Uh Oh. CNN Takes A Sharp Turn Toward Hell

Remember the old days when CNN was the dominant cable news network? Or the even older days when it was the only cable news network? I didn’t think so. It was a long time ago. Viewers today don’t appreciate how remarkable an achievement it was to launch a 24 hour news channel when nothing like it existed at the time.

Whether or not you like Ted Turner, you have to give him credit for being a pioneer, although given the state of cable news today, I’m not sure he’d want the credit/blame. However, he recognized the unique environment in which his experiment was born, and he further recognized the changes that took place in subsequent years that preclude anyone from ever doing the same (see My Beef With Big Media).

Now CNN is mired in third place, overtaken by a bombastic, right-wing, agenda-driven, Fox News, and a lukewarm, marginally liberal, MSNBC. So it should come as no surprise that the brass at CNN would be looking to shake things up in hopes of recovering their glory days. To that end, yesterday CNN announced that its president, Jon Klein, would be leaving the network. That, in and of itself, would appear to be a routine response to poor performance in the marketplace. The problem here is not that Klein is leaving. It’s who they are elevating to his post that is worrisome.

Ken Jautz, presently the head of CNN’s HLN (formerly known as Headline News Network) has been tapped to replace Klein. He is a brash, iconoclastic, executive who is more interested in ratings than journalism. But perhaps the most disturbing item on Jautz’s resume is that he is the man who brought Glenn Beck to HLN, and to television. Looking back at that millstone in broadcast media is one of the best ways of getting a handle on what may be in store for a Juatz-run CNN. Here is what he had to say upon hiring Beck back in January of 2006:

“Glenn Beck is the next piece of the puzzle,” said HLN prexy Ken Jautz. “Glenn’s style is self-deprecating, cordial; he says he’d like to be able to disagree with guests and part as friends. It’s conversational, not confrontational.”

If Beck is Jautz’s idea of cordial, I hope never to meet anyone he considers to be rude. What’s more, Beck is not known for having guests with whom he disagrees, friendly or otherwise. And the notion that he is not confrontational is absurd on its face. Calling the President a racist; charging that progressives are a cancer; tagging anyone with whom he disagrees a Marxist; declaring his hatred for Woodrow Wilson as well as 9/11 families; these are not behaviors generally associated with being non-confrontational. Jautz went on to say…

“As part of the continued evolution of the network, we wanted another primetime show,” Jautz said. “We didn’t look for a conservative, a liberal or anyone of a particular ideology. It was about getting the best talent that would resonate with the most viewers.”

Well then, it’s a good thing he wasn’t actually looking for a conservative. He would have ended up with a modern version of Attila the Hun (or did he anyway?). It should also be noted that his desire to find the “best talent” who would “resonate” with viewers, was unfulfilled. Beck’s show was a dismal ratings failure on HLN. He would not be a success until he moved to Fox News with its built-in audience of pre-cooked FoxBots.

Given the remarks Jautz made when taking over HLN and bringing Beck into the fold, it is fair to say that he was somewhat disingenuous with regard to his public appraisals. And he was similarly disingenuous in private. In the book “Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck And The Triumph Of Ignorance,” author Alexander Zaitchik noted that Jautz mislead his employers at the time as to his intentions in reforming the channel:

“Facing a staff weary of rumored changes, Jautz gently presented Blue Sky [his programming initiative] as a trial balloon. He promised that CNN standards would not be diluted in the makeover and that soon-to-be-hired Headline News personalities would not appear on traditional CNN news programming. He broke both promises.”

Indeed he did. Glenn Beck not only appeared on CNN, he was permitted to fill in as a guest host on Larry King Live. Taking into consideration the duplicity of Jautz’s comments when he assumed command of HLN, it might be prudent to take note of what he is saying now with regard to his promotion at CNN. Jautz was interviewed by The Wrap and said…

Q: Can we expect a tone change, or any sort of ideological shift?
A: I think that CNN needs to be as lively and engaging and as informative as it is known for its reporting.

Whatever that means.

Q: For a long time, Jon Klein resisted any sort of partisan programming — especially as expressed by the hosts. Can we expect to see more opinions — or at least opinionated hosts — under your watch?
A: CNN has always been about adhering to non-partisan programming in general. And it will continue to be.

