I recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post about Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, praising her work and noting what a political powerhouse she has become. Most blogger comments were positive, but boy did I get an earful about my comparison of her to Glenn Beck of Fox News! Many commented that she was intellectually so far above him that it was demeaning to Dr. Maddow to mention both their names in the same sentence.
Initially, I defended myself by saying I was only comparing their influence on their respective listening audiences, but after careful thought I realized I did cite some style similarities between the two (like satire). Further thought on the subject brought me to the conclusion that I welcome a comparison between the hero of the right and the darling of the left because I believe Dr. Rachel Maddow blows Mr. Glenn Beck right out of the water on just about every issue they both address on their cable news shows. I would love to hear them debate live but believe that may never happen, mostly because Mr. Beck would never agree to it.
After some careful research on their backgrounds I did find three things they have in common: they were both raised Roman Catholic and are from Western states, she from Castro Valley, California; and he from Everett, Washington and they both began their careers in radio hosting (which they both continue to do today.)
But that's about it. Their education is quite different. Beck, 46, attended private Catholic schools growing up and his only degree is a diploma from Sehome High School in Bellingham, Washington, although he did attend Yale University briefly for one theology course before he dropped out. He is largely a self-educated man who has written six best sellers.
Rachel Maddow, 37, graduated from Castro Valley High School (CA) and has a BA in public policy from Stanford University, and like former President Clinton, was a Rhodes Scholar, receiving a Doctorate in Philosophy in Politics from Oxford University.
To some on the right, she may seem like an intellectual liberal elitist. Those on the left may call him an uneducated, religious fear monger.
I believe the truth is somewhere in between because Dr. Maddow, even with her gifted intelligence connects with people of all classes and ages and never comes across as a "know it all." Although she can at times appear "geeky," she has a down to earth quality about her and her narrative is easy to follow and understand.
Glenn Beck (who now has started his own Beck University on his show), even though he does not have the advanced degrees that Rachel Maddow boasts, is no dummy. To have achieved success in the competitive field of cable broadcasting and to write six best sellers takes some smarts. Beck also has the distinction of being recently featured on the cover of Time magazine and has a large cable following.
One of the stark differences in their program presentations is that Beck integrates his religious leanings into his broadcasts. Although he was raised Catholic, he became a Mormon in 1999 after marrying his second wife. He often references God on his show to back up his lambasting of what he calls "secular progressivism."
Rachel Maddow will discuss religion as it relates to certain topics but never has given her own personal take on God or revealed her spiritual positions. She is a firm believer in the separation of church and state.
Another contrast is that Beck uses emotions to connect with his audience and has been accused by some of faking tears. He does have a much more stormy past than Maddow, having an alcoholic mother who committed suicide by drowning when he was fifteen, as well as substance abuse problems himself and a diagnosis of "attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder."
In his 2008 CD/DVD "An Unlikely Mormon: The Conversion Story of Glenn Beck" he details how he was transformed by the "healing power of Jesus Christ." This may have endeared him to the Christian right, many of whom are members of the Tea Party, but his critics feel he uses religious incendiary rhetoric as a weapon against our current President, Barack Obama.
Newsweek magazine's Andrew Romano opined on Beck's relationship with the Tea Party movement stating:
Tea partiers are driven by the belief that the America that elected Barack Obama isn't their America, and Beck comforts them by telling them they're right: that the America they love, the America they now feel so distant from, the America of faith and the Founders and some sort of idyllic Leave It to Beaver past, is still there, waiting to be awakened from Obama's evil spell. And he flatters them by saying that the coastal elites are too stupid or too lazy to figure out what's really going on; only his loyal viewers are perceptive enough to see the truth and, ultimately, to save the nation.
Ironically, according to Wikipedia when asked about her political views by the "Valley Advocate", Maddow replied: "I'm undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I am in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform." She was joking of course, pointing out how much the parties have changed since the Leave It To Beaver 1950s, but it shows how that era can be viewed from different perspectives.
Beck also appeals to that dark side of America that believes in conspiracy theories and has a deep distrust of "big brother" AKA big government. At one point, he claimed there were FEMA detention camps, a statement he later retracted.
It seems that Mr. Beck has had to retreat and apologize on a lot of his mis-statements this past year including mocking the President's daughter, only days after defending Sarah Palin's offspring saying that "families are off limits."
Only on rare occasions have I seen Rachel Maddow have to correct anything erroneous that she has reported. And it has been mostly minor infractions. She and her team do their homework and usually get the facts straight.
Maddow's "front line reporting" on the Gulf Coast and Afghanistan is reminiscent of the Dan Rather days when anchors would put themselves in harm's way to get the first hand story. She asks the tough questions that others dare not address and welcomes guests of all political persuasions on her show to have honest discussions on the current issues.
She is also media accessible having made appearances on Leno, Letterman, Fallon, Maher, The View, and Meet the Press, whose ratings spike every time she comes on.
Outside of The O'Reilly Factor, I have not seen Glenn Beck on any show besides his own, except for The View last year. On that program he was humiliated by Whoopi Goldberg who confronted him for disrespecting Barbara Walters and called him a "lying sack of dog mess." Maybe that is why he doesn't venture out of his safe world of Fox News anymore.
Yes, I yearn for a political debate between Beck and Maddow because it would be very revealing, not to mention entertaining. But even if it never happens, we need to examine the two: compare their views, their reporting styles, their backgrounds, their integrity, and come to our own conclusions. I may be biased, but I believe Dr. Rachel Maddow wins hands down.