No Comment — September 21, 2009, 10:16 am

Return to Glenn Beck-istan

Rick Stengel’s makeover of Time magazine continues apace this week with a cover salute to Fox News’s emerging superstar, Glenn Beck. Even in the days of Henry Luce, Time had a reputation for publishing provocative cover pieces of figures who were newsmakers: Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh. By and large, the portraits were respectful but hardly glorifying. That was back in the day when Time practiced serious journalism.

Kansas City-based David Von Drehle, the former Washington Post style guy, wrote the Beck piece, filling it with the sort of gushing language a teenage girl might use to describe a rockstar. As Jack Shafer once noted, “Von Drehle navigates around clichés as swiftly as a slalom skier.” His subjects really have nothing to fear. A profile of the Roberts Court teaches us that Roberts loves the poetry of Samuel Johnson, but gives very little insight into the politics of the High Court or the tensions that now rattle it. A story profiling John Dingell, the 83-year-old former chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee ousted earlier this year in favor of crusader Henry Waxman, gave us an improbably tireless environmentalist–a portrait that seems odd for the automobile industry’s most effective advocate on Capitol Hill. Still Von Drehle exercises some professional caution approaching Beck: he dishes out a lot of silly blather, but he puts most of it in the mouths of self-described Beck fans.

Then we find this ramble, in which he seems almost to be impersonating his subject:

Beck is 45, tireless, funny, self-deprecating, a recovering alcoholic, a convert to Mormonism, a libertarian and living with ADHD. He is a gifted storyteller with a knack for stitching seemingly unrelated data points into possible conspiracies — if he believed in conspiracies, which he doesn’t, necessarily; he’s just asking questions. He’s just sayin’. In cheerful days of yore, he was a terrific host of a morning-zoo show on an FM Top 40 station. But these aren’t cheerful times. For conservatives, these are times of economic uncertainty and political weakness, and Beck has emerged as a virtuoso on the strings of their discontent.

Von Drehle’s piece is filled with the idea of red truths and blue truths. Start with the number of participants at the rally a week ago Saturday.

If you get your information from liberal sources, the crowd numbered about 70,000, many of them greedy racists. If you get your information from conservative sources, the crowd was hundreds of thousands strong, perhaps as many as a million, and the tenor was peaceful and patriotic.

In this case, as media critic Charles Kaiser notes, the “liberal sources” are the District of Columbia Fire Department, known for its conservative (and generally quite reliable) estimates of crowd sizes. The “conservative sources” are more mysterious. Right-wing commentator Michelle Malkin claimed that ABC News reported 2 million participants; ABC News quickly corrected her. Glenn Beck himself, on Fox & Friends, claimed 1.7 million participants. Beck attributed this number to the university of what’s it’s name, which, of course, could not be reached for comment. In the Von Drehle universe, helium might have two electrons, but then again, consulting the university of what’s it’s name, it might have 14. A more reliable answer probably lies somewhere in between.

What about the controversy that Beck sparked by calling President Obama a racist? More than sixty Fox advertisers pulled their spots from Beck’s show as a result of a public campaign. This gets a passing mention, but Von Drehle assures–relying on unnamed sources–that Beck is actually benefitting from all the attention and loss of revenue.

The Von Drehle treatment focuses so much on Beck’s marketing savvy, rather than the serious problems with enabling a voice like his, that an observer might ask what Time has in mind. Is this just an effort to peddle Time to Beck’s audience? That may well reflect the desperation of the newsmagazine industry. But I’ll wager that Time subscribers are wondering if they received a copy of People in their mailbox with a Time cover on it.

Jamie Foser provides a laundry list of the falsehoods that Time repackages and disseminates on Beck’s behalf here, and Charles Kaiser’s wittier take down can be examined here. If you’re in the market for a serious portrait of Glenn Beck, skip Time and turn to Salon, where Alexander Zaitchik’s promising three-parter launched today with a real eye-opener about his early life in Washington state.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2016

Bird in a Cage

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hidden Rivers of Brooklyn

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Save Our Public Universities

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Rogue Agency

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mad Magazines

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Killer Bunny in the Sky

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Save Our Public Universities·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whether and how we educate people is still a direct reflection of the degree of freedom we expect them to have, or want them to have.”
Photograph (crop) by Thomas Allen
Article
New Movies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Force Awakens criticizes American imperialism while also celebrating the revolutionary spirit that founded this country. When the movie needs to bridge the two points of view, it shifts to aerial combat, a default setting that mirrors the war on terror all too well.”
Still © Lucasfilm
Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.

Number of people who attended the World Grits Festival, held in St. George, South Carolina, last spring:

60,000

The brown bears of Greece continued chewing through telephone poles.

In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today