Glenn Beck fashions himself a proud and vocal defender of the Constitution, and yesterday, his self-appointed duties led him to attack President Obama's understanding of and commitment to that very document.
Beck began by presenting a montage of the Founding Fathers, and then cut to Obama's inauguration. After showing the president taking the oath of office, Beck played audio taken from a September 2001 radio interview Obama conducted with the public radio station WBEZ in Chicago. (The relevant portion of the discussion, if you would like to hear it, is in the "Slavery and the Constitution" clip on the page linked to above, 45 minutes and 20 seconds in.)
Played over the obligatory scary music, here is what Beck excerpted from the interview:
OBAMA: The original Constitution  I think it is an imperfect document, and I think it is a document that reflects some deep flaws in American culture -- the colonial culture nascent at that time.  I think we can say that the Constitution reflected a enormous blind spot in this culture  and that the framers had that same blind spot.  It also reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.
Now compare that with what Obama actually said:
HOST: Barack Obama, what are your thoughts on the Declaration and Constitution?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I think it's a remarkable document. I think --
HOST: Which one?
OBAMA: The original Constitution, as well as -- as well as the Civil War amendments, but I think it is an imperfect document, and I think it is a document that reflects some deep flaws in American culture -- the colonial culture nascent at that time.
African-Americans were not -- first of all, they weren't African-Americans. The Africans at the time were not considered as part of the polity that was of concern to the framers. I think that, as [program co-panelist] Richard [John] said, it was a nagging problem in the same way that, these days, we might think of environmental issues or some other problem that, where you have to balance, you know, cost-benefits, as opposed to seeing it as a moral problem involving persons of moral worth.
And, in that sense, I think we can say that the Constitution reflected a enormous blind spot in this culture that carries on until this day, and that the framers had that same blind spot. I don't think the two views are contradictory to say that it was a remarkable political document that paved the way for where we are now, and to say that it also reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.
What did Beck leave out? For one, he ignored the fact that Obama twice referred to the Constitution as "remarkable." More important, Beck eliminated Obama's highly targeted explanation of what he felt was the Constitution's imperfection: that "African-Americans were not ... considered as part of the polity that was of concern to the framers."
Such a reality is undeniable. The original version of the Constitution listed slaves as three-fifths of a human being for purposes of appointing representation (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3); prohibited Congress from outlawing the slave trade before 1808 (Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 and Article V); and required all states to return fugitive slaves to wherever they had fled from (Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3). It's worth noting that Condoleezza Rice made the same point Obama did when she delivered the commencement address at Boston College in 2006, saying, "We have thrived despite the fact that when the Founding Fathers said, 'We, the people,' they didn't mean me."
Does Beck really believe that such original elements of the Constitution should not be considered imperfections -- imperfections that were indeed the product of a cultural "blind spot" shared by the 18th century individuals who authored it?
Even if he doesn't, the intent of a segment such as this one is still clear. Beck isn't interested in seriously examining the Constitution, nor does he care to honestly reflect on race in America. Instead, he wants to portray Obama as a man who harbors a generalized and racially motivated resentment toward the Founding Fathers and the document they authored -- exactly the kind of person who would seek to exact race-based justice through reparations, which Beck has already declared to be at the heart of Obama's entire agenda.
This isn't the first time that conservatives have deliberately distorted this interview to make the exact same point. Rush Limbaugh did so last October, and the RNC did it again in May. It's the sort of willfully ignorant, historically inaccurate, deliberately deceptive, and racially provocative argument that has become common in the modern conservative movement. And it shows how untrustworthy individuals like Beck truly are.
For NewsBusters, it's OK if you are a conservative who is attacking President Obama.
Here's NewsBusters' Tim Graham yesterday, slamming Matt Lauer for not criticizing Michael Eric Dyson for his "vicious attack on Rep. Joe Wilson and other conservatives as comparable to terrorists, like the suicide attackers of 9/11" during the previous day's edition of NBC's Today:
NBC spotlighted radical black Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson to rail against President Bush as a "clueless patrician" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and then Brian Williams threw those words in Bush's face. On Wednesday, they spotlighted Dyson's vicious attack on Rep. Joe Wilson and other conservatives as comparable to terrorists, like the suicide attackers of 9/11. Matt Lauer didn't find this an occasion to interrupt and interject. Instead, he then read Maureen Dowd's New York Times column calling Wilson a racist. Here's how Lauer brought Dyson in:
LAUER: Michael, I don't know which is worse. Is it worse if, in fact, some of this opposition to President Obama is fueled by outright racism? Or is it worse if some liberals, in an attempt to defend President Obama and his plans, invoke the charge of racism to discredit the critics?
DYSON: Well clearly the first would be the problem, Matt. The existence of an abuse is far worse than those who trump it up. But let me say this. You don't ask the person who's been, you know, the abuser what the status of the, the progress is. You ask the people or the person who's been abused. Or if we look at terror, there's only been one terrorist strike, 9/11, but since then we've had terror alerts, we've been proactive, we've been preemptive. So race is the same way. Race is not only a former of terror, it is terror.
And here's NewsBusters' Brad Wilmouth today, cheering actor Alan Autry for "observ[ing] that the conditions created by the federal government by intentionally withholding water are similar to what he would have expected in the aftermath of a terror attack" on last night's Hannity:
Then, actor Alan Autry, a former Republican mayor of Fresno who is also famous for starring in the television series In the Heat of the Night, slammed President Obama for refusing to intervene. As he recounted post-9/11 fears that al-Qaeda would target the water supply to hurt American agriculture, Autry observed that the conditions created by the federal government by intentionally withholding water are similar to what he would have expected in the aftermath of a terror attack. Autry:
One of the things we were charged with by the federal government was to work together locally to protect the water supply to farming communities so they could continue to provide food for the nation. Now, if you would have told me that those – that water would have stopped, I would have believed maybe al-Qaeda struck, not the federal government.
Can't anybody over there play this game?
What is wrong with these people?
First they bitched and moaned that nobody would cover the ACORN story, when in fact pretty much everybody was. And now, with even more ACORN coverage coming from the MSM, they're whining that it's the wrong kind of coverage.
Leading the pity party? Andrew Breitbart. He's all upset because CNN adding it's own reporting to the story and adding it's own context. Y'know, like journalists do from time to time. He's blowing a gasket because CNN won't just air the raw ACORN videos the way Fox News does, propaganda-style
Instead, CNN's reporting that the Philadelphia ACORN office, rather than cooperating with the undercover pimp/prostitute team, actually refused their come-on and filled out a police report to document the visit.
Those facts Breitbart can't stand, so he revs up the the whining.
Accuracy in Media's Cliff Kincaid writes of Ted Kennedy in a Sept. 17 "AIM Report": "A notorious womanizer, he had left a party, probably a drunken orgy, with this poor girl and his car went off a bridge." [emphasis added]
Say what? Where's Kincaid's documentation for his claim that Kennedy engaged in an orgy on Chappaquiddick?
Such sleazy smears demonstrate why AIM isn't taken all that seriously these days.
Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach leaps to his "close friend" David Von Drehle's defense, calling my criticism of Von Drehle's Glenn Beck profile "shrill," and accuses me of criticizing the article "because one of the targets of Dave's story is Media Matters itself. Which Foser doesn't bother to note."
Let's take that part first: Ludicrous. Von Drehle makes only passing mention of Media Matters; here it is:
"[T]here are ancillary industries feeding on the success of Beck and others like him. Both left- and right-wing not-for-profit groups operate as self-anointed media watchdogs, and one of the largest of these -- the liberal group Media Matters for America -- has a multimillion-dollar budget. Staff members monitor Beck's every public utterance, poised to cherry-pick the most inflammatory sentences. (Conservative outfits do the same for the likes of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.) These nuggets are used in turn to rev up donations to political parties and drive ratings for the endless rounds of talking-head shows."
Really? That's what led Achenbach to conclude that "one of the targets of Dave's story is Media Matters," and that I was motivated by a desire for revenge? Seems pretty weak.
Achenbach's defense of his "close pal" David Von Drehle, and his attack on me, curiously avoids any discussion whatsoever of my central point: That Von Drehle failed to indicate a single falsehood Beck has ever told. That Von Drehle portrayed "liberal" estimates of the size of last week's anti-Obama rally as no more valid than estimates from conservatives -- estimates of 1 to 2 million people. Despite the fact that there clearly were not a million people at the rally. And despite the fact that the "liberal" estimates in fact came from news organizations and the DC fire department.
Since Achenbach ducked all that, here are some simple questions for him:
1) Were there 1-2 million people at last week's protest?
2) If not, how can it possibly be responsible journalism to pretend that those claims are just as valid as far more accurate estimates of 70,000 -- and to falsely suggest the lower estimates came from "liberal" sources?
3) Why should anyone ever trust a reporter who treats obvious falsehoods better than he treats the truth?
Until Achenbach addresses those questions, it's clear that he doesn't actually have a defense of the substance of Von Drehle's article. He's just lashing out at people -- and not only me -- who have pointed out what lousy journalism his close friend committed.
UPDATE: Here's Achenbach, in a parenthetical: "Sure the estimate of 2 million people was, as I have noted more than once, preposterous, and a lie." Ok; so we know his answer to #1 above. Perhaps he'd like to answer 2 and 3? Oh, and Achenbach engages in a little of his "close friend" Von Drehle's false equivalence:
The estimates on the blogs seemed -- as DVD notes -- to precisely track the ideology of the bloggers. Sure the estimate of 2 million people was, as I have noted more than once, preposterous, and a lie. Some websites even ran a photo from a much larger Promise Keepers rally in 1997! But the liberal bloggers were pushing a 30,000 number as I recall. The 70,000 figure is much closer to the truth, but the real attendance could have been higher than that.
See, some liberal bloggers were pushing 30,000, rather than 70,000 -- that's just like Glenn Beck claiming there were 1.7 million people! And remember that Achenbach's "close friend" failed to mention that the 70,000 figure is, as Achenbach acknowledges, "much closer to the truth." So why doesn't he think Von Drehle should have done so as well?
UPDATE 2: Let's go back to Achenbach's ludicrous claim that I criticized Von Drehle not because I don't think journalists should be in the habit of spreading falsehoods, but because Von Drehle made passing mention of Media Matters. Achenbach not only fantasizes that I was motivated by revenge, but complains that I didn't note the passing mention of Media Matters.
Well, maybe Joel Achenbach is motivated not only by his "close" friendship with Von Drehle, but by the fact that Media Matters has criticized Joel Achenbach for writing that Hillary Clinton "needs a radio-controlled shock collar so that aides can zap her when she starts to get screechy."
Which Achenbach didn't bother to note.
UPDATE 3: Achenbach responds. Sort of:
Jamison also asks me three questions. The first he then answers for me (because, um, I already answered it in the blog item -- no, there weren't a million or two million people, that's ludicrous). So let's go to #2 and #3:
"2) If not, how can it possibly be responsible journalism to pretend that those claims are just as valid as far more accurate estimates of 70,000 -- and to falsely suggest the lower estimates came from "liberal" sources?
"3) Why should anyone ever trust a reporter who treats obvious falsehoods better than he treats the truth?"
I'm glad you brought this up. Rather than using the 70,000 figure to represent a "liberal" point of view, it would have been better and more accurate for Von Drehle to have used the 30,000 figure -- which Media Matters was pushing on Saturday . The point, though, is the the same, and very valid: We live in a time in which it is harder and harder to find a purely objective point of view, even for something like a crowd estimate. (Here's what Jamison wrote Monday: "As Eric noted yesterday, The Post put Saturday's roughly 30,000-person rally on the front page.")]
Note that Achenbach didn't actually answer the questions. Didn't. Come. Close.
So, Joel, since you're reading, I'll ask them yet again:
How can it possibly be responsible journalism to pretend that claims of 2 million march participants are just as valid as claims of 70,000?
How can it possibly be responsible journalism to portray the 70,000 estimates as the work of "liberals" rather than nonpartisan observers?
Are claims that there were 30,000 people there equivalent to claims that there were 2 million people there?
Why should anyone trust a journalist who pretends that claims of millions of participants and claims of 70,000 participants are equally valid?
Achanbach's stubborn refusal to actually answer those questions speaks volumes.
Oh, also, since Achenbach seems to think my reference to 30,000 people is the equivalent of Beck's claim of 1.7 million -- an absurd comparison on its face, given the scale of things -- here's where I got that number: MSNBC's David Shuster, who got it from ... Freedom Works, the right-wing organization involved in planning the march.
Yeah, Joel, you're right: My use of the number the event organizers told a reporter is just like Glenn Beck's claim of 1.7 million.
UPDATE 4: And in his response, Achenbach accuses me of "false equivalence." Which is really kind of cute, given that that's one of the basic problems with his friend David Von Drehle's profile of Beck. Von Drehle draws false equivalence between crowd size estimates of 70,000 and a million; draws false equivalence between paranoia on right and left; between Beck and Olbermann. If only Achenbach could recognize false equivalence when it comes from his "close friend," we could have avoided this whole discussion.
In the eyes of the right-wing blogosphere, Andrew Sullivan is an apostate. Never mind that he shares their dislike of the Clintons, ignore his admiration of Condoleezza Rice, and forget that he was a big fan of staying the course in Iraq. Sullivan committed two cardinal sins for which there can be no absolution -- he enthusiastically promoted the candidacy of President Obama, and, even worse, he wrote mean things about ex-Gov. Sarah Palin.
But Obama and Palin are old news at this point, so Amy Ridenour has taken to the pages of NewsBusters to proffer a new reason to dislike The Atlantic's premier blogger. Well, it's not exactly "new," as it actually harkens back to the good old days of Know-Nothingism and immigration quotas. In Ridenour's view, Sullivan shouldn't be trusted because he's a "foreigner."
"Why has a man who is not a citizen of the United States been commenting on U.S. domestic policy for the last couple of decades as if he had a citizen's stake in the nation?" asks Ridenour, who goes on to demand that The Atlantic post a disclaimer on its website that makes clear that Sullivan isn't, you know, one of us... Imagine the nerve of a permanent resident of a country taking an interest in that country's internal affairs.
It's an interesting argument for Ridenour to make, given that a few short months ago she posted this blog entry approvingly quoting National Review's Mark Steyn attacking Obama's proposed health care reform. Steyn is also one of those untrustworthy foreigners, being of Canadian citizenship, who lives in America and comments on domestic policy regularly. Unlike Sullivan, however, Steyn is dead-set on never becoming a citizen of the United States -- he told Canada's National Post in 2006: "I'm a citizen of Canada, never been anything else. I don't believe in dual citizenship." Sullivan on the other hand has been trying to attain U.S. citizenship for a long time, but his HIV-positive status prevents him from doing so.
So, using Ridenour's own argument, whose commentary should we trust less -- an Englishman who wants to become a citizen but can't, or a Canadian who has no intention of ever becoming a citizen?
Better yet, let's just dismiss Ridenour's argument as the nativist garbage that it is.
A good example comes courtesy of Paul Kane at the WashPost, as he details the concerns Pelosi raised on Thursday about the rise of violent political rhetoric in America.
The Post lede:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said she worries that the protests of President Obama's health-care legislation may be of a similar nature to anti-gay rhetoric in the late 1970s in San Francisco, which culminated in the assassinations of two of her home town's political leaders.
Most of the article deals with the Republican response to Pelosi's comments. (Because GOP spin is always the most newsworthy occurrence, right?) And then Kane added [emphasis added]:
Pelosi had already infuriated Obama critics last month when she said opponents of his health-care plan were carrying "swastikas and symbols like that" to town hall meetings. Conservatives excoriated Pelosi for her implicit labeling of them as Nazis.
What did Kane leave out? Oh yeah, the fact that Pelosi was right; that anti-Obama protesters were carrying "swastikas and symbols like that" to town hall meetings. Meaning, Pelosi made a claim, the Post notes today that it "infuriated" conservatives, and then forgets to mentions that Pelosi's claim was, y'know, accurate.
BTW, conservatives are aghast that Pelosi seemed to draw conclusions between today's violent rhetoric and the assassinations of S.F.'s liberal mayor, George Moscone, and openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk. Denouncing the comparison, right-wing blogger Ed Morrissey insists it doesn't work because Moscone and Milk's assassin, Dan White, wasn't some kind of right-wing nut. He was just a "moderate" politician who happened to snap.
Actually, here's what one of White's homophobic campaign brochures from the `70's declared:
"There are thousands upon thousands of frustrated, angry people waiting to unleash a fury that can and will eradicate the malignancies which blight our city. I am not going to be forced out of San Francisco by splinter groups of radicals, social deviates, incorrigibles."
Charles Kaiser offers this pitch-perfect description of Time's profile of Glenn Beck: "Von Drehle's piece is so humiliating on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin."
Kaiser interviewed Von Drehle about the Beck profile, with hilarious results. Like this, from Kaiser's Full Court Press post:
Von Drehle identified the boycott as "a boon" to Beck's ratings; but he didn't say that it now includes more than sixty corporations, including Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and Procter & Gamble.
