Glenn Beck and the Red Knight

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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50 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    So it has come full-circle. Ari Fleischer was right.

    “I’m aware of the press reports about what he said. I have not seen the actual transcript of the show itself. But assuming the press reports are right, it’s a terrible thing to say, and it unfortunate. And that’s why—there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to people in his own party—they’re reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.”Report

  2. E.D. Kain says:

    Bring me up to speed on that, jaybird. Not sure what you’re referring to…Report

  3. ChrisWWW says:

    Ari said that after a reporter asked him about Bill Maher’s statement that Bush was wrong to say the 9/11 suicide bombers were cowardly. Maher went on to say that shooting cruise missiles from 200 miles away was more cowardly.

    I’m not sure how that’s the same as veiled calls for armed resistance.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    After 9/11, Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect discussed the whole attack on the towers and Maher himself got agitated and pointed out that saying that the pilots were cowards was totally wrong, they weren’t cowards (I can dig up a transcript if you’d like).

    Fleischer was asked about that show at a press conference.

    That’s what he said.

    The intertubes went nuts, of course. Those on the left screamed for freedom of speech and that the government was silencing dissent. Those on the right were measured and pointed out that dissent was all well and good but there was a time and a place for everything and Maher’s comments were not helpful, etc.

    I’m one of those free speech absolutist nuts (shout out to Hentoff). I found Fleischer’s comments (“need to watch what they say”) to be exceptionally creepy to be coming from a public official standing next to a Presidential Seal.

    Your opinions, of course, are your own and not coming from a position of authority over The American People and are significantly different from Fleischer’s in that sense… but I still see echoes of “people need to watch what they say” in your post.

    I wonder if you see Fleischer’s admonition as good advice (and criticisms of it need to be aimed at how he chose the targets of his gaze, rather than the advice itself).Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    “I’m not sure how that’s the same as veiled calls for armed resistance.”

    So Fleischer was right, it’s just that he said it to the wrong people?Report

  6. First, let me issue the qualifier that I do not think that Beck or even Jones are remotely on the same level as this. It is only to show the role that talk shows can and have played in some seriously bad stuff within the all-too-recent past.

    Let me repeat that qualifier, because it’s important: I do not think that Beck or even Jones are remotely on the same level as this. If they were even within the general ballpark, they wouldn’t have talk shows on any network of any size in the United States because they would get fired faster than you can say “Don Imus.”

    That said, no discussion of talk shows and incitement to violence is complete without this context:

  7. Koz says:

    ED, wrt this post and the last one too, one thing I think you’re not appreciating is how critical the Obama stimulus package is. It’s not the only thing of course, but I think you have to be able to appreciate what the stimulus package illustrates about where we are right now before the Tea Parties can make sense.Report

  8. ChrisWWW says:

    The idea that influential people should be responsible with their remarks doesn’t seem terrible to me. But enforcing that legally is out of the question. Unless of course they are clearly inciting violence.Report

  9. E.D. Kain says:

    Jaybird – I wrote:

    it’s high time they were held accountable for that – by their corporate sponsors, their viewers, and the companies, like Fox, who air their shows:

    I did not, and do not, advocate government censorship of these guys. I only intend to point out that words have consequences, regardless of our intent.Report

  10. Jaybird says:

    “I did not, and do not, advocate government censorship of these guys.”

    Good enough for me. I am a big supporter of boycott kinda movements.

    I am just creeped out when I see people saying that opinions should be silenced rather than demonstrated to be stupid/wicked/evil. I’m creeped out when I see government involved in “chilling effects” on speech. If we’re staying away from that, that’s wonderful.Report

  11. E.D. Kain says:

    Totally. Free speech is essential to the preservation of our democracy. That said, sometimes people should be told that their speech is harmful and people themselves need to be aware that “with great power comes great responsibility” and it just bothers me to no end how irresponsible some of this speech really is.Report

  12. Jaybird says:

    “The idea that influential people should be responsible with their remarks doesn’t seem terrible to me.”

    My problem is not only that “responsible” means different things to different folks (was Maher irresponsible? How about if you define “irresponsible” as “got himself kicked off due to a boycott”?) but that “he’s being irresponsible!” has pretty much led to “SOMETHING OUGHT TO BE DONE!” far, far too often for my taste. When the SOTBD results in, say, a boycott… that’s great. More power to whomever. When it results in a Press Secretary talking about people needing to be more careful… well. That’s a horse of a different color.Report

  13. ChrisWWW says:

    was Maher irresponsible?

