We've long been troubled by the potential consequences of Glenn Beck's incendiary rhetoric and conspiratorial anti-government fear mongering. For hours every day on radio and television, Beck pits American against American, telling his audience that our country is under attack by a demonic Nazi-like regime seeking to destroy all that is great about America... while insisting it's up to his viewers to resist and revolt. Beck even compared our government to vampires while instructing his viewers to "drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers."
Recently, the disturbing jailhouse interviews featured in a Media Matters article demonstrated that our concerns were all too real. On June 18, a man named Byron Williams opened fire on the California Highway Patrol after being pulled over on his way, he later told police, to assassinate employees of San Francisco's Tides Foundation, a progressive non-profit targeted by Glenn Beck on his Fox News Channel show a whopping 29 times prior to the shooting for being at the center of nefarious left-wing plots -- a fantasy concocted night after night on Beck's chalkboard.
This chilling episode demonstrates why mixing "Fair & Balanced" with the fairly imbalanced can be a deadly combination.
The interviews with Williams reveal that Glenn Beck served as a kind of motivational speaker for him. Gushing over the way Beck exposes so-called "corruption," the gunman said, "I look at it more like a schoolteacher on TV, you know? He's got that big chalkboard and those little stickers, the decals. I like the way he does it." A week ago, even after the CEO of Tides released a powerful public letter to Fox advertisers describing what it felt like to be targeted for assassination, Beck continued to assail Tides as representing "paganism" and "evil stuff." Tides, he claimed, is "coming for your church and your faith."
You know who else called Beck a teacher? Sarah Palin.
Since early 2009, Sarah Palin has hitched her wagon to Glenn Beck (or vice-versa). She appeared on the premiere of his Fox News show, promoted his show on Facebook, hosted joint rallies, and wrote an article praising him in the pages of Time Magazine. She even echoes Beck's violent dog-whistles by showing graphics with Democrats in crosshairs and instructing supporters to "Don't Retreat, Instead -- RELOAD!"
No one is speaking up for responsible conservatism within the Republican Party. We don't agree with Sarah Palin on much, but speaking out against the incitement to violence by powerful media outlets ought to be something that transcends the partisan divide. This is a far more serious media matter than Palin's lamentations about the "lamestream media." If Palin does not speak up strongly on this media outrage, the next Byron Williams will succeed and we are going to see another Oklahoma City in this country.
We all know the showman Glenn Beck and his Fox News bosses have no incentive to call a halt to this dangerous rhetoric and demonizing of enemies on their own. Recently addressing a NewsCorp shareholder who questioned whether Murdoch was comfortable with what Beck is doing on behalf of shareholders, Murdoch said that he does not agree with everything said on Fox, and called the channel "simply unstoppable." It appears, as suggested in various media reports in recent weeks about what a divisive figure Beck has become even within the company, that Beck can't be controlled either by Murdoch or Roger Ailes, who recruited Beck as part of his strategy to declare war on the Obama administration.
However, as one of Beck's biggest boosters, is a respected leader in the GOP and conservative movement, and Fox's own star contributor, we think Palin is well positioned to pull Beck back from his current course, to hold him accountable for his reckless words. Palin's credibility as a leader relies on more than just endorsing candidates and an uncanny knack for making headlines. It requires a moral compass she repeatedly says she possesses to make this country a better, safer place to live for all Americans.
This moment is an important test for Sarah Palin. Various conservative leaders, from William F. Buckley to Nixon, Reagan and Barry Goldwater at the end of his life all drew lines at crucial moments in history to separate their party and their movement from the extremists. Buckley drew a line and stood up for principle, calling the extremists of his day "idiotic" and "paranoid." Does Palin have the courage and foresight to exhibit the strength and wisdom exhibited by these American leaders and join a growing bipartisan group - including Rep. Peter King of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee who recently warned that "words have consequences" --in condemning Beck? Or will she choose to say nothing, and continue on her path of succumbing to the momentary partisan political temptations of stoking fear and suspicions and seeking political power against the national interest - even when we now have incontrovertible evidence that this path endangers the lives of innocent Americans?
Sarah Palin -- who in 2008 infamously implied that Barack Obama was "palling around with terrorists" -- owes it to our country to use her enormous influence with her devoted base of followers to call for an end to actual terrorism, no matter what its source. Byron Williams, inspired by Beck, endangered the lives of Tides employees and two California cops. Sarah Palin-- you have the platform to condemn such calls to violence and you should use it to call Beck on his dangerous extremism that endangers lives.
David Brock is the founder and CEO of Media Matters for America. Michael B. Keegan is the president of People for the American Way. Media Matters and People for the American Way are leading the Drop FOX campaign to pressure advertisers to stop subsidizing the hate speech on Fox News.