Media Matters: Move over, Drudge, there's a new sheriff in town

Glenn Beck is the new sheriff in town. With his relentless attacks on progressive organizations and individuals, Beck has increasingly dictated the stories that the media are covering.

It used to be common knowledge that Matt Drudge ruled the media's world. These days, Drudge must be jealous. If the past few months have shown us anything, it's that Drudge's position as the media's assignment editor is now filled by Fox News' Glenn Beck.

Beck has made no bones about his desire to shape the media's agenda. He's Fox News' Czar War commander in chief, lead ACORN crusher, resident conspiracy theorist, and favored "rodeo clown," all wrapped into one.

One would think that the mainstream media would be wary of covering stories promoted by a man who, while role-playing as President Obama, pretended to pour gasoline on the “average American” and asked Obama, "[W]hy don't you just set us on fire?" But one would be wrong.

Beck brought to us the 9-12 Project, which served as the inspiration for the 9-12 “March on Washington,” when Americans tearfully came together as we did “the day after 9-11” ... to protest taxes, health care reform, government spending, and an African-American who has taken over the White House. Did the media sit out the story of tens of thousands of Beck and Fox News fans invading D.C. to protest these things? Nope. While Fox News claimed that media outlets “missed” the story of the 9-12 protests, as noted, “those other networks were there” at the 9-12 protests. As Howard Kurtz wrote in The Washington Post, "[T]he other networks indeed covered the protest, which -- like similar demonstrations across the country -- were heavily promoted by Fox, especially talk show host Glenn Beck."

The media have paid equal attention to Beck and Fox News' war on Obama's “czars.” Beck led the charge in attacking White House green jobs adviser Van Jones, accusing him of all manner of sins. After -- a group co-founded by Jones -- initiated a campaign against Beck for calling Obama a “racist,” Beck amped up his attacks on Jones. But instead of pointing out the potential motive behind Beck's relentless assault, the media merely credited Beck for keeping the Jones story alive. Now that Beck has shifted his sights to other Obama “czars,” the media have dutifully followed, increasing their coverage of FCC chief diversity officer Mark Lloyd and Cass Sunstein, who was confirmed to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Beck has also repeatedly promoted allegations -- originally made on Beck favorite Andrew Breitbart's -- that the National Endowment for the Arts and its former spokesman Yosi Sergant were “creating a propaganda machine for the president of the United States.” Once again, the media were right behind Beck. On the September 22 edition of his CNN program, Lou Dobbs advanced attacks on the White House, stating that there are "[n]ew concerns tonight that the Obama administration may be politicizing the arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, encouraging groups to produce art work promoting the president's agenda." George Will wrote in his September 17 Washington Post column that the controversy shows “the Obama administration's incontinent lust to politicize everything.” The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, and ABC News? Each covered the White House's issuing of new guidelines that, as The New York Times wrote, “instructed government agencies to keep politics away from the awarding of federal grants.”

Beck's been busy. In addition to making plans to hijack the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, September 22 brought us the release of Beck's second book of 2009, the ironically titled Arguing with Idiots. In it, Beck is engaged in an ongoing argument with “the idiot,” who comes armed with some truly idiotic statements, such as, “They may not be perfect, but France is doing socialism right -- we should be more like them,” and, “Private schools aren't beholden to unions, but they should be closed because they're only for the rich.” Beck fearlessly tears down these strawmen throughout the 300-page book.

Beck attacks “Nanny State-ism” by criticizing drunken-driving laws, writing, “The Nanny State approach is to use the police department to set up roadblocks and spot-checks,” and stating that since "[t]he largest percentage of vehicular deaths related to alcohol are from repeat offenders," the “commonsense solution is that you lose your license after a second DUI. Forever. Problem solved.” Beck never says whether he felt the same way when he was reportedly arrested for “speeding in his DeLorean with one of the car's gull-wing doors wide open,” after which a former colleague said Beck was “completely out of it.”

