Glenn Beck is walking toward a cliff -- or running, or skipping. The question is, will Fox News go flying over the edge with him, or give him a push?
For years, Beck has pitched various conspiracy theories with a rather predictable thrust: The left is out to take over and/or destroy the United States. (The relationship between assuming control of the country and scheming its decimation has always been a bit fuzzy.) And his targets have been sinister lefty outfits that are not household names: the Tides Foundation, ACORN, and others. As long as Beck stuck to this classic tale -- secret commies undermining this great land of ours -- he wasn't much of a problem to most conservatives and his patrons at Fox. Sure, some conservative commentators (such as David Frum) derided Beck. But Beck was more like the crazy uncle in the attic who could be ignored. And Fox News could bank the revenue Beck generated without worry. Good ratings forgive much.
But only so much.
The Egypt uprising has raised the stakes for Beck -- and Fox. In the past two weeks, Beck has viewed events in Egypt through his own rather warped filter. He claims that the rebellion is not about the people, not about democracy. Instead, he says, it's a move by radical Islamists to take over Egypt, as part of a larger plan to install a caliphate that stretches from the Middle East through Europe and toward the United States. And he contends that "uber-leftists" and Islamic extremists are "plotting together" toward this end. Last week on his radio show, he declared, "Groups from the hard-core socialist and communist left and extreme Islam will work together because they are both a common enemy of Israel and the Jew. . . . Islam wants a caliphate. Communists want a communist new world order. They'll work together, and they'll destabilize. Because they both want chaos."
Austin Powers, anyone? But it gets better. This grand cabal also includes . . . the Establishment. Beck points out that Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush refrained from bombing "ancient Babylon" during their respective wars against Iraq. "Why?" he asks. "Because the Bible tells us that that is the seat right there of power of a global evil empire," meaning that Islamic caliphate. Bush father and son each wanted to preserve the heart of a radical Islam caliphate? That seems to be what Beck is saying.
Beck depicts the Egyptian revolution as nothing more than a dark development in a covert three-dimensional global chess game that only he can suss out. The implication is that good Americans ought to fear and oppose the protests led by Egyptians calling for Hosni Mubarak's departure and democratic reforms. And conservatives who endorse the demonstrators' call for change and reforms are nothing but useful idiots doing the work of the clandestine Islamic-communist cabal.
This latest Beck craziness, now that it is not focused on lefties, has become too much for some conservatives. Bill Kristol, the top-dog neocon, gripes
[H]ysteria is not a sign of health. When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. He's marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.
Beck fired back with a semi-quasi-coherent retort:
People like Bill Kristol, I don't think they actually stand for anything anymore. All they stand for is power. . . . And really, times have changed, Bill. Times have changed. It's time to see the world as it really is and to see how these big government solutions and getting into bed with dictators is really something the left does and not something that the right should do.
Get into bed with dictators? That's certainly something Kristol and the right did during the Cold War, when they supported autocratic regimes around the world, as long as these governments were anti-communist. But in this instance, Kristol is advocating opposing an autocrat in Egypt. What's Beck talking about?
Beck's problem, though, is not that Kristol has finally realized Beck is preaching nonsense. It's that now Beck has to expand his conspiracy to include Kristol, a prominent Fox News contributor, as either an active participant in the mighty plot or an unseeing buffoon exploited by the evil masters. And not just Kristol, but everybody else at Fox News who doesn't report and decry the Bush-assisted Islamic-communist plot against the United States. For Beck to be true to his cause, he will have to assail other conservatives who don't join him, for, my friends, this is about survival.
Beck cannot sustain his conspiracy mongering without roping into the conspiracy those on the right who either dare to challenge him or who are too dumb to see what's what. And that includes the rest of Fox News. After all, how could Bill O'Reilly, during his pre-Super Bowl interview with President Obama, not
ask the president about his
role in the left-Islam plot to create a caliphate? O'Reilly must be in on it -- or a naif. And the rest of the Fox network, too! If Beck is serious, his conspiracy theory must engulf the network that pays him.
Meanwhile, Fox faces a challenge: How long can it continue to air the ravings of a fellow denounced by sane conservatives? I once was a commentator at Fox News and worked with Roger Ailes. The guy likes to make money; he likes to cause trouble. But he also likes to be regarded seriously. (Ditto for Rupert Murdoch.) Beck is making it increasingly tough for Fox to claim it is a reality-based outfit (even by its standards). As Beck veers more into Bircher-land, can Fox stand behind him?
magazine's Joe Klein reports
I've heard, from more than a couple of conservative sources, that prominent Republicans have approached Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that the paranoid-messianic rodeo clown may bring upon their brand. The speculation is that Beck is on thin ice.
Beck ought to be. Especially since his ratings are dropping.
As Beck becomes increasingly unhinged and lost in conspiracy-land, he may well become a litmus test for the right -- and a measure of whether the leaders of Fox News care about any claim to respectability. Should Fox throw him out of the coop, Beck will still have a cult-like following that he can service via his syndicated radio show, website, and books -- and still make tens of millions of dollars a year. He won't crawl off to an undisclosed location. But he will no longer have the imprimatur of the right's main media outfit. And what better confirmation that the conspiracy is vast, oh so vast.
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