We told you so.
We told you back when Glenn Beck was a Fox News host that he was a blight on our media and political culture and was doing great harm to the country. Beck now admits as much himself. Returning for an appearance on Fox this week, Beck recalled his time there by conceding he made “an awful lot of mistakes.” “I think I played a role,” Beck reflected, “in helping tear the country apart. ”
Sure there's reason to be skeptical about Beck's latest public confession. He told Megyn Kelly he regretted dividing Americans while at Fox between 2009 and 2011. But he didn't stop peddling hateful conspiracies when he left for his own independent network. In 2013, as the city of Boston and nation recoiled from the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, what did Beck do? He led a mindless crusade against an innocent Saudi national student who was actually injured in the blast.
And keep in mind, Beck's network, The Blaze, is currently in the middle of a marketing campaign to convince cable operations around the country to add his channel to their television offerings. It would make sense for Beck to strike a conciliatory public tone in hopes of addressing fears that operators might have about hosting the guy who was too crazy for Fox News.
So yes, I'm reluctant to assume Beck's apology means serious change is in order, or to pretend his entire media empire doesn't revolve around feeding his loyal followers an hourly dose of Obama Derangement Syndrome programming.
But if we take Beck's comments at face value they amount to a complete vindication for Media Matters, which helped lead the charge in highlighting his dangerous rhetoric, and warned about the long-term implications of Beck's effort to use cable TV to tear the country apart.
Of course Beck botched the facts and made stuff up while hosting his show at Fox, and of course Media Matters documented his deliberate misinformation. But he works for Fox, that's what their nighttime hosts are paid to do. What made Beck such an incendiary figure though, and the point Media Matters stressed for years, was that aside from being professional inaccurate, Beck was purposefully fermenting a toxic brand of race-baiting paranoia designed to tap into the darkest fears among his right-wing followers.
Beck was pushing a disturbing brand of insurrectionism -- of militia media -- in which the President of the United States wasn't simply criticized for being misguided, or for someone whose policies would set the country back. Instead, the President of the United States was ceaselessly depicted as an enemy of America and to liberty itself; the man at the center of a violent leftist movement designed to topple the Constitution and to eliminate the American way of life.
I realize that lots of liberal commentators didn't like George W. Bush, but this was crazy town talk.
Beck's two years of mostly mindless harangues and toxic attacks, which kicked off when he debuted his new show the week Obama was inaugurated in 2009, did deep damage to the public dialogue and helped legitimize rancid rhetoric in a way we haven't seen in modern American history. And in a way we'd certainly never seen or heard before on a national television platform.
Most disturbing of all was the specter of hostility that hung over Beck's show and the unavoidable way his dark conspiracies appeared to move some fans to acts of political violence.
Fans like Richard Poplawski, who ambushed police officers at his mother's Pittsburgh home, gunning three of them down with an Ak-47 style rife. Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that's on the way” according to a friend; a conspiracy Beck had pushed.
Fans like Byron Williams, the right-wing, government-hating, gun-toting nut who strapped on his body armor, stocked a pickup truck with guns and ammo, and set off up the California coast to San Francisco in order to start killing employees at the previously obscure, left-leaning Tides Foundation in hopes of sparking a political revolution. The foundation had been the centerpiece of a year-long Beck attack campaign, during which he smeared the low-profile entity for being staffed by “thugs” and “bullies” and involved in “the nasty of the nastiest,” like indoctrinating schoolchildren and creating a “mass organization to seize power.”
Said Williams from jail, “Beck is like a schoolteacher on TV.”
And fans like the ones at Beck's site, The Blaze, who followed the host's demented obsession with elderly activist and academic Frances Fox Piven, by posting lurid threats against her: “ONE SHOT...ONE KILL!” announced one. “Why is this woman still alive?” asked another. And this particularly shocking threat: “Maybe they should burst through the front door of this arrogant elitist and slit the hateful cow's throat.”
No, Media Matters never doubted the damage Beck was doing to the country. It's nice to know the host himself now admits we were right.