Sunday, November 08, 2009

Jon Stewart does Glenn Beck

I just ran across John Stewart's hilarious parody of the right-wing nutcase-pundit Glenn Beck. To fully appreciate it, though, it helps if you've actually seen Beck's TV show on Fox "News". If you have--once or twice is enough--you will realize that Stewart isn't really exaggerating that much in his imitation of Beck's characteristic loopy paranoid-conspiratorial style.

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Then here is Beck himself, trying to strike a serious and reflective note in a Fox News discussion (July 29, 2009). This is beyond parody:

"This President has exposed himself, I think, as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture--I don't know what it is." Well, what about Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, and all the other white people who happen to be closely associated with Obama? "I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. .... This guy is, I believe, a racist." Etc.

Humor aside, what's genuinely appalling is that millions of people don't just watch Glenn Beck's TV show but apparently take him and his poisonous nonsense seriously. He may be a joke, but it's a bad joke.

=> Of course, some people respond that its unfair and disingenuous to pick on Glenn Beck, since there are equally outrageous and irresponsible prominent TV pundits on the pro-Democratic, left-liberal side of the mass media spectrum. The example most often mentioned is MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. But--how can I put this delicately?--that's silly. If Olbermann is the best counter-example they can find, that just underlines the asymmetry involved.

Yes, Olbermann is unapologetically partisan--which by itself isn't necessarily a bad thing--and he can get overheated, self-important, and tendentious in a way that I sometimes find irritating and objectionable myself. Nor is that purely a matter of bashing Republicans. During the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, the persistent anti-Clinton and pro-Obama bias displayed by both Olbermann and Chris Matthews on MSNBC was pretty disgusting. But there's a fundamentally serious core to Olbermann, even when he gets carried away, and there's an important difference of degree between being a bit tendentious and being a crackpot fantasist unmoored from reality. In my humble opinion, anyone who doesn't recognize that Glenn Beck falls in the second category is fooling himself or herself, and trying to make excuses for Glenn Beck by equating him with Keith Olbermann is a case of mindless moral equivalence run amok.

--Jeff Weintraub