Throughout his gripping new book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama, Philadelphia Daily News reporter and blogger Will Bunch augments the notion that Glenn Beck is playing a fictional character named “Glenn Beck.” A faker. Specifically, Bunch draws together evidence indicating that Beck is nothing more than a morning zoo deejay whose latest money-making stunt is to portray a new kind of televangelist, offering political and religious salvation for profit.
Watching Beck’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, while simultaneously reading Bunch’s book, it struck me that Beck has moved beyond a mere televangelist and has taken on a character role far more nefarious and dangerous.
He’s becoming a phony-baloney faith-healer, minus the actual laying-on of hands. Saturday’s event was a slick, well-produced PR stunt disguised as a disjointed Christian revival torn from the Benny Hinn faith-healer playbook — orchestrated to emotionally and spiritually manipulate predominantly angry, naïve, paranoid white people — the frightened masses who want “their country” back.
In his reporting, Bunch displays Herculean levels of patience and professional restraint as he — or, in the context of the book, the attention-grabbing second-person voice “you” — visits with Beck disciples as they watch the neo-faith-healer’s Fox News show and discuss the latest conspiracy theory flowcharts on Beck’s famous chalkboard.
You can’t help feeling sympathy for these people as they’re manipulated by one of America’s most effective con-men — four hours a day, every weekday. It’s clear they’re looking for a new kind of savior. They’re looking for someone who will virtually lay his hands on their heads and reassure them that their unfocused fears and prejudices are, indeed, genuine and acceptable. The symbiotic relationship forming what’s commonly referred to as “epistemic closure” — a religious and ideological bomb-shelter protecting them from the not-to-be-trusted “Other.” And then, as with the unemployed Beck disciple in Bunch’s book, a Pennsylvanian named Robert Lloyd, they brandish their credit cards in the midst of a jobless recession and pay the preacher.
There’s no harm in making an honest buck, of course. But in the venue of cable news and AM talk radio, Beck is engaged in one of the most lucrative deceptions for cash in broadcast history. The dishonest buck. The big con. He’s Steve Martin’s faith-healer character in Leap of Faith, bilking yokels beyond the hundredth meridian for profit, with Will Bunch and others endeavoring to be the Liam Neeson sheriff, exposing the painted-on Jesus eyes and the fake tears of blood.