Something for the media to consider before letting Glenn Beck set their news agenda

Fox News' Glenn Beck has made no secret of his desire to influence the types of stories other news outlets cover, at one point boasting that a story on his program on the community organizing group ACORN would divert the media's attention from health care reform. However, Beck's long and growing list of controversial statements -- which are often conspiratorial, racial, and violent in nature -- undercut his credibility as a de facto news editor.

Beck seeks to influence mainstream media narratives

“Everybody now says they're going to be talking about health care. I don't think so.” On the September 9 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck, Beck teased the following day's program: “Tomorrow -- tomorrow, things change. I think things change a lot for those in power. The tides are about to turn, and that will be on tomorrow's broadcast.” Beck added: “Trust me. Everybody now says they're going to be talking about health care. I don't think so. Tomorrow you will see an exclusive -- stuff on tomorrow's program.” The “exclusive stuff” Beck promised were snippets of a video compiled by conservative activist and filmmaker James O'Keefe and Townhall.com columnist Hannah Giles going to ACORN's Baltimore office and, in O'Keefe's words, “posing the most ridiculous criminal scenario we could think of and seeing if they would comply-which they did without hesitation.” Beck subsequently criticized non-Fox news outlets for devoting insufficient coverage to his “huge” story; following this criticism, all three network evening news programs covered the story.

Incessantly promoted 9-12 rally. Beck routinely implored his audience to attend the September 12 “Tea Party” rally in Washington, taking ownership of the rally and promoting it on his 9-12 Project website. Fox News followed Beck's lead in hyping the event. Leading up to the rally, media outlets like CNN announced that they would be covering the rally extensively.

Key figure in the “czar” witch hunt. Beck led the charge against former “green jobs czar” Van Jones, falsely accusing Jones of being a “convicted felon” and attacking him as a “communist.” After Jones resigned on September 6, Beck listed other White House advisers he intended to go after, encouraging his followers on Twitter to "[f]ind everything you can on Cass Sunstein, Mark Lloyd, and Carol Browner." On September 8, Beck said that Van Jones was “the tip of the iceberg,” adding: “I mean, I've got pages of them and I'm trying to figure -- you know, because there is this Web site that's out there. And they actually put -- they did like this schematic of who I'm going to go after next.”

Beck's newest target: the SEIU. Beck's September 18 newsletter teased his Fox News program: “Glenn's been telling you about the connections between Acorn, SEIU and the President for months now. Tonight he connects all the dots.” On the September 16 edition of his Fox News program (transcript from the Nexis database), Beck suggested that he would attack the Service Employees International Union, asking "[w]hy is the union, SEIU so involved" in the health care debate. Beck explained that the SEIU and other “legitimate concerns are not what the debate is turning into. You know, I used to call it the mainstream media. And I have been thinking for the last few days, it can't be called the mainstream media anymore, because it's not. They're not covering anything that mainstream is talking about.”

Beck's credibility undermined by his own rhetoric

Racial attacks on Obama and others. Beck has frequently attacked President Obama and other progressives as “racists,” or used other racially charged terms.

  • Obama is a “racist” and “has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture.” Beck said: “This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy -- over and over and over again -- who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture -- I don't know what it is. But you can't sit in a pew with Jeremiah Wright for 20 years and not hear some of that stuff and not have it wash over.” He later added, “I'm not saying that he doesn't like white people. I'm saying he has a problem. He has a -- this guy is, I believe, a racist. Look at the way -- look at the things he has been surrounded by.” [Fox News' Fox & Friends, 7/28/09]
  • “Everything that is getting pushed through Congress, including this health care bill” is “driven by President Obama's thinking on ... reparations” and his desire to “settle old racial scores.” According to Beck, “Everything that is getting pushed through Congress, including this health care bill, are transforming America. And they are all driven by President Obama's thinking on one idea: reparations.” Beck later added that Obama's “goal is creating a new America, a new model, a model that will settle old racial scores through new social justice.” [Glenn Beck, 7/23/09]
  • Sotomayor is a “racist” who “is not that bright” and “divisive.” Discussing then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Beck said, “I think the woman is a racist. ... I think the woman is not so bright. From what I have heard from people who have worked around her, worked with her ... she's not that bright, and she is a divisive individual.” [Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program, 5/28/09]
  • ACORN is “enslaving people.” Beck claimed of ACORN co-founder Wade Rathke and his brother Dale: “I think I can make the case that these guys are 21st-century slave owners. They are enslaving people through ACORN.” [Glenn Beck, 9/10/09]
  • Stimulus package is “slavery.” Beck said of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: “It is the nanny state. They're going to tell us what we can eat, they're can tell us what our temperature needs to be in our homes, they can tell us what kind of car to drive. They can tell businesses how to run their business. It's slavery. It is slavery.” [Fox & Friends, 2/10/09]

Beck's conspiracy-mongering. Beck has concocted several conspiracy theories purporting to “connect the dots” between controversial figures and progressive groups and expose alleged corruption or malfeasance by the Obama administration.

