A couple of days ago, Glenn Beck kicked off his Fox News show with one of his standard monologues about the evil politicians who are stealing the country, peppered with vague warnings about how "things don't make sense" and "we're running out of time." But interspersed between his defense of Joe the Plumber, his comparison of Obama to Lenin, and his pointless smearing of a community organizing activist, Beck offered glimpses of what he believes are the roles that journalists and journalism are supposed to play in our society.
First, Beck explained the vital role that his own program plays: "Look, this show makes people uncomfortable every night. Good! Good! It's good to ask honest questions that make you uncomfortable. It makes you think out of the box." OK, so "uncomfortable" questions are a good thing, but under no circumstances should we think that Beck himself is a journalist: "I tell you all the time, I'm not a journalist. I'm not. I've joked that I'm a rodeo clown, but you know what? I take that back. I no longer am a rodeo clown. I am a dad, and quite frankly, I'm a little pissed off right now." Fair enough. None of those roles are mutually exclusive, but we'll play along.
But here's the meat of non-journalist Beck's argument: "You can call me names. You can make fun of me -- whatever. I'm doing what I believe is right. I am doing a job as a private citizen right now. I'd love to have The New York Times, The Washington Post, a duo like Woodward and Bernstein, even if they would just go for the Pulitzer, even if they didn't believe it, just go for the Pulitzer, would you? I'd love for them to look into these things so, quite frankly, I didn't have to." So Beck's not a journalist, but he's boldly martyring himself before the altar of journalism, a courageous, "pissed off" regular dad and "private citizen" (who just happens to have national radio and television shows) doing the job that no one else will do, asking the "uncomfortable" questions that those media slackers won't even consider.
And what might those questions be? Beck didn't offer any specifics, but here's a representative sample: Just what is the connection between health care reform and those who think "people are a virus"? Why does the first African-American president hate white people? Which members of ACORN conspired to hide their misdeeds by allowing the New Orleans levees to fail during Hurricane Katrina? Which members of government should be bludgeoned to death with shovels? And, quite memorably, "Why don't you just set us on fire?"
But then Beck let slip his real beef with the press: "Will anyone look at these issues instead of looking at my past?" Now we get to the nub of things -- "uncomfortable" questions are good, except when they're directed at the questioner. And Beck clearly understands the problems his tumultuous past can still cause him -- the self-styled crusader for truth and honesty can't be forced to deal with his long record of lying, smearing, and defamation. Particularly when it contains so many blatant hypocrisies, such as his shift from hater of 9-11 families to tearful founder of the 9-12 Project.
And, strangely, Beck's demand that the media stop looking into his past actually lends credence to his claims that he's not a journalist -- anyone who understood journalists would know that the best way to get them to look at something is to tell them not to look at it.