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Think Again: Glenn Beck and the Uses of Anti-Semitic Propaganda

SOURCE: AP/Jose Luis Magana

Glenn Beck's attack on George Soros Tuesday was disgraceful and full of untruths, but it also went uncontested in the mainstream media.

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It’s annoying to have to write about Glenn Beck or even to pay any attention to him at all. If anyone truly believed the various things Glenn Beck claims to believe at any given moment, he would have to be either a schizophrenic, a lunatic, or both. Case in point: Beck: Obama has "over and over again" exposed himself as "a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” This followed by "I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people” and then, "This guy is, I believe, a racist."

I agree with Beck’s own self-description that he’s no journalist, scholar, or much of anything else, save perhaps a “rodeo clown.” But because Beck enjoys the backing of the Murdoch empire, with millions of devoted viewers and listeners, his clownishness, whether intentional or not, is not merely his problem but ours as well.

Since the Obama administration began, the combination of hatred, lies, ignorance, and nativism that Beck serves up daily has poisoned the discussion of a number of issues and ruined numerous careers. According to Eric Boehlert’s careful reporting, it also appears to have come pretty close to inspiring a mass murder: one that was avoided by only fortunate happenstance. But just as all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing, so, too, all that is necessary for hatred, lies, ignorance, and nativism to triumph is for good media critics to stand too far above the fray and allow to pass without comment moments like Beck’s disgraceful attack on George Soros Tuesday night.

First, a disclaimer. I often see my name linked to Soros as a member of the “Soros-funded” this or that. But the fact is, I have met the man only two or three times in my life and have never engaged in a substantive conversation with him. Since we care about many of the same things and share certain perspectives on issues—though we disagree strongly on others—my work as a historian and a journalist often appears consistent with his as a funder. Since I’ve had many institutional affiliations during my career, a few of them, including the Center for American Progress, are among the causes Soros funds. But at no time have I ever had a talk with anyone representing Soros or anyone receiving funding from Soros that focused on his money in relationship to my writing.

Back to Beck. During the course of a complicated explication Tuesday of Soros’s alleged activities as a “puppet-master,” Beck—to the shame of everyone involved with the production and broadcast of his program—engaged in some of the most offensive anti-Semitic imagery ever purposely shown on American television. The fact that he did this while accusing Soros—who had to flee the Nazis—of aiding the Nazis against his fellow Jews only adds to the absurdity, as well as the crimes against reason, that consistently characterize Beck’s crazy rants.

But that is hardly the point. Beck calls Soros his own “shadow government” happily manipulating his “puppet” Barack Obama. This lunatic actually equated Soros’s effort in helping democratic revolutions succeed in overthrowing Communism in Europe with evidence that Soros seeks to take over the United States of America. The notion that this Jewish financier is somehow manipulating governments and world currencies for his own nefarious purposes could have come directly out of the Nazi playbook.

Michelle Goldberg writes in The Daily Beast that Beck’s show was little more than “a symphony of anti-Semitic dog-whistles. Nothing like it has ever been on American television before.”

The details of Beck’s accusations are too myriad and too complicated for me to do justice to their lunacy here. Fortunately, I don’t have to. Media Matters has addressed all of them and more here. (How ironic that the only place in the media to go for a thorough airing of the issues raised by these attacks must be undertaken by an organization that has recently become a Soros beneficiary.) Is this kind of ugly slander not a story worthy of significant investigation anywhere else in the mainstream media?

I’ve written about attempts to smear Soros before here and here when David Horowitz, among others, attempted a move similar to that of Beck’s by riding his lies about Soros in greater riches and influence in the hate-filled swamp of far-right politics. (Tony Blankley wrote in response to withdraw his distasteful comments quoted in my column above.) The ambition of those doing the slandering is almost always the same: to find a scapegoat for the failures of their own ideology to explain reality. On Fox that is less a problem because reality does not enter into the picture much on its programming.

The question I would like to see answered is why do good people sit by and let this poison pass without comment? Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League—who usually finds time to denounce every Jewish joke ever told in public this side of Woody Allen before it’s out of their mouths—took a full day before deciding he disapproved of Beck’s comments. But he then confined Beck only to the misuse of Soros’s teenage past in Hungary against him.

The anti-Semitic imagery, recalling the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” received no mention at all. And the following day the organization appeared to give Beck a pass on virtually everything else he said. Once again, the purpose of Abe Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League appears to be little more than to defend defamation when it originates with one of his conservative allies. Fox, meanwhile, is standing by its man as well.

Might the decision to defend Beck possibly have something to do with the fact that the ADL disagrees with Soros about Israel and recently honored Beck’s sponsor, enabler, and paymaster, Rupert Murdoch? (I wonder what that costs.)

Coincidentally, Fox Business News announced on the day after the broadcast that it had signed up Lou Dobbs, who was forced out of CNN for spewing his brand of nativist know-nothingism, including the hysterical claim that Mexican immigrants were carrying leprosy into America.

How is that Mr. Murdoch is allowed to dip his foot into these poison pools and come into polite society to receive awards and be treated respectfully? Why is it a perfectly honorable endeavor for Joel Klein, a Democrat and a Jew, and currently chancellor of New York City Schools, to quit his job go to work for the same company, News Corp, that supports these vicious hateful lies? And how in the world can Jon Stewart, also a landsman, who does more to expose the nightly craziness that is Beck every night, continue to pretend that left and right are in any way an equivalent insult to sanity? (Just look at the coverage it got from Fox.

Sure, Fox can be funny, but more and more, it is proving to be dangerous. Journalists who continue to pretend that it is just one more point of view are part of the problem. Nobody knows where the current combination of “invincible ignorance”on display among newly empowered conservatives will lead. But we can at least decide as a country that there are lines we will not allow people to cross if they want to be taken seriously in our society or treated as men and women of honor.

I say that line now begins with Glenn Beck and Fox News.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His newest book, Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama, is available for preorder.

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This is part of a regular column: Think Again

For more from the same column, click here