  • New Orleans levees allowed to fail to hide ACORN corruption. Beck claimed that “everybody” in New Orleans “knew that we're a sitting duck if a hurricane comes” and that “everybody also knows that the government is completely corrupt down there.” Beck went on to ask: “If you were an organization or a city that was just riddled with corruption, and you knew it and everybody knew it and there was all kinds of funny things going on, and a hurricane blew through -- wouldn't it be convenient if all of your records were destroyed?” Beck went on to say that this “corruption” was linked to SEIU and ACORN. [The Glenn Beck Program, 9/11/09]
  • “I can't debunk” FEMA camps conspiracy theory. In March, Beck stated: “We are a country that is headed towards socialism, totalitarianism, beyond your wildest imagination. I have to tell you, I'm doing a story tonight that I wanted to debunk these FEMA camps.” Beck further stated: “I'm tired of hearing -- I wanted to debunk them. Well, we've now for several days done research on them. I can't debunk them. And we're going to carry the story tonight. ... [I]t is our government. If you trust our government, it's fine. If you have any kind of fear that we might be headed towards a totalitarian state, look out, buckle up. There is something going on in our country that is -- ain't good.” [Fox News' Fox & Friends, 3/3/09] (Beck eventually managed to “debunk” this theory.)
  • Obama is a “genius architect” who “wants you to work as a bureaucratic slave to government.” Beck claimed that Obama and the Democrats are “steering our youth into community service” and “incentivizing working for the government with promises now of paying off college loans,” adding: “He wants you to work as a bureaucratic slave to government. You work for them for 10 years, and you don't have to worry about any debt for education.” Beck added the caveat: “Maybe I'm crazy for going down this road, but from what we already know about Washington, the truth is always stranger than fiction, and the sooner we realize that, the faster we're going to be able to stop and go down the road paved with a couple of bricks of common sense.” [Fox News' Glenn Beck, 7/24/09]
  • Maybe Treasury is “selling black-market bonds.” Discussing the reports of “two middle aged guys with Japanese passports who were stopped by Italian police after trying to enter Switzerland with $134.5 billion worth of U.S. treasury bonds,” Beck said, “And this story has not been in The New York Times yet. That's weird, isn't it? That's why we're left with speculation.” Among the possible “scenarios” that Beck explored was the possibility that "[t]he treasury or the Federal Reserve is selling black-market bonds or double-dealing some way or another." [Fox News' Glenn Beck, 6/19/09 (transcript from the Nexis database)]

Beck's violent rhetoric and imagery. In attacking Democrats and progressives, Beck has invoked acts of violence, even after imploring his own audience not to turn violent.

  • Beck discussed “put[ting] poison” in Nancy Pelosi's wine. Beck imagined being invited to a “shindig” put on by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying: “So, Speaker Pelosi, I just wanted to -- you gonna drink your wine? Are you blind? Do those eyes not work? There you -- I want you to drink it now. Drink it. Drink it. Drink it. ... By the way, I put poison in your -- no, I -- I look forward to all the policy discussions that we're supposed to have -- you know, on health care, energy reform, and the economy.” [Glenn Beck, 8/6/09]
  • Beck poured “gasoline” on an “average American, said: ” President Obama, why don't you just set us on fire?" Bringing an actor onto his show to “demonstrate at least how I feel” about Obama's policies, Beck proceeded to pour water out of a gasoline can onto the actor, exclaiming: “President Obama, why don't you just set us on fire?” Beck went on to plead for “some sanity in our country for a second.” [Glenn Beck, 4/9/09]
  • Beck listed people he'd like to “beat to death with a shovel.” In 2001, Beck enumerated the various people that he “would want to kill with a shovel,” or “line up” and “shoot ... in the head,” including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY). [3/9/2001]