosni Mubarak, alleging that his fall was “controlled by the socialist communists and the Muslim Brotherhood.” Beck is now warning viewers not to use Google, accusing the search-engine giant of “being deep in bed with the government.” In recent months, it seems, Beck’s theories became so outlandish that even conservatives—both viewers and media personalities—were having a hard time stomaching them. Now, each new idea appears to be costing Beck both eyeballs and credibility. “At some point,” says Boehlert, “it doesn’t add up any more.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 7, 2011 2:02 PM
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