Psychiatrists: Beck Conspiracy Show Raises Concerns About Viewer Reaction
Research ››› ››› JOE STRUPP
Three veteran psychiatrists who viewed a portion of a Glenn Beck program repeatedly cited by alleged gunman Byron Williams are raising concerns about the effect that the conspiracy theory-filled clip might have on viewers.
Beck devoted his June 21 show to an intricate conspiracy theory involving George Soros, Barack Obama, the Center for American Progress, and the BP oil spill.
In the first 17 minutes of the show -- which the psychiatrists watched at Media Matters' request -- Beck used his chalkboard to falsely claim that Obama had funneled taxpayers dollars to the Brazilian oil company Petrobras and had imposed a moratorium on deep water oil drilling in order to enrich philanthropist George Soros.
During the same segment, Beck claimed that Soros had "helped start the Tides Foundation," which Beck said was indoctrinating children to oppose capitalism. Beck also suggested that Soros might try to have Beck killed, saying, "I do have a bulletproof car, George. I just want you to know."
Watch the 17-minute Beck clip here:
Williams, who also spoke at length in a recent interview with Media Matters, has cited Beck's "June" shows repeatedly when talking about the Soros-Obama-Petrobras conspiracy theory, which he said is what informed his assassination plan.
Williams told investigators that he was on his way to kill members of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU in San Francisco when police pulled him over in Oakland and got into a shoot out with him, in which two officers were injured. Williams has said he planned to target Tides because he believed -- falsely -- that it is a front group for Soros to funnel money to radical causes.
Beck has spoken out against the Tides Foundation on dozens of occasions, including in the above clip.
Psychiatrists who watched the Beck clip at the request of Media Matters raised concerns about how Beck's show could affect viewers.
"It is hard to watch the video; it is so blatantly trying to incite people," said Philip R. Muskin, a clinical psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center. "You listen to him and say, 'what the heck is he saying?' Is he joking? Is he just trying to be inflammatory? Does he believe this stuff? I don't know, but it is certainly inflammatory."
Muskin adds, "It is said in a very 'I'm telling you the truth' way."
Muskin said that Beck's approach has "great potency because this is a talented man and he uses his talent. When people like Beck say things like this they are not being responsible in understanding that some of their viewers may be unduly influenced. He literally says George Soros is evil.
"When people do that and try to rabble rouse, they are not thinking of Byron Williams or someone who may have a lot of [emotional] issues."
Another psychiatrist, Steven P. Levine of Princeton, N.J., also had concerns about the impact Beck's tirade might have on viewers.
"I could imagine that for a section of the population looking for a consensus to confirm their own suspicions of government in general, this is good fodder for them," Levine said. "Because of his style, for those who are less inclined to be naturally skeptical, who are looking for someone to support their views, it adds fuel to the fire. He loses credibility when he uses inflections to push his point."
Levine also pointed to Beck's own reference to violence as a problem: "One thing that caught my attention was when he was mugging for the camera and telling George Soros he has a bullet-proof car."
Adds Levine: "[Beck] is implying that what he is saying is so inflammatory that people would want to kill him, that there would be an expected response.
Rosalie Greenberg, a psychiatrist based in Summit, N.J., who has written on such issues for Huffington Post, said, "it makes me concerned if anyone really depends on him for news."
After viewing the video, she noted: "I find it frightening if people will take it as the truth. If that is someone's only source of news, they should know it is not a regular news show."
As for the emotional impact on some viewers, Greenberg added, "There is a lot of drama and it is entertainment. But the entertainment and news is getting blurred. If people think they are watching news it is a little scary."