Beck's book has also raised the question of whether Beck supports the slave trade. While purporting to explain to an “idiot” the Founding Fathers' true intentions, Beck praises an obsolete provision of the U.S. Constitution that prohibited Congress from outlawing the slave trade before 1808 and capped taxes on the slave trade at $10 per slave. In explaining the provision, Beck doesn't mention slavery, saying instead that the provision means that the Founders apparently “felt like there was a value to being able to live here” and lamenting: “Not anymore. These days we can't ask anything of immigrants -- including that they abide by our laws.” Umm ...

If one were yearning for some good ol' fashioned racial stereotyping, Beck doesn't disappoint! His attack on the 14th Amendment, which guarantees that "[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States ... are citizens of the United States," comes complete with illustrations of a man and baby wearing sombreros. Yes, his book has illustrations. In fact, the entire book is designed to look as though it were printed on antiqued, dog-eared paper. You know, like the Constitution.

Beck also subtitled a section of his book “The chapter Americans just won't write,” which is little more than 18 pages of Mexico-bashing lined with text insets that parody NBC's "The More You Know" public service announcements. In these insets, the familiar shooting star of the NBC graphic has been replaced with a cartoon sombrero, and the slogan “The More You Know” has been changed to “The Less You Know.” The chapter features cartoonish Mexicans wearing sombreros and absurdly thick mustaches, and a cartoon of a Chinese takeout container that's meant to represent -- you guessed it -- Chinese immigrants.

In his chapter titled “U.S. Presidents: A Steady Progression of Progressives,” Beck treats us to his list of the “Top Ten Bastards of All Time.” The occupants of that list, in ascending order, are Pol Pot, Robert Mugabe, Teddy Roosevelt, Bernie Madoff, Adolf Hitler, Keith Olbermann, Pontius Pilate, FDR, Tiger Woods, and Woodrow Wilson. That's right, in Beck's book, mass slaughter of millions of innocents makes you a less reprehensible person than the presidents who won both World Wars for the United States.

Because with Beck, regardless of their actual ideology, these people are all progressive, with the exception of Tiger Woods, who appeared to make the list because he has “a Swedish-supermodel wife, a gazillion dollars, and ... plays golf for a living ... bastard!” In Beck's world, any progressive is an enemy, and any enemy is progressive.

Beck's conspiracy-addled mind treated us this week to hysterical rantings about how Obama, the SEIU, ACORN, the Tides Foundation, and other unnamed unions will “set wage[s]” in this country by dictating “maximum wage” to redistribute wealth. Beck viewed a video of schoolchildren “singing a song for Barack Obama” as an “indoctrination” linked to Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, the NEA, the Tides Foundation, and Jones. If one were to tune into Beck's television show, one would likely find Beck furiously scribbling on a chalkboard, desperately trying to illustrate the elaborate progressive conspiracy to overthrow the republic. On September 22, Beck laughably denied being a “conspiracy theorist” to CBS News' Katie Couric, but the next day, he admitted his conspiracy theories sometimes make him “feel like Russell Crowe from A Beautiful Mind.”

No one should be surprised by Beck's behavior. As Salon's Alexander Zaitchik reported, “In his 2003 book, 'Real America,' Beck refers to himself as a borderline schizophrenic.” Zaitchik also documented Beck's rise as a broadcaster, which was marked by cruel attacks and “racial hang-ups.” According to Zaitchik, after a rival radio host's wife had a miscarriage, " 'Beck called her live on the air and says, “We hear you had a miscarriage,” remembers Brad Miller, a former Y95 DJ and Clear Channel programmer. 'When Terry [Kelly, wife of Beck's rival] said, “Yes,” Beck proceeded to joke about how Bruce [Kelly, the rival DJ] apparently can't do anything right -- about he can't even have a baby.' " Racial hang ups? Vicious personal assaults? Over-the-top childishness? Sounds familiar.

Other major stories this week

Does Lou Dobbs think he works for Fox News?

Speaking of Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs has recently pushed a number of the same right-wing narratives that have been aggressively championed by Beck and Fox News, in addition to defending Beck's remarks calling Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” In recent weeks, Dobbs -- like Beck and many others on Fox -- has called for a “vigorous investigation” of ACORN and said that unless there is a “full-blown FBI investigation,” then it will amount to “a sham.” He's pushed the conservative attack that the NEA is “politicizing the arts” and has decried as “propaganda” an educational video.

On the September 22 broadcast of his radio show, Dobbs referred to ACORN's decision to appoint former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger to lead an internal inquiry into the organization as “such a sham” and called for “a full, and, I mean, absolutely righteous, vigorous, investigation of everyone running that organization, everything it's tried to do,” and “its relationship to the Obama administration.” Dobbs added: “I truly believe, unless there is that full-blown FBI investigation that you've asked for of ACORN, that -- you know, that is, to me, prima facie evidence that this Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, has been absolutely politicized to the point that it is not functioning and serving the interests of the American people or this country.” Beck expressed similar opinions during his September 15 Fox News show.

On his September 22 CNN television show, Dobbs hyped a story favored by Beck and Fox News, reporting that there were "[n]ew concerns tonight that the Obama administration may be politicizing the arts. The National Endowment for the Arts encouraging groups to produce artwork promoting the president's agenda." As mentioned earlier, Beck was at the forefront of promoting and advancing these allegations, interviewing the artist who secretly taped the NEA conference call on September 1 and claiming that the “people involved in a conference call, including the White House, knew that this was on the fence, if not outright illegal. They knew for sure that this would outrage you if it would ever get out.”

Hours after Beck decried as “propaganda” an educational video called The Story of Stuff, Dobbs, too, took to the television to warn of “more evidence of left-wing propaganda in our schools: An outrageous new video has surfaced -- this video being shown in classrooms all across the country. It is The Story of Stuff, as it's called, blatantly making false accusations against capitalism and the effects of human consumption on the environment.”

This week's ACORN update

The conservative media's feeding frenzy on all things ACORN has continued, resulting in more ethically questionable actions on behalf the videographers involved and the right-wing press fighting for scraps. In a recent “exclusive” report, editor-in-chief Erick Erickson analyzed “a list of [ACORN CEO] Bertha Lewis's contacts” that “just showed up one day unsolicited” from “a credible source who is no fan of ACORN” and claimed, “We did not ask for it. We did not expect to get it. But now that we have it, we should see who is in there.” However, the private contact list was apparently obtained without Lewis' knowledge or permission, raising the question of whether RedState's “exclusive” was the result of theft. Not surprisingly, the questionable nature of how this information was obtained didn't stop Sean Hannity or Beck from promoting it.

Incidentally, on September 23, Los Angeles Times media critic James Rainey reported that ACORN official Lavelle Stewart “told me this week” that when the videographers, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, came to Stewart's ACORN office in Los Angeles disguised as a pimp and prostitute, Stewart “tried to get the 'prostitute,' who claimed she had been beaten by her pimp, to go to a women's center.” This report is further evidence undermining O'Keefe's and Giles' repeated claims that they were never rebuffed at any of the ACORN offices they visited. Also, in a September 22 article, the Associated Press reported that California police said an ACORN worker contacted them about “possible human smuggling,” reportedly as a result of O'Keefe and Giles' visit to a San Diego ACORN office. As you might recall, word broke last week that O'Keefe and Giles were indeed rebuffed at the Philadelphia ACORN office they visited; the employees there went so far as to file a police report, which you can view here. The conservative activists have yet to release video from the Philadelphia and Los Angeles encounters.

Also, O'Keefe's claims to have been “completely independent” were undermined by a report that O'Keefe had received thousands, possibly even tens of thousands, of dollars from a wealthy conservative donor.

Nonetheless, this week also birthed a new right-wing talking point: that Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate ACORN. You know, because Holder can't be trusted to remain impartial. Better get Ken Starr on the phone pronto!

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert looks at how Fox's Chris Wallace became irrelevant, and Jamison Foser explains how the media's treatment of the ACORN story again demonstrates conservatives' ability to shape the debate.

Greg Lewis shows us that when Rush Limbaugh discusses Obama's foreign policy, his hyperbole is hyper in The Friday Rush, a review of Limbaugh's radio shows over the past week.

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Julie Millican, a senior researcher at Media Matters for America.