FCP asked Von Drehle if sixty wasn't a rather large number-one perhaps worth mentioning in his piece. "Well," he replied. "There are millions of companies."
See, Von Drehle didn't mention the fact that 60 companies are boycotting Beck's show because there are millions of other companies that aren't. Got it? Millions of companies that have never advertised on Glenn Beck's show make the fact that 60 companies that used to do so now refuse to meaningless.
Oh, and Detroit automakers are doing just fine. Sure, they've lost a lot of customers over the years -- but literally billions of people haven't stopped buying their cars! Bonuses all around!
Then there's Von Drehle's justification for drawing an equivalence between Beck and Keith Olbermann:
Von Drehle also seems to think that the progressive hosts on MSNBC are really just like the right-wing crazies on Fox. But when FCP pressed him about that, he admitted that had no basis whatsoever for making any comparison:
"I haven't seen Keith Olbermann for at least a year and a half," the Time writer said. "And I've never seen Rachel Maddow. I have four children and a wife. I don't sit around watching cable TV. I don't understand why anybody watches any of these shows. I know what these opinions are based on: they're based on nothing."
David Von Drehle doesn't watch Olbermann or Maddow, you see, because he already knows their opinions are "based on nothing." The hypocrisy is jaw-dropping.
My own take on Time's profile of Glenn Beck is here. Hint: It isn't positive.
That being John F. Kennedy, who was gunned down in Dallas, of course.
I've been thinking a lot of Kennedy and Dallas as I've watched the increasingly violent rhetorical attacks on Obama be unfurled. As Americans yank their kids of class in order to save them from being exposed to the President of the United States who only wanted to urge them to excel in the classroom. And as unvarnished hate and name-calling passed for health care 'debate' this summer.
The radical right, aided by a GOP Noise Machine that positively dwarfs what existed in 1963, has turned demonizing Obama--making him into a vile object of disgust--into a crusade. It's a demented national jihad, the likes of which this country has not seen in modern times.
But I've been thinking about Dallas in 1963 because I've been recalling the history and how that city stood as an outpost for the radical right, which never tried to hide its contempt for the New England Democrat.
Now, in this this month's Vanity Fair, Sam Kashner offers up in rich detail the hatred that ran wild in Dallas in 1963. To me, the similarity between Dallas in 1963 and today's unhinged Obama hate is downright chilling.
Kashner's fascinating cover story actually chronicles the professional struggles of writer William Manchester who was tapped by the Kennedy family, after the president's assassination, to write the definitive book about the shooting. The Vanity Fair articles details the power struggles, and epic lawsuits, that ensued prior to Manchester's publication.
But this unnerving passage from VF caught my eye. In it, Kashner retraces Manchester's step as he researched his book. It's unsettling because if you insert "Obama" for every "Kennedy" reference, it reads like 2009:
Manchester also discovered that Dallas "had become the Mecca for medicine-show evangelists … the Minutemen, the John Birch and Patrick Henry Societies, and the headquarters of [ultra-conservative oil billionaire] H. L. Hunt and his activities."
"In that third year of the Kennedy presidency," Manchester wrote, "a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, 'Impeach Earl Warren.' Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.…Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy's name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars."
A retired major general ran the American flag upside down, deriding it as "the Democrat flag." A wanted poster with J.F.K.'s face on it was circulated, announcing "this man is Wanted" for—among other things—"turning the sovereignty of the US over to the Communist controlled United Nations" and appointing "anti-Christians … aliens and known Communists" to federal offices.
And a full-page advertisement had appeared the day of the assassination in The Dallas Morning News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party; when it was shown to the president, he was appalled. He turned to Jacqueline, who was visibly upset, and said, "Oh, you know, we're heading into nut country today."
Manchester discovered that in a wealthy Dallas suburb, when told that President Kennedy had been murdered in their city, the students in a fourth-grade class burst into applause.
Today, conservatives are expressing outrage that Rep. Nancy Pelosi had the nerve to raise concerns about the onrush of violent political rhetoric. The Noise Machine claims it has no idea what Pelosi's talking about. But the truth is, America's most famous bouts of political violence (i.e. JFK, Oklahoma City, etc.) have always been accompanied by waves of radical, right-wing rhetoric. Given that history, the GOP's insistence that the hate now filling the streets couldn't possibly inspire violence seems woefully naive.
More than 60 advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Here are his September 17 sponsors, in the order they appeared: