On March 23, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner unveiled the Obama Administration’s toxic-bank-assets plan. The stock markets cheered the news, sending the Dow up 497 points.
This meant one thing: it was time for Glenn Beck to break out the Jenga set.
The new populist superstar of Fox News has made a refrain of predicting that government policies are leading to disaster — dark, ruinous, blood-in-the-streets kind of disaster.
Pausing for a 17-minute speech rebutting his critics for calling him “dangerous” and “crazy,” he took out the block-tower game. On opposite sides of the tower were written the words solution and problem, taxpayer and children. Then he spent much of the hour critiquing the plan, all the while pulling pieces from the wobbling tower and stacking them on top.
For Beck, Jenga is a metaphor for the plan’s risk. But it is also a metaphor for Beck’s show, which teeters from humor to predictions of apocalypse to self-esteem sermons to fits of weeping.
A year ago, with Fox News in an election-year ratings slump, some TV observers (like me) wondered if its conservative commentators could thrive in an Obama era. The answer is yes, and how. Fox roared back and has more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.
It’s succeeded partly because of its veteran stars Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. But to Hannity’s tax-cut Republicanism and O’Reilly’s grumpy social conservatism, Beck adds an au courant strain of grievance. […] His hook, for the age of economic anxiety: whereas O’Reilly embodies anger and Hannity brashness, Beck embraces fear.
Fear of what? Take your pick. Fear that the U.S. is on a long march to fascism. (As evidence, Beck cited — on April Fools’ Day but apparently seriously — the inclusion of fasces on the Mercury dime in 1916.) That fat cats and bureaucratic “bloodsuckers” are plundering your future. That Mexico will collapse and chaos will pour over the border. That America believes too little in God and too much in global warming. That “they” — Big Government, Big Business, Big Media — are against you.
It’s hard to identify a Beck ideology so much as a set of attitudes, sometimes contradictory ones. He channels anger against Wall Street but defends the bonuses for AIG executives. He devoted a segment to debunking a conspiracy theory about FEMA “concentration camps” but has warned that the AmeriCorps program “indoctrinates your child into community service.”
What unites Beck’s disparate themes is a sense of siege. On March 13, he served up a kind of fear combo platter — war, chaos, totalitarianism, financial ruin — with the 9/12 Project, a tearful call to viewers to rediscover the common purpose they felt after 9/11. […] “They don’t surround us,” he declared. “We surround them.”
But is he serious? He describes himself as a “rodeo clown,” and he is a talented TV showman — joking and self-effacing, with a gift for big visuals and low-tech explainer stunts like his Jenga bit. Unlike O’Reilly et al., he’s not a shouter. He calls his program “the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment.”
I just call it bullshit.
From The Atlantic:
Some on the left are dismayed at Fox News for its unabashed support of the “tea party” protest movement, wherein citizens protest the government’s use of taxpayer money in its response to the economic crisis–primarily in the TARP bailout, and also the $787 economic stimulus package.
Frustration culminated this week with Glenn Beck, who promoted the tea parties on his show Monday, encouraging viewers to “celebrate with Fox News” and join the protests April 15. Some of Fox’s more popular personalities–Greta Van Susteren, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and Beck himself–will broadcast live from tea parties in DC, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Atlanta on tax day.
“If you have a tea party anywhere that–we’re not covering one of those, e-mail me […”] Beck said, according to a Media Matters transcript.
This is exactly what Pajamas Media did in February: promote the tea parties, offer its own coverage as an incentive for citizens to attend, then actually cover the thing. Pajamas and Fox have certain similarities–both conservative news/commentary hybrid outlets with a nose for commercial appeal […]. It’s a business model of conservative activism and outrage, one that highlights the naturally symbiotic relationship between media outlets and the events they cover.
The tea party movement is a tricky one to observe, since protests happen in different cities at different times. It’s hard to know how heavily each was promoted, so it’s hard to gauge whether turnout was impressive or lame. There’s a definite mystique over whether the movement embodies a significant contingent of America that’s outraged with the government, whether it’s a fringe of far-right-wingers, or whether it’s mostly staged–by Pajamas, Fox News, and conservative bloggers who post photos of events.
What would big protests on April 15 mean? Will it prove that many Americans are truly outraged at the government’s handling of their money–or simply that lots of people watch Fox News?