Scammed by the Right

Time's curious choices of authors (and subjects) for the "The World’s Most Influential People" have one thing in common: cash, says Eric Alterman.

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Sarah Palin gestures while addressing a crowd during a stop of the Tea Party Express, April 14, 2010, on the Boston Common in Boston. Palin is on her way to making $20 million this year alone through her various television, book, speaking, and other self-promotional products. (AP/Charles Krupa)
Sarah Palin gestures while addressing a crowd during a stop of the Tea Party Express, April 14, 2010, on the Boston Common in Boston. Palin is on her way to making $20 million this year alone through her various television, book, speaking, and other self-promotional products. (AP/Charles Krupa)

"We know that bureaucrats and, even more, Fedzilla, are not the solution; they are the problem. I’d be proud to share a moose-barbecue campfire with the Palin family anytime, so long as I can shoot the moose." That’s Ted Nugent on Sarah Palin from the current "100 Most Influential People in the World" cover package of Time

I ask you, dear reader, has any other allegedly reputable magazine ever published a stupider article about a putatively serious subject? Nugent also provides a stirring character reference for the quitter of the Alaska governorship: "The tsunami of support proves that Sarah, 46, represents what many Americans know to be common and sensible. Her rugged individualism, self-reliance and a Herculean work ethic resonate now more than ever in a country spinning away from these basics that made the U.S.A. the last best place. We who are driven to be assets to our families, communities and our beloved country connect with the principles that Sarah Palin embodies."

This coming from a man who terms Hillary Clinton "a worthless bitch," believes "Barack Hussein Obama should be put in jail," and whose credentials in the family values department include once attempting to become the legal guardian of a minor in order to have a romantic relationship with her. He also has been ordered by the courts to pay child support to the mother of his illegitimate son whom he has never met.

I wonder if Time‘s fact-checkers, aware of Nugent’s penchant for threatening innocent people with guns, were afraid to do even rudimentary fact-checking on this brilliant essay. In fact, the "tsunami of support" for Palin Nugent cites is barely a puddle. As David Cay Johnston reports in his Tax Notes column, based on the latest national polls done by reputable survey organizations and taken shortly before the dreaded tax day, fewer than one in four Americans view Palin favorably. Her approval rating of 24 percent does not even reach half the level of the Internal Revenue Service, which earned a 49 percent rating. (The so-called "Tea Party" movement came in somewhere in the middle at 36 percent, while the IRS was statistically tied with President Obama.)

Time‘s editors must have thought they had quite a coup. Not only did they land the much-admired scribe Nugent on Palin, they also managed to secure Palin herself to offer her expertise on the genius Glenn Beck. She celebrates Beck as "America’s professor of common sense."

Oh really? Isn’t this the guy who says that President Obama has repeatedly shown "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture," saying "I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people. I’m saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist," ignoring the fact that he was accusing the president of hating his own mother, his grandparents who helped raise him, and virtually every single scintilla of evidence that might shed any light on the topic? Beck also insists that Christian leaders who preach about "social justice" are really just deploying code words for Communism and Nazism. That is, apparently, Palin’s—and perhaps Time‘s—idea of common sense.

Again, the fact-checkers might have noted, with Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, that Beck’s popularity is spinning round the commode as well. While Fox may just have celebrated its 100th consecutive month as the top cable news network, Glenn Beck has lost one-third of his TV audience since January.

What the editors at Time also don’t appear to realize—or don’t appear to care about—is that not only are they touting the popularity of people who are not all that popular (and allowing their pages to be sullied with contributors who could not care less about whether what they are saying is true or not), they are also allowing their magazine to be exploited as a cog in what is less a political movement than a money-making traveling carnival.

Take a look at New York Magazine‘s cover story on "Palin Inc." by Gabriel Sherman to see how much more heavily invested in her financial portfolio Palin is than in any particular cause. (She can read those popularity polls even if Time can’t.) Palin is on her way to making $20 million this year alone through her various television, book, speaking, and other self-promotional products. She gets upward of $100,000 per speech plus a private jet for her entourage and body guards.

And what diva treatment this woman demands. "Her contract stipulated that for almost any reason she could back out and send a surrogate. If we fart wrong, she is gonna back out on us," explained one person who dealt with her. "That’s how detailed this contract is…"

Meanwhile, according to Forbes, Glenn Beck is in the same business as Palin—the "get rich off the right-wing crazies" business. He managed $32 million in the past 12 months, ending in March. ("I could give a flying crap about the political process," he explained to the article’s author, "We’re an entertainment company.") Clearly, both the Tea Party movement’s funders and its leaders are in it for the money. The behavior of these two "leaders" is consistent with its purpose, which is money making, as Yahoo’s Andrew Golis notes.

Amazingly, however, for a media allegedly dominated by liberal snobs, the Tea Party is continually taken seriously as a political and ideological grassroots phenomenon. I noted last week that according to the Pew Center on People and the Press, the Tea Party movement got more coverage than health care during the second week in April despite the fact that more than 60 percent of Americans have either never heard of them or had not bothered to form an opinion.

And as for Time‘s silly, embarrassing, and wrong-headed choices for its 100 most influentials, well, as that great political philosopher (and yet another of Time‘s distinguished authors this week) Cyndi Lauper might say, "Money changes everything." 

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 most recent book is, Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America’s Most Important Ideals . His “Altercation” blog appears sporadically here and he is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast.

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Eric Alterman

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