However, I do not believe that “facts-only” programming … it will not work. Viewers, if they’re looking for just the news, they can get that anywhere now. The news that happened that day, they probably know already. They want context, perspective and opinion. And we’re going to give that to them. As long as it’s non-partisan, in the aggregate, from all ends of the spectrum.

In other words, we will continue to be non-partisan except when we’re being opinionated. And none of those pesky “facts” that clutter up the news.

Jautz did improve the standing of HLN. But he did it by ramping up the volume with shouters like Beck and Nancy Grace, and by diving head-first into the tabloid world of pop culture and celebrity gossip. Could that approach help to restore CNN’s prior leadership? Who cares? It isn’t what anyone who truly cares about responsible journalism would want.

And that’s the problem with contemporary corporate media: It is more interested in serving the shareholders than in serving the public. Unless Jautz has recently had a revelatory transformation, CNN has taken a giant step backwards by giving him the reins to the network. The prospect of the man who launched Glenn Beck’s television career running a cable news network is troubling, to say the least.

In related news, NBC/Universal has announced that it’s chief executive, Jeff Zucker, will also be leaving his post. This is an entirely different situation than the one at CNN. NBC is presently the number one network in evening news, morning news, and Sunday news. CNBC is still the top business channel. Plus, under Zucker’s reign, MSNBC moved up from third place to second. The staffing change at NBC is due to its imminent acquisition by Comcast. It remains to be seen who will be replacing Zucker.

Sometimes these sort of changes are merely shifts designed to put a new management’s imprint on the merged entity. But Comcast has baggage that makes it important to keep an eye on them. And they will have an unprecedented range of influence as a result of the merger. Stay tuned.

Glenn Beck: The Jews Killed Jesus

How many times, and in how many ways, can Glenn Beck insult and offend people of different ethnicities than himself – and get away with it?

I missed this morsel from earlier this week, but Keith Olbermann picked it up:

Beck: “Jesus conquered death. He wasn’t victimized. He chose to give his life. He did have a choice. If he was a victim and this theology was true then Jesus would have come back from the dead and made the Jews pay for what they did, that’s an abomination.”

Olbermann correctly pointed out that it was the Romans who crucified Jesus and that most Christian doctrine, including the Catholic Church, repudiated the accusation against the Jews. Although Jesus may not have made the Jews pay, generations of his followers picked up the cause and still endeavor to extract payment to this day. And now we can count Glenn Beck amongst them.

The discussion of this subject occurred during an interview with Alexander Zaitchik, author of Common Nonsense, Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, a highly recommended read. Watch the video from Countdown:

Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck And The Triumph Of Ignorance

Glenn Beck Messiah

A lot has been written about Glenn Beck in the past couple of years. Much of it by Glenn Beck. He excretes books like he’s on a publishing diarrhetic. And the discharge draws just as many flies. Not that he actually writes any of the titles, as he recently confessed:

“There’s clearly no way that I’m sitting behind a typewriter or word program and pounding this out.”

While groups like Media Matters document and debunk his daily ramblings, and conventional magazines and newspapers print adoring profiles, there hasn’t been much in the way of biographical information available about him. Beck’s backstory has been limited to his own cathartic and romanticized tale of ruin and redemption.

This is why Alexander Zaitchik’s new book, “Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck And The Triumph Of Ignorance,” is so valuable. It is the first comprehensive examination of Beck’s beginnings – his influences, his childhood, his early radio successes and failures. And, of course, his catapulting to cult leader status by Fox News. The arc of Beck’s career is both fascinating and curious. And Beck would surely agree that this sort of scrutiny is worthwhile considering his own amateurish attempt at psychoanalyzing President Obama:

“From the moment he was born he had contact with socialists, communists, Marxists, radicals. His father abandoned him. Why? So he could go off to a Marxist school in New York. Then his father left the country to go try it out. How tragic. What kind of scar does that leave on a boy? Then his mother…I mean this is…you tell me. What scar is left when the mom leaves a son who’s been abandoned by his father for Marxism, leaves the son with his grandparents so she can pursue critical theory, which is Marxism. Both parents leave a boy for Marxism?”

