As Green Room regulars know, I am not an unqualified fan of Glenn Beck. If I don’t cringe as much as some other legacy conservatives at certain of his over-the-top theories, it’s because I agree wholeheartedly with the proposition that he doesn’t represent the face of conservatism. I’m not afraid of being mistaken by anyone whose opinion matters for a philosophical twin of Mr. Beck.
But that’s not why I’m not worried about his future in media. Michael Van Der Galien expressed concern today that leftists will think they have succeeded in silencing him. I’m not worried about that either, because I think the leftists who may be crowing over him have no more media power than he has, and in most cases probably less.
Beck may, in fact, be getting off of a traditional media vehicle, in a field facing declining margins and competition of increasing variety, at just the right time. Fox News offers some variety and a viable alternative to the other 24-hour news channels, and we are blessed to have it. But while we in the middle-aged contingent think of Fox as the “new” network, it’s still a conventional network, with all the baggage that brings.
And the media playing field has already shifted. Opportunities are wide open for entrepreneurs to reach audiences outside of the established-network paradigm. Oprah is undertaking one such venture, and it appears Beck is looking at launching another. Somebody’s going to make it work. No one thought, back in the late 1980s, that Rush Limbaugh could build and sustain a profitable AM radio audience, but he not only did so, he made the form and the medium a moneymaker for others.
I disagree with significant aspects of Beck’s message. But there’s a sense in which he’s acting out – to a unique degree – the new-media possibility of Everyman reaching his fellows, on his own terms, to hash out the issues of the day. That operation is qualitatively different from the paradigm of journalists, opinion writers, and broadcasting professionals putting together presentations according to the conventions of a specialized expertise. I may not agree with everything that comes out of an enterprise like Beck’s, but I can appreciate that if it is to remain itself, it has to have some level of freedom from conventional editorial judgment.
It’s an interesting idea. The possibilities of alternative media can only be fully realized by those who are most strongly motivated to take advantage of the relative freedom they offer – as opposed to relying on the proven path of convention. Beck may be the guy who can make a go of alternative media “programming.”
I do think he will perform best if his Everyman trajectory carries him away from overreliance on the conspiracy-and-collusion construct to explain what’s going on around us. There are always groups of people trying to take advantage of the vulnerabilities that societies allow themselves to fall into, but the remedy is not to focus in impotent anger on the “spooky dudes,” it’s to get society’s house in order. The battles in Congress over federal spending; the state battles over pubic unionism; the local battles over the public schools; the nationwide battle to unseat the legislatures and judges that have given us our current style of government – these prosaic fights are the ones that will make the difference. Soros & Co. may be organizing on one side of them, but winning the battles is still a matter of political suasion and voting.
Tolerance for conspiracy theory is a minor pattern in Western society, and we can be grateful for that. It’s a much more significant factor in the Middle East and Asia. If Beck goes much further down that path, he will lose his appeal to the wider audience he still enjoys.
But I’m not convinced that there is value in his intellectual enterprise being constrained by the conventional approach of the old-media establishment. Under such constraints, his thinking process would have no opportunity to find better balance and greater wisdom on its own. In doing the latter, there is value.
There is value in doing it publicly too. Glenn Beck plays a unique role in presenting facts and conclusions and making explicit the theoretical constructs by which he operates. Too many Americans have never been taught to consider political and social issues by that method. All of the other talking heads on the news channels comment according to ideological positions whose foundations are tacitly understood – on the right-hand side of politics, mainly by people over 50 – and rarely examined. Beck is a public-schooled Everyman trying to parse the unspoken premises hovering over a national debate that takes place now largely in shorthand and code.
We will see if he finds his medium in the future. Whether I agree with his conclusions or not, I think he is necessary. I wish him well.