Glenn Beck can't keep his conspiracies straight.
It took the conservative host less than 90 seconds during his May 1 television show to produce one of the most glaring media contradictions in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. Not surprisingly, Beck didn't seem to notice the obvious inconsistency. That's what happens when you chase hollow and reckless conspiracy theories for a living.
The mix-up occurred during one of Beck's signature, rambling monologues about what really happened in Boston and who's really to blame. (Hint: Saudi Arabia.) But Beck managed to tie together two competing conspiracy theories that draw opposite conclusions about the Saudi government's involvement.
Recall that after the April 15 attack, Beck engaged in a wild conspiracy, insisting that a Saudi national student who had been injured in the blast and who was questioned by authorities was "absolutely involved" in the Patriot's Day attack. (Law enforcement officials have repeatedly claimed he was not.) Beck called the student a "dirt bag," a "bad, bad, bad man," and "possibly the ringleader" of the bombing that killed three people and injured more than one hundred.
The White House was "trying to make this a lone wolf crime so the Saudi government will be spared embarrassment, and the U.S. will be spared explaining how a terror cell was active when we have Al-Qaeda on the run," Beck told radio listeners on April 18.
"You want to know why we have terror over and over in our streets?" he asked on April 22. "Saudi Arabia. It is time someone on network television says it." The host even called for President Obama to be impeached for what the host considered to be a sprawling government cover-up surrounding the student, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.
On May 1, Beck returned to the claim insisting, "We know Saudi Arabia is involved."
Then, less than 90 seconds after implicating Saudi Arabia, Beck latched onto yesterday's conspiracy-of-the-day claim, courtesy of Britain's Daily Mail. It reported Saudi officials had delivered a "very specific" written warning to the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 about Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Saudi officials were allegedly so concerned about Tsarnaev's radical ties that his visa request to visit Saudi Arabia had been denied. Beck's site, The Blaze, also pushed the story, as did scores right-wing blogs.
The Department of Homeland Security, the White House, and Saudi Arabia's U.S. Ambassador have all since categorically denied the Daily Mail's claim. The newspaper has produced no evidence to back up its anonymous source's dubious allegation.
That didn't matter to Beck. Because the unproven claim made the Obama administration look bad, and because it made it look like government officials had missed obvious warning signs about Tsarnaev, Beck embraced the Saudi story as truth. But that left him in the very awkward position of insisting Saudi Arabia was "involved" in the bombing (and not in a good way), while simultaneously reporting Saudi Arabia tried to warn the U.S. about the bomber.
In Beck's telling, Saudi Arabia officials were both the good guys and the bad guys in Boston. Only he would try to paper over a boulder-sized inconsistency like that in the span of 90 seconds.
Question: Was it keen programming like this that convinced executives at Cablevision to add Beck's Internet channel to Cablevision's New York City metropolitan cable system?
The National Rifle Association's annual meeting on May 3-5 will feature a number of conservative media figures -- including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Ted Nugent -- who often use violent rhetoric and promote gun-related conspiracy theories.
Glenn Beck is engaging in a bit of revisionist history concerning his Fox News exit. At an April 27 event at New York University, Beck portrayed his departure as self-initiated and suggested that Fox CEO Roger Ailes pleaded with him to stay, explaining:
"If you stay in it too long, you become Norma Desmond. I remember feeling, 'If you do not leave now, you won't leave with your soul intact.'"
"At the end, when we were leaving, it was a long process. Roger said to me, 'You're not going to leave.' And I said, 'I am.' And he said, 'Nobody does,' meaning leave television....And I said, 'I'm fortunate because I haven't been in it that long.' I knew what this big, huge Fox empire brought to the table, and I had to leave before I became too enamored of that."
A Fox News spokesperson issued a sharp rebuke contradicting Beck's claim, instead citing Glenn Beck's advertiser losses as the major cause of Beck's exit, saying:
"Glenn Beck wasn't trying to save his soul, he was trying to save his ass. Advertisers fled his show and even Glenn knows what that means in our industry. Yet, we still tried to give him a soft landing. Guess no good deed goes unpunished."
