Outlook: Glenn Beck is obsessed with Hitler and Woodrow Wilson. (I'm just saying.)

Oct 04, 2010

Post op-ed columnist Dana Milbank will be online Monday, Oct. 4, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article titled 'Glenn Beck is obsessed with Hitler and Woodrow Wilson. (I'm just saying.)"

This essay is adapted from his book, 'Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America,' forthcoming Tuesday, Oct. 5.

Hello America!  Come with me! Let us talk about the wonder that is Glenn Beck.    Hope you enjoyed the Outlook piece on Beck and his twin fascinations with Hitler and Woodrow Wilson, as well as the video about all of Beck's Hitler imagery. I can't take credit for this, but a collegue sent me this excellent Glenn Beck/ Donald Duck mashup.   Most important of all: Get on over to Amazon or a bookshop of your choice and order zillions of copies of Tears of a Clown, out tomorrow. 

A suggestion instead: publicly challenge Beck to a live debate, then calmly disect his hateful speech and revisionist history. It needs to be done, you are articulate enough to do it and doing it would make you feel good. Beck is now more than a looney on TV, he, like Mc Carthy in the 50's needs to be brought to task in a very public manner. If he refuses to debate, always a possibility, then there is the editorial after that, "Glenn Beck, Why Are You Afraid Of The Facts."

I hereby challenge Glenn Beck to a debate!

I'd even be okay with him kicking me off the set in the middle of the discussion and then saying bad things about me -- the way he did to the guy from Acorn.

Beck, however, will not agree to that.  He only hears from those who will echo him.

Your essay makes a very persuasive case that Glenn Beck willingly and randomly reassembles history and historical figures for his purposes. But my question is -- does this matter to his followers? When such obviously incorrect history is dished out nightly, why do people keep watching? Is there a limit to their ability to be lied to and manipulated? Or do they just enjoy living in a fantasy world?

Two points about this.   The first is the old complaint about the deplorable state of American civics/history education, which makes it easier than you think to fool 2 million of the people all of the time.  Also, there is a gripping internal logic to Beck's arguments. Once you accept the original (false) premise, the rest of the show follows fairly logically from there.  That's why I find it so difficult to stop watching Beck once I've started.  This is also why I have watched Beck so you don't have to.

I would like to know the facts on Glenn Beck's education. What level of education did he have, where did he attend HS, college, etc., what degrees did he attain, who were his teachers, and how well did he perform as a student?


First suggestion. Buy the book!

The short answer is he didn't attend college (except for one course at Yale that he took with Joe Lieberman's intervention), instead going into the itinerant life of the Morning Zoo radio host.

Did you actually watch enough of Glenn Beck's show's in order to make an honest judgement concerning Wilson and Hitler? I watch Beck every day, and think his review of past world leaders (in context) is accurate, note-worthy, and helpful to those not familiar with history or those who made it. I think that more ultra-liberal members of the print press, should do the same. As they so carefully looked into Obama's history. Chuckle and guffaw.

Hi Dana, I know I'm not alone in my failure to account for Glenn Beck's success. I do have a few theories, one being that a large number of Americans really are "too busy" to read a book about Woodrow Wilson, or any other book for that matter. Instead, they let Beck do their reading for them. It's sort of like people who decide a movie they've never seen is not worth seeing, simply because a critic says it isn't. My question is how do YOU explain Beck's success? And what does his success say about his counrty?

Good question.   I certainly don't accept that he's an idiot, and I think the notion that he's "crazy" (he perpetuates that himself) is wrong, too.   He is simply a brilliant showman and perhaps the greatest opportunist in America today.  A dozen years ago he was a pony-tail wearing pro-choice morning radio guy.   Two years ago he said the TARP bank bailout wasn't big enough.   Now he's the leader of the Tea Party movement.  Pure genius.

Do you think that Fox should be forced to take Beck off the air and would you support that move?

Ain't gonna happen.  Beck is in some ways larger than Fox News.  All they can do is plead with him to rein it in a bit.  

I do make the point in the book that  Beck is a problem for Fox, which after all does have some reputable journalists doing good work.    I suspect that time is not on Beck's side.  Either he will say something (even more) beyond the pale, and flame out, or the economy will improve, anger at the government will relax, and he will fade away.


Beck loved the movie Citizen Kane growing up likening himself to media mogul Charles Foster Kane and even naming his childhood sled "Rosebud." I state this definitively so you won't question whether it is true...

Who am I to question?  I used a couple of other comparisons in the book.  One is Orson Welles, one of the great charlatans of the 20th century; Beck named his business after Welles's Mercury Theater and said he was inspired by the way Welles fooled people.  The other is Father Coughlin, the great anti-FDR radio demagogue of the 1930s.   Did a chapter putting Beck's words and Coughlin's side by side: I challenge you to tell the two men apart.

Has he ever been sued? If not, why not. I find him frightening

Woodrow Wilson should sue, except he's under a fairly heavy stone slab at the National Cathedral.

Interestingly, Glenn Beck himself has been surprisingly litigious.  When a prankster set up a web site falsely claiming Beck raped and murdered a young girl 20 years ago  (the "proof" of this was the Beckian standard: he hadn't denied it)  Beck took the legal rout to force the guy to take down the hoax site.



Why are liberals like yourself and Jon Stewart so obsessed with Beck? I think this is a question you should ask yourself. Is he dangerous? From your concern it appears he is. Funny though, you call him an amatuer historian. I say he is true patriot who is warning us of the demise of America from thef radical left and stealth jihad.

Thank you for mentioning me in the same sentence as Jon Stewart.  Sadly, neither he nor Colbert will have me on to talk about Beck and the book.   This is evidence that the "radical left and stealth jihad" you speak of is not very well coordinated.

Why does the administration let him get by with his slander against Obama? His latest is the canard (so fashionable now) that Obama is an anticolonialist. He is using Obama's own book "Dreams From My Father" as proof for this absurdity.

But he just told Bill O'Reilly last week that he has nothing against Obama personally!

I'm amazed that the administration is so frightened of him.  The worst case, of course, was when the person firing Shirley Sherrod said it was because her supposedly "racist" statement was going to be on Glenn Beck.

An interesting footnote: Beck made a big deal on Fox that he had passed on the story, claiming it didn't meet his standard.  But he had already gone after Sherrod on his radio show.

How did he get to be a Time 100 person of influence? Really?

And Sarah Palin wrote the tribute!

What are the demographics of Beck's audience? Are they generally older?

Old and scared.

Much more about this in the book, but you can tell a great deal from the advertisers on his shows and for his live events: assisted living, gold, and a "seed bank" you can use to plant a garden in your yard after the apocalypse comes.


Dear Dana, I happened to read your piece on the same day I read Time magazine's new article on the rise of armed "citizen" militias in the U.S. I can't help but think that the deliberate agitation of Fox News watchers, who are led (erroneously!) to believe that the U.S. is spiraling into fascism or socialism, could be dangerous if someone (particularly an armed someone) actually believed this to be so and opted to "take action" against some perceived threat. Is this reading too much into Beck's influence (and that of others like him)? Thanks!

I think both Fox's rise and the militas are coming from the same source of far-right anger.  Don't forget that there was no Fox News the last time the militias were prominent, in the 90s.   Beck is thriving on the same anger that is rebuilding the militias.

That said, there's a chapter in the book about violence committed by people who got their inspiration from Beck.   He has taken conspiracy theories that previously existed only on the fringes and brought them into the mainstream.

I don't know if I could pick up a book with "Tea Bagging" in the title without turning red. People would think I'm reading porn.

You just have a dirty mind.  Think of tea bagging in the sense of sand bagging.   Beck has fooled America, not done some sexual act to it.  (Also, the subtitle is in smaller print)

Do you think the animus toward President Obama that Beck peddles is really thinly veiled racism--whether on his part or on the part of those who embrace his pseudo-historical stylings?

I don't think it's thinly veiled.

Whole chapter on this in the book.   In short, I don't think Beck is a racist any more than I think he believes the world is going to end in the next few months.  But on both counts, he encourages people who do hold those thoughts.

Do you explore the internet's Glenn Beck, Alex Jones? I'm guessing that's where Glenn gets half his stuff.

I think they both rely on WorldNetDaily.

What do O"Reilly and Rush really think about Beck and do any of the three actually beleive any of what they say or is it all an act for ratings?

Call me crazy but I think O'Reilly actually has serious journalistic instincts.  I suspect he's horrified by Beck but has embraced him out of survival.  

FYI Beck has a huge chunk on liberals and/or Democrats that watch his show . The big question is is it for entertainment reasons or for education . Wonder what happens if some of what he says rubs of on them ? Hummmm.

Yes, but half of those liberals work for Media Matters.

I thought I made up the stuff about Orson Wells/Citizen Kane and Beck (not having read your book yet) thinking it was off the wall/megalomaniac. I'm going to have to pick up my game to come with something crazier next time...

Very hard to out crazy Glenn.  Although, as I point out, his craziness is alarmingly sane.

for those of us concerned about the rhetoric that Beck and others spout, what can we, as consumers of media do other than not watch or listen?

Wouldn't it be a hoot if Beck booked you on his show to promote the book you wrote about him? Awesome.

I've probably got a better shot with Stewart/Colbert.  


Hi Dana, Do you think Beck has the effect of legitimizing the crazy fringe..in fact, helping consolidate the fringe into a more coherent movement? Thanks for your contribution to open and logical society.

 I think it's beyond dispute that he has brought the fringe into the mainstream.  That's also the view the Anti Defamation League took after a guy who had posted a Beck video on a Nazi website killed four cops.

You are wrong.

See-- this is why it's difficult to have a discussion about Beck.   If you watch Beck every day, everything seems true because it's all internally logical.  You just have to swallow his original suppositions, which generally turn out to be wrong.

Am disappointed that her crazypantsedness has been totally overshadowed by the Beck canon. Have these two attempted to hook up at all?

 Beck very much operates by the Coulter principle:  that in order to continue to expand your audience, you need to outdo yourself each time in shock value.   He's just much better at it than she is. 

Thanks for chatting.  Hope you enjoy Tears of a Clown.

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Dana Milbank
Dana Milbank writes the Washington Sketch column about political theater in the capital. He joined The Post as a political reporter in 2000, after two years as a senior editor of The New Republic and eight years with the Wall Street Journal. He is also author of two political books, Homo Politicus (Doubleday, 2008) and Smashmouth (Basic Books, 2001). He lives in Washington with his wife and daughter. • Dana Milbank Bio & Archive
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