Never mind that he got the facts all wrong, and that his scars must be even deeper considering that his mother reportedly killed herself to escape her demon seed, the point is that he acknowledges the value of exploring the upbringing of public figures like himself. So if you want to understand Beck, you would do well to read Common Nonsense for that historical context.

Zaitchik has put together an intelligent and revealing look at a man who, from the start, seemed to have no interests outside of radio stardom, and certainly no interest in politics. He launched into an early orbit with an affinity for crude, and even sadistic, pranks. But that’s nothing compared to the cynical exploitation that marked most of his more recent endeavors. He clawed his way back from drug and alcohol addictions to become the sort of judgmental jerk that he surely would not abide with regard to his own failings. It’s a dramatic story, and Zaitchik has made it a compelling read.

I think the book’s subtitle (The Triumph of Ignorance) is entirely appropriate. The central theme of Beck’s sermonizing is, according to him, education. Yet he has so little of it and the information he peddles is riddled with inaccuracies and falsehoods. The result is that he is making his audience more stupid than before they listened to him. For example, Beck appeared last Sunday at a Fourth of July celebration in Idaho where he told the adoring crowd

“I thought what I’d do is tell a little bit about the history of America. […] Columbus comes to the [Spanish] Queen. Says ‘I have a plan. I’m gonna find the new trade route. I’m gonna find a new land. I’m gonna find something that will totally change everything. Spain will be the center of commerce. I will bring this to you.’ Well, she didn’t like him. He was arrogant. She said ‘Off with you.’ He left. He was so crushed because he really believed he had found the new world.

Of course, Columbus had no intention of finding a new world, nor did he believe that he had done so. He correctly thought that he could navigate westward to Asia, but he accidentally bumped into a previously unknown continent. Beck’s disciples, however, will have left the event believing that Columbus deliberately set of to discover America. So you have to ask, is this a reflection of Beck’s own ignorance, or a wily ploy to manufacture his own mythology?

I had the opportunity to ask this, and other questions, of Zaitchik, who was kind enough to elaborate on some of the themes in the book.

News Corpse: On a number of occasions Beck is characterized in the book as a “genius” or “brilliant” with regard to tapping into popular themes and marketing himself. However, I was struck by often his success was followed by failure, with this pattern repeating several times throughout his career. That inconsistency would suggest to me that he is more lucky than smart.

Zaitchik: Lucky, yes, but I’d be careful about attributing too much to that. If you look at the two halves of Beck’s professional history – Top 40 radio and conservative yakker – there is really only one big crash. This occurred in the early and mid-90s, when Beck bottomed out at a tiny station in New Haven. For 15 years until then, he was mostly successful in the format and even considered something of a boy wonder. […] Once he picked up the pieces, got sober, and decided to pivot toward talk radio, he was very shrewd in convincing people to believe in him. By all accounts, he also worked very hard.

Just because Beck doesn’t know what he’s talking about doesn’t mean he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. You don’t end up on the covers of Forbes, Mother Jones, Time, the Weekly Standard, and the Economist because of luck alone.

NC: You pointed out that others in the media didn’t really get Beck. I have often wondered why so many actual journalists sit quietly while Beck trashes them and their profession. Beck, and more broadly Fox News, incessantly disparage the press as biased, incompetent, and even corrupt (which I agree with, but for very different reasons). Yet there has been little response from the journalist community (and I mean real journalists, not pundits and other purveyors of opinion). What are they afraid of?

AZ: There have definitely been instances of staffers at major weeklies giving Beck a pass. David Von Drehle of Time comes to mind. But I think most journalists have been anything but shy in going after him with switchblades and hatchets. Joel Klein is one prominent example from the mainstream. Most op-ed writers have also either dismissed or abused him, including David Brooks. There was recently a good piece in the Weekly Standard by Matt Continetti that bent Beck over a barrel for misunderstanding the nature and history of Progressivism. But if you’re talking about media beat writers, like the Times’ Brian Stelter, it’s probably just because they don’t see that as their job. There is no shortage of active Beck bashing. On cable news, with the exception of Fox, he has long been everyone’s favorite piñata.

[I’m going to have to disagree with Zaitchik on this. Beck and Fox News viciously pound on the media on a daily basis. Their network slogan, “Fair and Balanced,” is a deliberate spit in the eye of their competitors. And this comes from straight reporters and Fox corporate. Yet you rarely, if ever, hear Diane Sawyer or Brian Williams or Sumner Redstone fire back.]

NC: Finally, you described Beck as the “future of Fox News.” However, many conservatives and Republicans have recently put some distance between themselves and Beck. He is regarded by some to be detrimental to the electoral interests of the right. In light of his tendency to flameout as described above, and the prospect of a new generation of Murdochs (who are not as enthralled with Roger Ailes as is Rupert) assuming control of the network, isn’t it just as likely that he will fall from grace and be discarded?

AZ: That’s true. But Beck talks to a very different – and much bigger – audience than David Frum. And let’s see how many of those Republican politicians are around in six months or two years. The ground is shifting. And for now at least, Fox is betting on Beck to keep the network relevant amidst the Tea Party convulsions. That’s why Ailes hired him and allowed him to lean on the horn the way he did right out of the gate in 2009. […]

Beck may be problematic for all sorts of reasons, but the fact is he brings the heat, and his fan base is incredibly loyal. I think there’s a reason Stossel and Napolitano have been relegated to Fox Business. If the network brass just wanted a relatively coherent libertarian program, they could have given either of them a slot on FNC. But they don’t want a real libertarian. They want an incoherent but stimulating, bold but shameless conservative libertard like Beck, part rightwing Mr. Rogers, part Bible thumping G.E.D. instructor, part rodeo clown with a flamethrower strapped to his back. Those people are so much more fun to watch, and they don’t grow on trees.

OK. I’ll give you that one. And speaking of trees, Beck is caught in the branches of a crazy one, and he wants America to talk him down. Sometimes I think that it isn’t Beck who we should be worried about. It’s his congregation of dunces. They are the evidence of the triumph to which Zaitchik refers. They are indeed incredibly loyal. I think that gives pause to some in the Fox News executive suites who might rather be rid of him. But how do you rid yourself of your spiritual leader without betraying your faith? They would have a holy war on their hands. If there are any rational voices in those ivory towers it would be wise for them to make themselves heard posthaste. Because history has some harsh lessons for those who abide Beck’s brand of insanity.

“I have been laughed to scorn as a prophet; for many a year my warnings and my prophecies were regarded as the illusions of a mind diseased […] I appear in the eyes of many bourgeois democrats as only a wild man.”
~ Adolph Hitler, September 1936

Glenn Beck’s A Historian Like Hannibal Lecter’s A Vegetarian

Glenn Beck began his program yesterday asking his audience to…

“Join me on another one of my ‘designed just to get TV ratings’ history lessons?”

The only the wrong with that statement is everything in it. First of all, nobody is joining Beck as he embarks on his solo venture across the blackboard seas of his dementia. The best you say is that his disciples can watch glassy-eyed from afar. Secondly, everything Beck does is designed to get TV ratings, despite his snarky allusions to the contrary. And lastly, his idea of history lessons leaves out a major component of the curriculum: the history.

Pope Glenn BeckIn yesterday’s lecture, Beck sought to explain the concept of “Mutually Assured Destruction,” wherein nations in conflict proposed deterrence of aggression by threatening overwhelming retaliatory response that would effectively destroy both nations. Beck began by falsely asserting that scientists had first proposed a version of MAD that involved a “Doomsday Device,” wherein the whole planet would be obliterated. In fact, that was only proposed by analysts at an Ayn Rand think tank and Stanley Kubrick in “Dr. Strangelove.” It was not real science, policy, or history.

Then Beck reveals to his disciples the source of his historical doctrine. It’s a book called “Tragedy and Hope” written by Mormon historian Carrol Quigley. Beck describes Quigley’s thesis as MAD via a network of interconnected and reliant economies. Then he asserts that this plan has already been implemented and offers as evidence this question:

“[C]an you think of a war since [the 60’s] where there has been a clear winner and loser since then? Vietnam? The Gulf wars? Afghanistan? The War on Terror?”

Well, yes. I’d start with Vietnam and the Gulf wars. Clearly the North Vietnamese took over the whole of the peninsula after American troops pulled out. And does anyone think that Kuwait is still under the grip of Saddam Hussein, or that Hussein wasn’t toppled from power in Iraq? And there is a reason the former Yugoslavia is called the “former” Yugoslavia. And don’t forget the great battle for sovereignty in the Falklands.

This makes Beck’s accusations that “Progressives don’t want you to read real history,” particularly amusing. Clearly it’s Beck who is reading and recommending fictional accounts of history. One of his favorites is “The 5,000 Year Leap” by W. Cleon Skousen, another Mormon historian Beck fancies. Beck beseeched his disciples to heed Skousen as a prophet:

“I beg you to read this book filled with words of wisdom which I can only describe as divinely inspired.”

Skousen also read Quigley’s “Tragedy and Hope,” and found it compelling to say the least. In a superb essay about Beck’s roots and influences, Alexander Zaitchik noted the relationship between Beck, Quigley, and Skousen:

In 1969, a 1,300-page book started appearing in faculty mailboxes at Brigham Young, where Skousen was back teaching part-time. The book, written by a Georgetown University historian named Carroll Quigley, was called “Tragedy and Hope.” Inside each copy, Skousen inserted handwritten notes urging his colleagues to read the book and embrace its truth. “Tragedy and Hope,” Skousen believed, exposed the details of what would come to be known as the New World Order (NWO). Quigley’s book so moved Skousen that in 1970 he self-published a breathless 144-page review essay called “The Naked Capitalist.” Nearly 40 years later, it remains a foundational document of America’s NWO conspiracy and survivalist scene.

[T]he editors of Dialogue: The Journal of Mormon Thought invited “Tragedy and Hope” author Carroll Quigley to comment on Skousen’s interpretation of his work. They also asked a highly respected BYU history professor named Louis C. Midgley to review Skousen’s latest pamphlet. Their judgment was not kind. In the Autumn/Winter 1971 issue of Dialogue, the two men accused Skousen of “inventing fantastic ideas and making inferences that go far beyond the bounds of honest commentary.” Skousen not only saw things that weren’t in Quigley’s book, they declared, he also missed what actually was there — namely, a critique of ultra-far-right conspiracists like Willard Cleon Skousen.

“Skousen’s personal position,” wrote a dismayed Quigley, “seems to me perilously close to the ‘exclusive uniformity’ which I see in Nazism and in the Radical Right in this country. In fact, his position has echoes of the original Nazi 25-point plan.”

So Beck is now promoting Quigley’s book which he plainly fails to understand. Skousen, the authority Beck regards as divinely inspired, was castigated by Quigley as reminiscent of Nazism. Now there’s a shocker – Beck reveres a discredited, Nazi-esque academic. But it’s Beck’s viewers who are the ultimate losers as they are subjected to a plethora of disinformation. Beck’s sermons are as representative of “history” as “Alice in Wonderland.” Anyone who believes Beck’s version of the past may just as well munch down a sack of magic mushrooms in their search for reality.

The Inspiration For Glenn Beck’s Racist Extremism

Salon has published an article that explains a lot about how Glenn Beck came to his repulsive ideology of hatred, conspiracy, and rage. It focuses on the author of a book that Beck has described as having changed his life. “The 5,000 Year Leap” has become an integral part of Beck’s sermonizing. He has literally adopted it as a sacred text, even pleading with his disciples to read it:

“I beg you to read this book filled with words of wisdom which I can only describe as divinely inspired.”

Alexander Zaitchik’s article in Salon tells us something about the author, W. Cleon Skousen. And while it may not be the word of God, it is a revelation. Skousen was a man who was so far out on the fringe that the most committed right-wingers of his day would have nothing to do with him, a status Beck is beginning to share. Also like Beck, Skousen was a Mormon who was rabidly anti-communist and imagined conspiracies that mirror the delusions articulated today by Beck – including the ludicrous allegations that the Rockefellers were part of a vast communist plot.

Zaitchik’s article is long and filled with surprising details that close the circle on what makes Beck tick. A highly recommended read.