“This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo! …So goodbye everybody, and remember please, for the next day or so, the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian… it’s Halloween.”
Orson Welles, one of Glenn Beck’s broadcasting heroes. In fact, the name of Beck’s production company, Mercury Radio Arts (officially known as Glenn Beck, Inc.), is based on Welles’ CBS radio show — the radio show that famously aired one of broadcasting’s most legendary hoaxes: The War of the Worlds.
Unlike the various Glenn Beck shows and publications, the Mercury performance of the H.G. Welles classic featured a disclaimer at the end (quoted above), formally noting the fictitious nature of the broadcast. Imagine if, unlike Beck, Welles had never broadcast a monologue postscript revealing that what had unfolded on the radio was purely theater. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the ensuing hysteria during and after the show would’ve been far greater.
Every day, for four hours a day, Glenn Beck is playing out a Welles fantasy — leaping out from behind an array of Carrot Top-meets-Gallagher props and gizmos while shouting BOO! at his audience without taking the slightest responsibility for the ensuing hysteria. In Beck’s case, the “boo!” comes in the form of Joe McCarthy style red-baiting and Lee Atwater style race-baiting — insisting with wildly incomprehensible chalkboard scribblings that Marxists and communists are lurking under our beds waiting to steal our money. Money that’s better served feeding Glenn Beck’s empire of fraud. I mean, just look! Those random words on the chalkboard spelled out the acronym “OLIGARHY!” Run for your lives, and all that. It’s an OLIGARHY!
No disclaimers letting the audience off the hook like Beck’s hero, the vastly more responsible performer Welles did. Beck, like several other Fox News Channel actors in Roger Ailes’ ratings-at-all-costs strategy, presents his show as an honest assessment of the truth without any sort of in-show sign that it’s almost entirely farcical.
One of the most common e-mail responses I’ve received from Beck supporters so far has been, simply: “Prove it.” Suffice to say, I never would have started down this road without some sort of confirmation that my theory about Beck was on the right track. So prior to typing a single word, I spoke with some sources close to and within Fox News Channel and they confirmed exactly what I suspected: Glenn Beck is “a bullshit artist.” A faker. A phony.
But don’t take their word for it. After all, these are anonymous sources and their words ought to be evaluated accordingly.
For proof, I’ve tracked down an on-the-record source who says Glenn Beck could give a flying crap about the political process. Glenn Beck himself from last week’s Forbes profile:
“I could give a flying crap about the political process.” Making money, on the other hand, is to be taken very seriously, and controversy is its own coinage. “We’re an entertainment company,” Beck says.
And there you go. “I could give a flying crap about the political process.” Given the hyperkinetic poo-flinging on his show every day, Glenn Beck knows flying crap. There’s really no gray area here. It’s all about the entertainment value inherent in ginned-up controversy. And right now, anger and insanity sells with Beck’s white, conservative, Christian audiences.
Later in the same Forbes item, the publisher of Talkers magazine is quoted as saying, “I don’t necessarily believe that [what Beck says] is reflective of his own personal politics — I don’t even know if he has personal politics. I see him as a performer.”
Granted, Beck is a talented performer, as most successful grifters and matchstick men are. Even though he’s extraordinarily unfunny, he’s just as effective as America’s sleaziest and most notorious televangelists when it comes to scamming his audience into believing, say, that a random misspelled acronym actually means something significant, or that just because the president’s mother enjoyed Nietzsche means that she was somehow a socialist (Nietzsche was no fan of socialism).
And that’s one of many dangerous aspects of Beck’s show. In addition to poisoning the discourse with obvious fakery and lies with only scattered off-air glances behind the crazy curtain, he’s able to convince millions of his listeners and viewers every day to activate against their own best interests, while arming them with embarrassingly misleading and outright false information.
For example, last week, a caller to Beck’s radio show explained that she received an unexpected extra $800 in her IRS tax refund. The woman told Beck and his morning zoo crew that she suffered from poor health and intended to buy a treadmill with the money. Beck jumped in and inexplicably instructed her to send the money back to the IRS. He never really explained why. It turned out that the woman forgot to check off the “Making Work Pay” tax credit on her 1040EZ — a tax cut that was included in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. So Glenn Beck convinced this obviously infirmed woman that it’s better to refuse a tax cut because it came from “Marxist” Obama than to use the $800 tax cut to improve her health.
I’m often asked, What’s so dangerous about Glenn Beck? Well, that story, for example.
This week on his television show, Glenn Beck has proposed that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid be entirely eliminated. Other conservatives appearing on Beck’s show suggested perhaps that Social Security and Medicare be privatized — yeah, even after the financial collapse we’ve experienced, people are still going around suggesting that we invest Social Security and Medicare funds in the market. Anyway, Beck refused even that, instead sticking to the idea that we kill all three of those programs. You know, in order to help the economy. Without Social Security, half of all senior citizens would die in poverty. Eliminate Medicare and Medicaid from the equation and it’s difficult to imagine the economy improving with tens of millions of additional Americans thrown into poverty for the sake of proving Glenn Beck’s far-right economic theories.
Meanwhile, while employing the disproved Laffer Curve, Beck also suggested that we switch over to a flat tax. Naturally, a flat tax would disproportionately favor ultra-wealthy Americans like Glenn Beck, and disproportionately hurt the middle and working classes. Good news for Glenn Beck’s empire at the expense of a solid chunk of Glenn Beck’s audience.
And who spreads Beck’s nonsense after his shows end? Glenn Beck’s audience in spite of itself. Why do they spread his ridiculousness?
Glenn Beck again with the answer:
“If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.”
Until the Forbes profile, this quote was as close Beck has ever come to Welles’ disclaimer. He said he’s mentioned this on the air, but Beck viewers and listeners I’ve heard from have, with much anger at me for bringing it up, never heard him say any such thing. Nevertheless, if he’s broadcasting what appears to be the truth, and his audience believes it, no other conclusion can be drawn other this: Beck thinks his audience is, at least, partly populated by idiots and that he’s playing them for suckers. If there’s no “gospel” truth to what he’s saying and you’re an idiot for believing it, what’s his point? To enrich Glenn Beck by exploiting the naiveté of idiots, of course.
So the responsibility is yours, Beck. You owe it to your audience to “step out of character” and admit, on your shows, that you’re staging an elaborate hoax. Theater. Tell them the truth: that it’s all play acting. Your hero Orson Welles did it, and so can you. Otherwise, we can only conclude that you’re perfectly comfortable with scamming your “idiot” followers — tricking them into believing that Martians (or Marxists) have landed, and then charging cash money for the snake oil to kill the invaders.
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