Thomas Frank asserts Beck's red phone "really symbolizes a new kind of ignorance"

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From Frank's November 3 Wall Street Journal column:

Glenn Beck, the popular Fox News host, has a red telephone on his desk that never seems to ring. Every now and then, in a moment of acute frustration, he will pick it up and give the camera his trademark pleading-puppy look.

What Mr. Beck wants to hear from the phone are answers, and he wants to hear them from the highest authority in the land: the phone, he says, is "a dedicated line right to the White House." And when Mr. Beck gets things wrong, he wants his antagonists on Pennsylvania Avenue to correct him. But "They don't call. They're not going to call."

[...]

Consider a few of the other grand assertions tossed out by the panic-peddling host last week: that the cause of last year's financial crisis was pressure exerted by Acorn and "the people in Washington" on otherwise-reluctant mortgage lenders; that the cause of the inflation of the 1970s was President Jimmy Carter's quest for a "socialist utopia."

These are postulates that it is only possible to believe after you have utterly closed yourself off to conventional ways of knowing, after you have decided that the reporting and analysis and scholarship on these subjects are not worth reading, and that you will choose ideological fairy tales over reality until the day a magical phone call comes from on high.

What Mr. Beck's silent phone really symbolizes is a new kind of ignorance, a coming high-tech dark age in which people can choose to blow off professional standards of inquiry; in which they can wall themselves off with cable TV and friendly Web sites, dismiss what displeases as liberal bias, and demand that any contrary view be transmitted to them via telephone call from the president himself.

Why not let Mr. Beck and his viewers have their fun? Because ideas have consequences. Maybe, as many believe, Glenn Beck is indeed the future of the conservative movement. From tea parties to town-hall meetings, thousands are signing up and fitting themselves out with their very own hotline to nowhere.


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