Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Demonizing of Glenn Beck

Yesterday marked the end of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Courage" campaign in Israel. The level of news coverage was so light that many Americans might not even realize the final rally took place. News editors certainly gave it far less coverage than Kim Kardashian's event that, from the level of coverage it received, appears to have been more significant than virtually anything else taking place!

Let me say at the beginning of this post that as an evangelical I have serious disagreements with Glenn Beck's Mormon theology. But having said that, I'm upset with the media's attempts to silence Glenn Beck by ignoring him or, even worse, demonizing him. Character assassination should have no place in any media outlet committed to journalistic integrity.

So what did Glenn Beck say at his "Restoring Courage" rally? If you were to read the article in today's online edition of Haaretz, you would assume the entire event was a cross between a snake-handling tent meeting and an Arian gathering at some beer hall in Germany. The author described the event as a "circus," and compared Glenn Beck to "Joe McCarthy." He went on to call Beck's followers "anti-Semites" and "wachos" who are evidently too stupid to realize their own anti-Semitism...but who were really in Israel promoting a "white, Aryan" agenda. But is this reporter's coverage accurate or true?

I read Glenn Beck's speech online, and I would challenge you to do the same. While I personally would have made some editorial changes in the speech, those changes are relatively minor. On the whole, the speech rises to the level of being quite profound and inspiring--not in the biblical sense of coming from the hand of God but in the sense of crystalizing issues and issuing a compelling call for listeners to respond. After hearing so much drivel from modern-day politicians, this speech rises to the level of some of the great speeches of Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Kennedy.

Read Beck's speech...and then read the Haaretz article. By demonizing Beck the article uses the power of negative stereotypes to delegitimize the messenger rather than focusing on the actual message. Sadly, the technique does work. But it illustrates two fallacies that are far too prevalent in journalism today.

The first fallacy is bias. Everyone has presuppositions, and all news is selective--from the stories chosen to be covered to the amount of time/space allotted for the actual report. Ideally, a reporter needs to be aware of his or her own personal biases and strive to be as objective as possible. Sadly, we are seeing less and less objectivity in reporting...from all sides!

The second fallacy is the increasing use of argumentum ad hominem. More than 40 years ago I was taught this logical fallacy in debate class. It seeks to negate a statement by attacking the character of the person making it. In essence if Satan is the father of lies, all I need to do is convince others you are Satan...and then I don't need to deal with the merits of the arguments you are making--since we can assume they are lies. This is fallacious reasoning, but there has been an alarming increase in "character assassination" in the media. (And I'm referring to attacks being made against people on all sides of the political and religious spectrum...from Barak Obama to Sarah Palin!)

So what can you do? First, pay close attention to the arguments being used by the media in their stories. Do they have an obvious bias? Are they seeking to present both sides of an issue? Are they focusing on what individuals are actually saying...or are they simply attacking the person saying it?

Second, look carefully at any visuals being used in a report. Do those visuals present a positive or negative picture of the person being highlighted in the story? Is the media outlet using the visual images to inject bias into the report?

Third, take time to read original sources. The internet gives you direct access to a wealth of information. If you have questions about a report, go online and try to find the complete text of the speech or the event being reported. Become your own media critic!

Finally, be willing to share your informed thoughts and opinions with others. Write a letter to the editor if you see clear evidence of biased reporting. Let them know that you are paying attention...and that you want accurate, unbiased coverage...without resorting to character assassination. Cite specific examples! And if they refuse to change, vote with your feet and your pocketbook. Change channels...and subscriptions. Media is a business, and you can reward financially those media outlets that are committed to being as accurate and unbiased as possible.

I might not agree with all that Glenn Beck says or does, but I think he deserved more honest coverage--and we deserved more accurate reporting--on the event itself!

1 comment:

  1. Without a doubt, the fallacies you described are used by journalists against Glenn Beck on a regular basis. In fact, many say that he was so demonized by the left that they influenced his advertisers to drop him, resulting in the cancellation of his television show.

    However - if you watch or listen to Glenn Beck, you can't deny the fact that he does the same thing to other people on a regular basis. It's most pronounced on his radio show. When he is discussing someone he doesn't addition to using the two fallacies you described above....he has also been known to blatantly make fun of people using off-color potty humor. Some of his potty humor skits go on for 10-minutes. And the whole time he is completely ripping his target apart. He demonizes people all the time. But many conservative christians have a tendency to overlook his antics because the people he slams are typically anti-American liberals.

    I have seen well-known christian leaders comment openly on how much they are against hollywood entertainment that utilizes degrading humor....yet these very same leaders turn around and embrace Glenn Beck like he is a long lost relative. Very inconsistent and hypocritical.