On June 7, self-styled historian Glenn Beck offered his take on why so many professional historians are speaking out against his own peculiar brand of historical revisionism: “You have to have the letters to be able to say these things. You have to have a PhD. You're not qualified to talk about history. I'm sorry -- really? When did we give this to a bunch of eggheads?” It's classic Beck -- playing the victim against an ill-defined cast of elites conspiring to take him down. It's also classic Beck in that he completely ignored the truth behind the matter -- historians criticize Beck because he's a really bad historian. And Beck lent much credence to their complaints last week when he endorsed one of the anti-communism movement's great anti-Semites.
To recap, Beck got really excited last Friday telling his listeners about this book from the 1930s he was reading called The Red Network, saying that it was the Depression-era version of what he's trying to accomplish today -- namely, the public exposure of all the secret communists supposedly inhabiting the Democratic administration. Unmentioned by Beck was that the author of the book, Elizabeth Dilling, was a wildly anti-Semitic supporter of Germany's Nazi regime, and that The Red Network itself contains more than its share of racist and anti-Jewish invective.
But that's clearly not what attracted Beck to the book. What prompted him to talk it up and wave it around for all to see was its staunch and frequently hysterical anti-communism. Indeed, The Red Network boasts fire-breathing attacks on the “progressives” in the Roosevelt White House and claims a “Communist-Socialist world conspiracy ... is boring within our churches, schools and government and is undermining America like a cancerous growth.” That kind of stuff is right in Beck's nutty wheelhouse, though he'd be hard-pressed to explain how he managed to read the book and somehow not notice its attacks on Judaism as a “cult,” or its several attempts to blame Russian Jews for Nazi Germany's anti-Semitism.
And that gets to the nub of things -- did Beck even read the book before promoting it on the air? He clearly knew of and approved of its stance on communism (he was impressed by its attacks on the “radical” NEA, in particular) and based on that he blessed it with his imprimatur. One would like to think that a real historian (or really anyone interested in an accurate retelling of the past) would read a book all the way through before promoting it as an important historical document, or at least do a little background research to make sure that the author isn't, for example, a Nazi.
But that's not how Beck operates. Instead, he finds material that reinforces his worldview, adopts its ideas as his own, and then gleefully foists it onto his audience. We saw the same thing happen with W. Cleon Skousen's The 5,000-Year Leap and R.J. Pestritto's Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism. Beck read those books and suddenly he started spouting off on the divinity of the Founding Fathers and the evils of the Wilson administration. He doesn't think; he regurgitates. And in this instance he got burned.
What's more, Beck knows he got burned, but he isn't about to admit it or apologize. On Monday he tried to weasel his way out of it by saying that it's ridiculous for “the left” to call him an “anti-Semite” when they also, allegedly, call him a “Jew lover.” Once again, classic Beck -- ignoring what actually got him into trouble and instead playing the victim.
Make no mistake, Beck is deserving of all the criticism he gets. But calling him an anti-Semite misses the point: Beck wasn't espousing anti-Semitism, he was being his typically lazy and incurious self, and that irresponsibility resulted in an accidental endorsement of anti-Semitism. And for that he owes all of us an apology.