THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Glenn Beck Is Revolting... But Should We Puke?

Glenn Beck. Who is this guy? A "Morton Downey Jr" hopped up on drugs? A crazed, reactionary "Howard Beale"? Should we get our shorts in a bunch over his pathetic mugging and ridiculous remarks? I mean, even he calls himself crazy. Perhaps we should take him at his word. If you check out his profile on Wikipedia, his sad and sordid drug-addled past is there for all to see.
It was weird to see him on the CNN Headline News channel last year. At least now he's on the "right" network. Rupert Murdoch pushes his product as "fair and balanced" and Orwell and Machiavelli are guzzling champagne somewhere.

With the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, we now have to stomach the explosion of the TV and radio pundits of outrage. Maybe the UK-like tabloid journalism is finally gone mainstream here. (Is that why they drink heavily the UK? Not that we aren't any slouches.) The sad fact is that we media consumers get far too little "real news" and far too much radical bluster, bravado and plain ol', unvarnished BS handed to us every day on a silver platter. It's bad enough when doom-and-gloomers like Gerald Celente get air time... It's abundantly worse when major TV personalities with hours of airtime, make "revolution" and "the sky is falling" their mantra.

In fairness, we should hearken back to the Bush/Cheney years and examine what is different about what the punditocracy is pushing these days. In 2003, the whole world demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq -- fairly good coverage; but to little avail. In 2004, the March for Women's Lives in DC drew well over 1 million demonstrators, was probably the largest event in the history of our nation's capitol (prior to the last Inauguration) -- and was largely ignored by the mass media. Not one aerial image of the crowd on any major TV outlet. Then and now, the media playing field is still largely uneven.

There indeed, were images of Bush with the Hitler moustache circulating on the web. And who can forget all the brilliant anti-Bush satire at www.WhiteHouse.org, which is now permanently archived at www.GeorgeWBush.org. But I do not remember any major TV political commentators calling for revolution or airing Hilter-esque images of Bush. The word of the day was "fear" and we were constantly waiting for Bush or Cheney's other shoe to drop.

But many pols have pandered "fear" for many years. McCarthy and the Red scare. Nixon and the communist tapes in the pumpkin patch. More recently, the purported "smoking gun of Hussein and the mushroom cloud." It's a great vehicle if you want to start and run a religion. Fear can be a good deterrent in dealing with a child's bad behavior. Hell, it can even get you elected President if you manipulate it well enough. We now have a articulate, classy, globally-respected President whose thoughts and words are well-measured ... and the rightwing crazies can't stand it.

"Fear" is mostly what Beck has to peddle. He's a gas bag ... but he's out of gas as far as offering any sane policies or ideas. Beck's only job is to figure out how to be more nuts and crazy than he was yesterday.

One would think a key question regarding Beck vis-a-vis all the other talkers would be Is he calling for the violent overthrow of government? Isn't that a federal crime requiring some hefty jail time and fines? After a little research, you come to discover a sedition law called the Smith Act...and that it rarely gets enforced since many cases were thrown out by the US Supreme Court as unconstitutional about 50 years ago. The law however, does remain on the books. The little I have listened to Beck, he does tiptoe carefully and talks of a "coming revolution" and cataclysm without getting into actual details to plan for the violent overthrow the government. (If he has, please share because I really don't watch the buffoon.) Even O'Reilly seemed a little put-off at the Beck bluster during his interview of him. Of course, that might just be a bad case of professional jealousy.

And now we hear of Beck's famous Plan. Does he call for a violent revolution? Hell no... Glenn Beck's Plan is right out of Palin's playbook. His Plan is to promote "more Glenn Beck." Get out among the people...put on a show with more smoke and mirrors. What 's more American than that? "Pack the kids into the pickup, Martha... We're skippin' "professional wrestlin' " tonight... Glenn Beck is in town."

So we must wrestle with the difficult concepts of "freedom of speech" and "censorship". Most Americans all like a lot of the former... and don't care much for the latter. Gone from the equation are the days of responsible journalism and any sort of broadcasting code of ethics or standards that were propounded and followed back in the day when the National Assn of Broadcasters carried some actual weight.

What are we left with? The thought of muzzling Beck seems un-American. The sedition laws are rarely enforced. We have arrived at a point in American TV media where outrage is the norm and real information is at a premium. Walter Cronkite and company, rest in peace. This is not our mother's television. Today, we have a lot more of everything. In the post-Carson era, it happened in the talk-variety show genre as well...another diluted talent pool. A lot more channels, flavors, colors, products and personalities. We have a lot more pundits and entertainers competing for our attention. I think that's all that's going on here. Beck really deserves one big "yawn" and a flip of the channel.

The greatest media danger is the possibility of setting off a mob by haranguing the public into frenzy. It usually takes a singular, violent act that is flashed on the screen incessantly on many channels that can trigger a full-blown riot. We can look no further than 1991 when the Rodney King beating and arrest aired over and over ad nauseam. We did not get much detail about the chase or the suspect... just the constant and awful image of a black man getting clubbed by the cops. But it was not footage of the King beating alone that caused the riot leading to 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. It was the acquittal of the officers that triggered the rioting. So the anger has to stew and fester... then erupt. One could make a solid argument that the TV media in stringing these events together and airing them, in large part, caused that horrific rioting in Los Angeles not that many years ago.

If we are to worry at all about Mr. Beck and his shenanigans, it would be that he somehow causes a "Rodney King moment". On the upside, Beck has already told us he's crazy. I mean, take a look at that face on the top banner of his website. Is he in the same league with Cronkite, Brinkley, Chancellor, Jennings? I think not. And I think the great bulk of American people also know that.

Who's left any more? CBS is down to 2 foreign bureaus, for cryin' out loud. You know how we should deal with Beck? Well, there is MSNBC... but if it's the real comics of TV news you want ... kick back and get locked and loaded on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert !!