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Glenn Beck's Attack On Van Jones: Fantasies and Falsehoods

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After smearing White House special advisor Van Jones for days on his show, Glenn Beck said on August 27, 2009: "I want to point out the silence; no one has challenged these facts -- they just attack me personally."

Well, the White House is wise to stay above the fray but someone has to set the record straight. And as the person who first hired Van Jones, initially as a legal intern and later as a legal fellow, I am in a unique position to know the truth.

And the truth is: Beck is fabricating his facts.

For instance: several times on his show, Beck has said or implied that Van went to prison for taking part in the Rodney King riots.

No Criminal Convictions

Van has never served time in any prison. He has never been convicted of any crime. And just to be clear: Van was not even in Los Angeles during those tumultuous days.

I know because he was working for me -- in San Francisco -- when the four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King. I was the Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area when Van was an intern.

The verdicts came down on April 29, 1992. I remember Van (who was then a legal intern working with me from Yale Law School) coming into my office in San Francisco. Many of us, including Van, sat there together, listening to the news and weeping. We were all in a state of shock. That night, TV showed the tragic images of LA burning.

The next day, when an initially peaceful march in downtown San Francisco devolved into chaos, Van left the area in tears. He was not involved in any destructive activity. He even penned an essay despairing of the violence and the state of the country.

So how can Beck make such unsubstantiated claims?

The True Story (From Someone Who Was There)

This is what really happened. On May 8, 1992, the week AFTER the Rodney King disturbances, I sent a staff attorney and Van out to be legal monitors at a peaceful march in San Francisco. The local police, perhaps understandably nervous, stopped the march and arrested hundreds of people -- including all the legal monitors.

The matter was quickly sorted out; Van and my staff attorney were released within a few hours. All charges against them were dropped. Van was part of a successful class action lawsuit later; the City of San Francisco ultimately compensated him financially for his unjust arrest (a rare outcome).

So the unwarranted arrest at a peaceful march -- for which the charges were dropped and for which Van was financially compensated -- is the sole basis for the smear that he is some kind of dangerous criminal.

Van has spoken often about that difficult period 17 years ago -- and its impact on him, as a young law student. But to imply that he was somehow a rioter who went to prison is absurd. Beck also bizarrely claims that Van was arrested in the Seattle WTO protests. That is just a flat-out falsehood.

You don't have to take my word for it. Arrests and convictions are all a matter of public record. Beck is at best relying on Internet rumors or even inventing claims to boost his ratings.

Beck is no more accurate with present facts than he is with past ones.

Not a Mysterious 'Czar"

Beck has said repeatedly that Van is some kind of a mysterious "czar," accountable to no one but the President. A simple Internet search shows that this claim is false. A March 10, 2009, press release announced that Van was hired by the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality - to work on her staff as a "special advisor."

In other words, Van is within the normal White House chain of command, reporting to an office confirmed by the United States Senate, just like most White House staffers. Media outlets sometimes use the "czar" shorthand. But the facts show that Van has no mysterious role or extra-constitutional powers.

Beck has implied on two occasions that Van Jones and other Obama appointees were not vetted by the FBI. False. I was interviewed in my own office by an FBI agent, dutifully vetting Van. Yet another fabrication on the part of Mr. Beck.

Beck also claims that Van has somehow gained control over $500 million in Green Jobs Act funding and can hand out millions of dollars at his whim. Again, that is patently ridiculous.

No Authority to Hand out Billions

The law is clear that the Department of Labor has authority over the program, with normal rules governing the funds. Anybody who thinks that a lone government official can pass out money, arbitrarily and without oversight, knows nothing about our legal system. A blizzard of lawsuits would stop any such scheme in its tracks, if one were ever put in place.

Perhaps more importantly: final authority at the Department of Labor lies with the Secretary of Labor. Anyone who thinks that a Senate-confirmed, Cabinet-level Secretary would cede control of a $500 million program to some mid-level White House staffer knows nothing about our political system. It is ridiculous.

Promoting Business-Based Solutions

But I have to take on the worst one: Beck repeatedly and mistakenly asserts that Van is presently a communist.

Once again, this charge is easily refuted - most obviously by the pro-business, market-based ideas Van has promoted for years, including in his best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy. Van's book is a veritable song of praise to capitalism, especially the socially responsible and eco-friendly kind.

Yes, for a while, Van and his student-aged friends ran around spouting 1960s rhetoric and romanticizing revolutionary icons. But that was years ago. Way back then, I counseled him to rethink his tactics and to work for change in wiser ways.

In time, he jettisoned his youthful notions and moved on to seek more effective and attainable solutions.

Fortunately for all of us, it looks like he has found some. Over the past several years, Van has emerged as the perhaps the nation's chief proponent of using business-based solutions to create jobs and clean up the environment. In his book and his speeches, he highlights the key role of entrepreneurship in solving our nation's problems.

The 'Green' Jack Kemp?

Van believes in government clearing the way for private-sector innovation. In a YouTube clip, he said recently that progressives and conservatives should work together to find common ground and create a clean energy economy.

Van said: "We are not promoting welfare. We are promoting work. ... We are not expanding entitlements. We are expanding enterprise and investment. ... We are not trying to redistribute existing wealth. We are trying to reinvent an existing sector, so that we can create NEW wealth - by unleashing innovation and entrepreneurship. This should be common ground."

He has been preaching that gospel, in various forms, for years and years. Van Jones is the nation's "Green" Jack Kemp -- using business-based solutions to attack poverty.

I found it interesting that Bill O'Reilly in his interview repeatedly asked Glenn Beck whether Van Jones' youthful views had changed over time. Beck never answers those inquiries and instead keeps insisting that Van has championed these ideas recently. Again, that is simply not true.

Quotes Taken Out of Context

Upon investigation, it turns out that Beck is quoting (out of context) an article that in fact makes the OPPOSITE point.

The 2005 profile that Beck is flogging actually makes it crystal clear -- even in the headline -- that Jones has "renounced" his earlier views, matured and moved on. Van's transformation is the entire point of the piece, and it is impossible that Beck does not know this.

Fortunately, O'Reilly seemed to sense the truth. I remember seeing O'Reilly interview Van Jones some time ago and was struck by how much respect O'Reilly showed for Jones. Perhaps O'Reilly's knowing queries were prompted by that encounter.

When Van worked for me, he did exhibit that "know it all" quality that so many of us - myself included -- have when we are young. Over the years, I have enjoyed watching him grow and blossom into a loving father and husband -- and a creative, effective leader.

Van Jones: A True Patriot

Mr. Beck's unfounded attacks are misleading and false. All of us who know Van are so very proud of him and the work he is doing to improve the lives of ALL Americans. He has touched and improved thousands of lives in the course of his career. Now he is in a position to help millions.

He will do well because Van is a true patriot, who loves his country. He has dedicated his life to trying to make it better -- especially trying to uplift the poor, the left-out and the left-behind.

In his book, Van draws a distinction between "cheap patriotism" and "deep patriotism." I highly recommend that chapter to Mr. Beck.

I do hope Van is keeping his head up, walking tall and continuing to fight for green businesses and green jobs. Our country needs more of them - and more people like Van.