Indeed. Following a series of grassroots efforts beginning in July 2009, around the time Beck accused President Obama of being a "racist," advertisers began fleeing his Fox News show. A Media Matters study revealed that the number of paid advertisements during Glenn Beck's show plummeted and never recovered as a result of those grassroots efforts:
Advertiser rates for Glenn Beck's Fox News program suffered as well. According to an analysis of industry data, the same ad, from the same advertiser cost between three and six times more to run on other comparable Fox News programs than it did to run on Beck's program:
While I was active in the StopBeck effort, detractors and even Beck himself would dismiss the effects of the advertiser losses. I long maintained that the losses were in fact costing Fox News money and were severely limiting the viability of Beck's program. And, now Fox News has all but confirmed it.
Glenn Beck's The Blaze continues to push the debunked claim that a Saudi Arabian national who was briefly placed on the federal No-Fly List following the Boston Marathon bombing was wrongly removed from that list and, at one time, was a suspect.
And now it wants Congress to help.
For weeks, Beck and The Blaze have fixated on the 20-year-old Saudi man, Abdul Rahman Ali Alharbi, claiming that he was once considered a suspect in the bombing and had been up for deportation. Other news outlets have debunked these claims.
But just this week, a producer at the conservative outlet sent an email (since obtained by Media Matters) to staff members at congressional offices of both houses and parties asking whether members of Congress would "be willing to raise" the Blaze's claims with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano or FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The email (below) from Blaze producer Virginia Grace states:
From: Grace, Virginia
Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 4:40 PM
To: Grace, Virginia
Subject: Revised: Request from TheBlaze
Over the past two weeks TheBlaze has been reporting on the Saudi National, AbdulRahman ali Al-Harbi, who was briefly detained as a potential suspect after the Boston bombing. Shortly after a search of his apartment in Revere, Massachusetts an event file was issued by the NTC designating him as a terrorist under the Immigration Nationality Act 212 (a)(3)(B)(ii)(II) and making reference to involvement in the bombing. Twenty four hours later the file was amended to remove the terrorist designation and a short time after that removed from the system altogether. To date Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has refused to comment on the terrorist designation, first even denying Mr. Al-Harbi had ever been a person of interest before finally admitting to Congress on Tuesday that he had, in fact, been placed on the Watch List for a short time. TheBlaze believes the public has a right to know why Al-Harbi went from terrorist to nobody in the span of 48 hours. What evidence led to the designation in the first place and what transpired to reverse it a short time later.
Would you be willing to raise those issues with Ms. Napolitano or Mr. Robert Muller at the FBI and report your findings to the American public?
Please let us know.
Sincerely, The Blaze
Several journalism veterans say this email is unusual for a media outlet, both as an effort to spark political action and as an attempt to get members of Congress to do their reporting.
"My general view is that legitimate, neutral news organizations should report and let members of Congress decide on their own whether they want to get involved," said Andy Alexander, former Washington Post ombudsman.
From the April 25 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Prefacing his comments by insisting he knows "how foreign affairs work," Glenn Beck on April 18 announced that his website, The Blaze, was breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing: A Saudi national student on a student visa and was "absolutely involved" in the Patriot's Day blast was being deported by the U.S. government for security reasons.
Beck went further, claiming the student, or "dirt bag," as the host described him, was "possibly the ringleader" in the bombing that killed three people and injured more than one hundred, and the government was deliberately covering it up.
Beck urged listeners to spread the breaking news via Twitter and Facebook because, he warned, the mainstream media would ignore the revelation. But the right-wing media would pick up the slack. Fox News' Sean Hannity helped launch the story on April 17 and continued to fan it yesterday, claiming the student had previously "been involved with a terrorist or terror activity," while a swarm of right-wing sites pushed the paranoid tale.
By making his wild allegations, Beck was asking listeners to ignore the fact that law enforcement officials had previously, and repeatedly, denied earlier right-wing media claims that the Saudi student had been taken into "custody," or was in any way responsible for the blast.
Indeed, officials at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security both soundly denied the story, explaining that there were two different Saudi nationals: one recovering in a Boston hospital who had witnessed and been injured in the explosions but was not a suspect, and another in ICE custody who was unrelated to the bombing investigation. Beck responded by calling for President Obama to be impeached for what he considered the sprawling government cover-up that now surrounded the student, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.
So yeah, it was that kind of week for the right-wing media. It was a debacle.
In the same week that Pulitzer prizes were announced honoring the finest in American journalism, many in the far-right media worked to set news standards in mindless, awful behavior in the wake of the Boston attack.
Faced with covering the most important American terror news story in a decade, too many players opted to just make stuff up. Prompting witch hunts, they cast innocents as would-be killers and then couldn't be bothered with apologies.
From the April 19 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:
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Hours after it was debunked, Glenn Beck continued to beat the drum of a conspiracy theory that the Obama administration is deporting a Saudi national who was behind the tragic bombings at the Boston marathon.
The conspiracy theory arose when Steve Emerson, a guest on Fox News' Hannity, accused the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of preparing to deport a Saudi national "person of interest" in the bombings at the Boston marathon. Right-wing blogs like Glenn Beck's The Blaze, Breitbart.com, WND, and Infowars quickly latched on to the story, alleging President Obama wishes to cover up Saudi Arabian and Al Qaeda ties to the attack.
The myth pretends that a Saudi national who was hospitalized after sustaining injuries in the bombing -- initially reported to be a "person of interest," though he never was -- is the same man DHS is allegedly in the process of deporting for visa violations.
DHS soundly discredited the conspiracy theory this afternoon, explaining to CNN's Jake Tapper that the rumors are confusing two very different men.
Still, hours later, Beck continued to run with the debunked conspiracy on his television program, claiming his "sources" knew better (emphasis added):
We at the Blaze know that this Saudi national is a bad, bad, bad man ... This administration is playing an extraordinarily dangerous game. They have very little regard for what it takes to be a citizen. Before the sequester cuts happened, they opened the prison and let illegals out. Who does that? Remember also, the Saudi national that was -- is about to get on a plane -- involved in blowing the legs off of American citizens, being held in protective custody or being protected, at least, by our administration. He will be put in protective custody and the plans are to deport him.
Beck's claims, of course, are far from true.
Former Obama administration official Cass Sunstein writes that he received death threats and hate mail at his unlisted home address after Fox News launched a smear campaign against him. After Sunstein's nomination and confirmation in 2009, then-Fox host Glenn Beck attacked him and his work for years, invoking mass murderers, totalitarianism and conspiracy theories in conjunction with his name.
Sunstein served as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the first Obama administration from September 2009 to August 2012.
As Mother Jones notes, Sunstein writes in his upcoming book, Simpler: The Future of Government, that Beck "developed what appeared to be a kind of an obsession with me." Sunstein compares Beck's attacks to the "Two Minutes Hate" from the classic novel 1984, where citizens were forced to watch films depicting enemies of the totalitarian party.
Sunstein also notes that he "began to receive a lot of hate mail, including death threats, at my unlisted home address. One of them stated, 'If I were you I would resign immediately. A well-paid individual, who is armed, knows where you live.'"
Zeb Colter, an anti-immigrant character from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, would be right at home in the conservative media. Many of Colter's bigoted and flawed arguments have been the right's stock-in-trade for years.
Beck targeted the Colter character on his radio show, arguing that Colter is "demonizing the Tea Party." Beck also accused the WWE of "mocking me for standing up for the Constitution." Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere complained: "It seems that the villain, the guy you're supposed to hate, is this stereotype of a conservative that I've never met."
Colter currently appears on WWE programming alongside wrestler Jack Swagger, spouting a lot of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the middle of a scripted feud with Mexican-born wrestler Alberto Del Rio. According to WWE, Colter's rhetoric is intended to "to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base."
WWE explains that in order "to create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines."
What is it about President Obama's inaugurations that bring out the craziest of the right-wing crazies?
Four years ago, Obama's historic swearing-in sparked months' worth of teeth-chattering paranoia, trumpeted by the conservative media, about how the new Democratic president posed a mortal threat to America and that drastic action might need to be taken.
In 2009, a far-right Newsmax columnist determined that a "military coup "to resolve the 'Obama problem'" was not "unrealistic." That's about the same time Glenn Beck used his then-new program on Fox News to game out bloody scenarios for the coming civil war against the Obama-led tyranny. Note that the armed rebellion rhetoric was uncorked just weeks after Obama's first cabinet had been confirmed.
Now, four years later as Obama's second swearing-in approaches, the same misguided insurrectionist pageantry is back on display. (The fringe John Birch Society is probing the likelihood of "armed resistance" against the government -- "an unlikely prospect, for now at least.") And this time, Adolf Hitler stars in a leading role.
In fact, there's a disturbing collision now underway featuring two signature, conservative paranoid fantasies. One holds that Obama is like Hitler; that he's a tyrant ready to undo democracy at home. The other is that Americans need access to an unregulated supply of assault weapons in order to fight their looming insurrectionist war with the government.
In the last week we've heard more and more conservatives try to tie the two wild tales together: Obama's allegedly pending gun grab will prove he's just like Hitler, which will demonstrate the need for citizens to declare war on the government.
Ignoring nearly 250 years of our democratic history, conservative voices across the media landscape have been nodding their heads in agreement suggesting it's only a matter of time before the United States resembles a tyrannical dictatorship that will be either fascistic or Stalinist in nature (or both, if the rhetorician feels no obligation to historical accuracy).
So much for the notion of American exceptionalism -- "the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history" -- that conservatives love to preach.
When former FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey complained to Media Matters last week that the Tea Party group had wasted money when it paid Glenn Beck and Rush to say "nice things" about the organization on the air, Armey sounded a lot like a record label executive bemoaning the high cost of radio promotion.
Armey protested that in making the payments to the high-profile talkers, FreedomWorks was "spending too damn much" and "getting too little value out of it." The former House majority leader didn't know the details of Limbaugh's contract, but said Beck had been paid at least $1 million last year to help the organization fundraise, an effort internal FreedomWorks documents reveal garnered the organization roughly $850,000 (not including some third party event ticket sales).
He wouldn't be the first chairman to second-guess dubious marketing or branding efforts. But in singling out the amorphous payments made to the radio shows, Armey raised questions about what the conservative group was doing showering the two programs with so much money in exchange for on-air flattery and on-air promotion.
That sounds an awful lot like payola.
Former FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey says the conservative outlet that helped launch the Tea Party paid Glenn Beck at least $1 million last year to fundraise for the organization, an arrangement he said provided "too little value" for the money.
"The arrangement was simply FreedomWorks paid Glenn Beck money and Glenn Beck said nice things about FreedomWorks on the air," Armey, the former House majority leader, told Media Matters Friday. "I saw that a million dollars went to Beck this past year, that was the annual expenditure."
Armey, who left the organization this past fall after a dispute over its internal operations, said a similar arrangement was also in place with Rush Limbaugh, but did not know the exact financial details.
"I put it down now as basically as paid advertising for FreedomWorks by Beck," Armey said, calling it a mistake.
Media Matters contacted Armey after Mother Jones magazine published a leaked copy of the document FreedomWorks prepared for its Winter 2012 board of directors meeting. That document alluded to "embedded media programs" for fundraising that featured the two conservative radio hosts and claimed that fundraising efforts featuring them raised nearly $1.3 million in 2012, not including event ticket sales from third-party vendors.
From the leaked FreedomWorks document:
Mother Jones further reported that the organization "plans to continue its financial support for Glenn Beck's media enterprise, including sharing a TV studio with and leasing office space to the Washington bureau of TheBlaze, Beck's website and TV network."
Armey said he was told of the Beck arrangement when it first began, but that it would only cost the organization about $250,000 a year. "Once that was approved by the trustees, it then took on a life of its own, it got bigger than we understood it to be. All of a sudden it was we are paying Limbaugh as well as Beck." FreedomWorks did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In response to a compromise on tax policy, conservative media are again comparing the United States to Greece. According to right-wing logic, the deal brings America even closer to the violence and discord in Greece, Italy, Ireland, France, and just about every European country whose citizens have protested austerity measures.
Of course, conservative media figures have spent at least three years ringing this same alarm. Economic experts have spent just as much time dismissing this panicked comparison, but to little avail. This Media Matters video, drawing on three years of television coverage of deficits and spending, shows the prevalence and longevity of the Greece talking point: