After seeing Glenn Beck's ugly series of attacks on George Soros this week, one question keeps bouncing around my head: What are we to think?
Back in June, after Beck used his radio program to promote Elizabeth Dilling's anti-communist, and wildly anti-Semitic, harangue The Red Network, I wrote that Beck's promotion of the book didn't mean that he was an anti-Semite, just that he's lazy and irresponsible. A serious person, I argued, would have read the whole book before promoting it and done a little research into the author. Beck, it seemed, had not done that, and as a consequence he exposed his listeners to the contemptible ideology of one of the most prominent American Nazis -- something for which he should have apologized, but refused to do so.
But then it happened again. And again. And in the back of your mind you start wondering what the hell is going on here, because things like this just don't happen in America. This isn't a country where people go on TV and national radio and talk up bigots who blame Jews for collapsing economies or fomenting communism in the United States. You continue to give the benefit of the doubt, because if you don't, what does that say about America?
Writing for The Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg described Beck's anti-Soros programs as "shocking, even by Beck's degraded standards," adding: "The program, which aired Tuesday and Wednesday, was a symphony of anti-Semitic dog-whistles. Nothing like it has ever been on American television before." She's right -- I've been watching and critiquing cable news for years now, and I can't recall an instance in which a cable news host has devoted one program, let alone a series of them, to the singular purpose of demonizing a private citizen. And I'm positive that no cable news host has ever trafficked so heavily and unapologetically in virulently anti-Jewish stereotypes.
Even still, after all this, the benefit of the doubt remains. Goldberg quoted The Forward's former editor J.J. Goldberg saying of Beck: "There's a difference between first-degree murder and vehicular homicide, which is intentionality." Despite granting Beck the cover of ignorance, he described Beck's Soros programming as "as close as I've heard on mainstream television to fascism." The fact that Fox News is standing by Beck's Soros attacks after they were condemned by Jewish groups makes me wonder whether we've crossed into a new plane of right-wing media depravity.
And so, once again, what are we to think? We're in uncharted territory here. Is Beck's behavior a manifestation of paranoia? Can ignorance really explain why his orbit has so often crossed those of obscure anti-Semitic authors and theorists, or why he proudly attacked Soros by invoking "puppet masters" and blood suckers?
I'm still giving him the benefit of the doubt, and I still don't think Beck is, at heart, an anti-Semite. But I no longer think he's lazy and irresponsible. I think that he's willing to use whatever means are at his disposal to tear down those he perceives to be his enemies, and if calling a prominent Jew a blood-sucking puppet master who steals everyone's money is the most effective way to do that, so be it. As such, I don't care what's in his heart, because what's coming out of his mouth is straight-up despicable.
- Glenn Beck