    I suppose if you tried hard enough you could say Maher was glorifying the Al Qaeda cause and bolstering their recruitment. But you’d have to ignore everything else Maher has ever said on the subject, and somehow believe that would be terrorists are taking their cues from a secular Jewish dude on late night TV.

    On the flip side, I don’t think Beck and Gov. Perry are that far away from advocating armed resistance to Barack Obama. If you really think he’s on the verge of taking your guns, and throwing you in a concentration camp, I’m not sure what other course of action there is. Especially when the next election is four long years away.Report

  14. Jaybird says:

    I am not and would not say that Maher was glorifying the Al Qaeda cause. That was more meant as a throwaway question that was intended to demonstrate the looseness of the whole “irresponsible” concept and how that there are definitions of “irresponsible” that you (as in you personally) would totally see as “totally covered by the First Amendment”.

    I don’t trust the judges enough to reach the proper conclusions of which speech fits in where. It always makes me scratch my head when I see people who do trust the judges that much.Report

  15. E.D. Kain says:

    Right, and the point then is for normal people, other commentators, etc. to voice their concern. Not for any sort of legislative action. The point of my piece is to say that this sort of speech can be dangerous, and it should be condemned – but not legally, by any means.Report

  16. Nob Akimoto says:

    I don’t know, I’m inclined tos ay the judges can be trusted fairly well to respect the First Amendment, particularly in light of demonstrations and incitement. Pace Brandenburg and even Clairborne Hardware, even the craziest of these remarks can’t be taken as incitement or seditious libel, and even the craziest of the Tea Party assemblies no matter how irresponsible or racist would probably still be okay under the same logic of the Skokie case.

    I think the most disgusting part of Beck’s ranting is that it’s primarily a ratings ploy. Unless the man is completely and utterly deranged (in which case he needs psychiatric help) there’s no way any of his little rants or fears are actually anything that can be taken seriously. It’s one thing to spark fears and resentments based on what you actually believe, but to do so as a business thing, particularly when your acknowledged role in society is to inform and shape opinions, then well…Report

  17. Jaybird says:

    I might have agreed with the first half of your post at one point… but since then I’ve seen free speech zones at political rallies. I’ve grown significantly more humorless about such things since.

    As for the second half… I don’t really know how one should make legal distinctions between things said cynically to make a profit and things said earnestly that only incidentally create cash inflow.Report

  18. matoko_chan says:

    Thank you E.D.
    That was quite beautiful.
    Now can we please pin Jaybird’s eyes open a la Clockwork Orange and force him to watch an hour of Beck?Report

  19. E.D. Kain says:

    Your welcome, matoko – and no! I like jaybird too much… I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy!Report

  20. matoko_chan says:

    My rightwing friends defend Beck as a comic….he has called himself a rodeo clown.
    But I think Beck is really this kind of clown, that terrified me when I was small.

    But why are they clowns? They aren’t funnie.


  21. Jaybird says:

    My main experience with Beck was that he was a guest on Red Eye (a guilty pleasure) and, well, he didn’t seem crazy to me…

    But then, I am one of those crazy libertarian types so I am sure that my calibration is off.Report

  22. matoko_chan says:

    well, he didn’t seem crazy to me…

    then you haven’t watched him
    step on, poseurReport

  23. Katherine says:

    Beck’s nuts, but aside from that Jaybird is right on this one. I get disturbed when only a few months after Obama taking office I hear his supporters sounding the same as Bush’s did.

    If in the days before Iraq, mainstream voices had said that Iraq posed no threat, that the US was waging a war of aggression, and that they were torturing people to validate conclusions they had already drawn about Saddam-al Qaeda ties, conclusions that were false – they would have been denounced as 1. crazy conspiracy theorists and 2. endangering America by arguing it should ignore the obvious clear and present threat of a nation that was allied with the perpetrators of 9/11 and would have nukes in a few months. The fact that the speakers would have been RIGHT and their detractors would have been utterly wrong would be completely irrelevant.

    And there is no possible way to apply this principle without applying it to everyone regardless of whether or not they’re acting in good faith. I don’t think people who are supposed to be news sources should be outright lying to people, particularly not when those lies take the form of “your government is building concentrations camps”. But if the last eight years have shown anything it’s that loud criticism of the government should be encouraged.

    I really think that if someone’s going to start shooting people, they’d do it t without Beck’s rhetoric. If someone shot Cheney, I wouldn’t blame Obama for releasing the memos and setting them off.Report

  24. Nob Akimoto says:

    There’s a significant difference between voicing outright falsehoods and fabrications intended to whip up FUD and making critical statements of government.

    Rather, I think it’s worth weighing that one of the things that we’ve seen in the past 8 years isn’t necessarily criticism of government should be encouraged, but rather that the media needs to do its actual job of informing people, instead of either serving as mouthpieces of the government (pre-Obama FNC, or current-MSNBC) or whipping up hysteric falsehoods meant to play upon their viewer’s biggest drawing points.

    An irresponsible media is partly what enabled Bush to do what he did. That somehow the lesson is that “we should just encourage folks in the media to say crazy things” is I think fundamentally missing an important keystone of what made the landscape so suited to the Bush Administration.Report

  25. matoko_chan says:

    Katherine….did you not read the post?
    Poplawski posted a Beck youtube on FREAKIN’ STORMFRONT.
    Charles Johnson says Beck and Rush are takin’ advertising dollars from Alex Jones to pimp his conspiracy theory faux-umentary on their shows.
    Jones is a raving anti-Semite that believes the JOOOS are controlling the world.
    It is NOT the same.
    I suggest you and Jaybird visit Stormfront and Info Wars (Alex Jones site).
    Before you start with the “well….they did it too” BS.Report

  26. matoko_chan says:

    One more thing, Jaybird, Katherine……Stormfront and Info Wars make dKos look like Neopets. Those people are neo-nazis and white supremicists and anti-semites.
    One of these things is not like the others.Report

  27. Katherine says:

    Katherine….did you not read the post?
    Poplawski posted a Beck youtube on FREAKIN’ STORMFRONT.

    I understand. But if he was involved with Stormfront before he listened to Beck and his reaction to Beck was, “hey, I should show him to these guys” – well, it says nothing good about Beck, that’s for sure, but isn’t it likely the Stormfront connection is more relevant to his actions than the Beck one? I just am not inclined to think Beck was the reason Poplawski killed people.

    Fox being funded by the extreme right to promote its ideas, now that is very interesting and problematic. And Beck’s calling other people fascists – yeah, there’s a pot-kettle situation.

    (And HELL NO I am not going to the Stormfront site. I’m happier not knowing.)Report

  28. Jaybird says:

    I am not starting with the “they did it too” crap.

    I am starting with the “are you going to start burning Beck’s books now?” crap.

    Are you going to start burning his books for the sake of the women and children?

    Perhaps have him imprisoned for his views?

    A third party quoted him in a very, very ugly place, after all.

    Surely we need to protect the purity of our women and children, right? Only an insane libertine would think that these books need not be burned… right? I can handle reading them and you can handle reading them… but what about the women and children?


    See the difference between that and “but they do it too”?Report

  29. E.D. Kain says:

    Jaybird – I think that you’re operating from a different angle than I intended my argument to come from. I am arguing that there are, indeed, dangerous consequences when people in positions of authority start either lying or inciting fear or rebellion and so forth. What Beck is doing does not require book burning or censorship; it might be good if advertisers pulled funding or if people changed the channel – but on top of this, I think it’s important for people to keep pointing out that what he’s saying is wrong, plain and simple. And on top of that I worry that it will inspire more deranged possibly violent people to step off the deep end.Report

  30. Nob Akimoto says:

    Here’s a question.

    Since this done on a private basis…

    Should victims of any potential crimes incited (directly or indirectly) by Beck’s rantings be able to be sue Fox News? It’s not censorship (in that it’s not prior restraint of free speech) and if causal effect can be established, surely it’s within say the families of the police officers to sue Glenn Beck for inciting (however directly or indirectly) the violence that led to the deaths of their loved ones.Report

  31. Jaybird says:

    E.D., that last one was not aimed at you at all. It was aimed solely at Makato.Report

  32. Jaybird says:

    Nob, would you feel it appropriate to sue KMFDM for the Columbine shootings?Report

  33. E.D. Kain says:

    But Jaybird – what if Beck says “The government is out to get you and they must be stopped.” or something to that effect, while also calling Obama a fascist while plastering up images of Hitler and Mao in the background, and then somebody actually goes and tries to stop the government by whatever means they can….what is the proper response to that? Should the station pull Beck’s show? Should advertisers pull funding? Should someone sue? What do you think?Report

  34. Jaybird says:

    I think that I have far, far more to fear from a government trying to protect me from “bad” opinions than I do from nutcases with a soapbox.

    Imagine, if you will, a President like George W. Bush with a majority of Republicans in Congress and a majority of Republicans in the Senate.

    Would you still want the government picking and choosing what views are dangerous and needed to be squashed? Remember those two guys at that one anti-war rally carrying that sign that said “We support our troops when they shoot their officers”?

    Should ANSWER be able to be sued for any given fratricide incident?

    There is no power that I want Obama and the democrats to have that would make me feel uncomfortable if Bush and the republicans had it. No, not even one.Report

  35. E.D. Kain says:

    Agreed, Jaybird. And Bush has given Obama a few extra powers for sure. So is there anything that can be done? Or are we just destined to fight wingnuttery via blogging?Report

  36. Cascadian says:

    Count me in with Jaybird for this one.

    A note on the other side. Tom Metzger would be a precedent.Report

  37. Jaybird says:

    “So is there anything that can be done? Or are we just destined to fight wingnuttery via blogging?”

    More speech is always, always, always the answer to speech you find unpleasant.

    And in the circumstances that Mark talked about early in the thread? It seems to me that a lot more handguns and shotguns would have done far more to keep folks safe than, say, a regulation preventing that radio station from engaging in “hate speech”.Report

  38. matoko_chan says:

    As usual, I prefer to rephrase the problem statement in my language of choice….mathematics.
    My studied point being, from a risk analysis POV Beck is too costly for Fox to continue to promote. We are less than 100 days into Obama’s presidency. That leaves 3 and 2/3 years for some Info Warrior or Stormfront nutter to attempt a Tim McVeigh and leave a trail of indelible electronic breadcrumbs right back to Beck. I would say the probability is relatively high, given the projected escalation of Beck’s rhatoric. The right dodged a bullet with Poplawski because Stormfront and Info Wars purged all his comments and links from the forums immediately…..think about if Poplawski’s Beck posting on SF had gone viral on youtube?
    Max Blumenthal is watching now, and so are a lot of other ppl, including the DHS.
    Irrevocable damage to the republican brand will result from Beck being linked as inspiration to a proto-assassin or attempted-bomber.
    It would not be cost viable to me, but it’s your choice, Jaybird.
    I think you can’t afford Beck.Report

  39. matoko_chan says:

    This is the Malkin argument about the DHS report….”we conservatives are being singled out and persecuted for our views.” I expect…..that someone is caching Stormfront and Info Warrior forums everyday now.
    I also predict…Beck will show Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory movie The Obama Delusion on his show when it comes out.Report

  40. Jaybird says:

    I would rather one-thousand Becks than one government censor.

    Ten thousand.

    One hundred thousand.Report

  41. E.D. Kain says:

    Yeah but…with that many they’d sort of lose their potency, don’t ya think?Report

  42. William Brafford says:

    Jaybird, I’m really curious. The United States had censors for long time. Some deeply annoying things happened during Comstock’s reign as U.S. Postal Inspector, and some of the confrontations ended in tragedy, but it just doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world to me. My own Beck-to-Comstock ratio sits at somewhere between five and six. I’d take five Glenn Becks, but any more than that and I’ll be out lobbying for the Comstock laws.Report

  43. Jaybird says:

    And we’re back to my fundamental question.

    When we’re talking about “the government should prevent the masses from experiencing X”, do you relate to “the government” or “the masses”?

    I do not and have never related to “the censors” but to the people being told “you can’t read this, you can’t listen to this, you can’t watch this”.

    If I related to the folks saying “no you can’t” to all the unwashed masses out there, maybe I’d have a different opinion. As it is, however, I kinda relate to the folks being told that they can’t read this particular essay, listen to this particular podcast, or watch this particular video.

    I resent censorship. Who are you (not you personally, the generic “you”) to tell me that I ought not be able to choose what I read for myself?Report

  44. matoko_chan says:

    Read what you like, promote what you like.
    I’m arguing for self policing, not censorship.
    I don’t really expect conservatives to exercise their much vaunted moral authority to do the right thing. They never do.
    I’m arguing that the risk to their brand is unacceptable.
    Sadly, there is no altruism in Nature.Report

  45. I didn’t think I liked Glenn Beck much, either, but then my husband asked me to go with him to hear Beck speak. I was pleasantly surprised and mostly amused. And according to this, Beck says there are no FEMA concentration camps.Report