Episode 59: Alexander Zaitchik on Glenn Beck

John Larsen chats with Alexander Zaitchik author of numerous article on Glenn Beck and the recently published Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.

Alexander’s Web Site www.zaitchik.com

Episode 59

65 comments on “Episode 59: Alexander Zaitchik on Glenn Beck”

  1. Glenn Reply

    Great points about the traditional rhetorical performance of a weepy testimony. One thing to be careful about, however, is ascribing such a cynical interpretation to this performance in LDS culture, as if it is intentionally invoked and incorporated as a means to a calculated end — as opposed to being a very sincere (albeit culturally inherited) expression of what these guys are really feeling. I don’t doubt that some people “use” it in a cynical way — and I wouldn’t hesitate to say that an ambitious performer like Beck is quite calculated and cynical in his appropriation of this rhetorical tactic (or as you say, he is faking it). But guys like Eyring or Scott or others in leadership positions in the church… eh… I’m going to lean more towards the “sincere” side with these guys — most of the time. Am I being too idealistic and naive?

    • Swearing Elder Reply

      I agree. And I think John pointed out that he thought Eyring was sincere — or at least that he had no reason to doubt Eyring’s sincerity.

      I think Beck has skipped the sincerity part and just mimics what he sees and uses it in a manipulative way.

  2. Glenn Reply

    Great points about the traditional rhetorical performance of a weepy testimony. One thing to be careful about, however, is ascribing such a cynical interpretation to this performance in LDS culture, as if it is intentionally invoked and incorporated as a means to a calculated end — as opposed to being a very sincere (albeit culturally inherited) expression of what these guys are really feeling. I don’t doubt that some people “use” it in a cynical way — and I wouldn’t hesitate to say that an ambitious performer like Beck is quite calculated and cynical in his appropriation of this rhetorical tactic (or as you say, he is faking it). But guys like Eyring or Scott or others in leadership positions in the church… eh… I’m going to lean more towards the “sincere” side with these guys — most of the time. Am I being too idealistic and naive?

    • Swearing Elder Reply

      I agree. And I think John pointed out that he thought Eyring was sincere — or at least that he had no reason to doubt Eyring’s sincerity.

      I think Beck has skipped the sincerity part and just mimics what he sees and uses it in a manipulative way.

  3. Glenn Reply

    And maybe it’s an obvious point, but not only does he give Mormons a bad name — he doesn’t do any favors for us “Glenns” either.

  4. Glenn Reply

    And maybe it’s an obvious point, but not only does he give Mormons a bad name — he doesn’t do any favors for us “Glenns” either.

  5. Swearing Elder Reply

    I would like to never hear of or from Glenn Beck ever again in my life. However, this episode shows that you just can’t ignore the Prophet of the Tea Party. He’s a lunatic, but that’s not what makes him dangerous. What makes him dangerous is the insane number of people who adore him and hang on his ever word. It’s a dangerous recipe.

  6. Swearing Elder Reply

    I would like to never hear of or from Glenn Beck ever again in my life. However, this episode shows that you just can’t ignore the Prophet of the Tea Party. He’s a lunatic, but that’s not what makes him dangerous. What makes him dangerous is the insane number of people who adore him and hang on his ever word. It’s a dangerous recipe.

  7. NightAvatar Reply

    My mother worships Beck. Even my uber intelligent dad takes him seriously and thinks highly of him. Nothing will convince them he’s anything but a Prophetic voice of reason in politics.

  8. NightAvatar Reply

    My mother worships Beck. Even my uber intelligent dad takes him seriously and thinks highly of him. Nothing will convince them he’s anything but a Prophetic voice of reason in politics.

    • Mister IT Reply

      Ditto!

      I confess that I had never heard of W. Cleon Skousen.

      (And I can’t help but wonder if he’s related to LdS manuscript expert Royal Skousen in some way)

    • Mister IT Reply

      Ditto!

      I confess that I had never heard of W. Cleon Skousen.

      (And I can’t help but wonder if he’s related to LdS manuscript expert Royal Skousen in some way)

  9. Noel Reply

    Hello,great interview John, it was good to get context for beck’s rise. Sometimes I turn Beck on without the sound just for fun. Most other times I find out what Beck is doing by watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Cobert. I loved Stephen’s skit on “Patriotic Tears” and Glen to the Mountaintop.

    • Swearing Elder Reply

      Yes and no. I agree that the episode provides certain contextual information, especially more background about Skousen.

      However, now that I think about it, I realize that I still don’t quite know how Beck went from a Top 40 DJ to a cult leader is such short order. I’m still not sure how that transition happened — and how it happened so quickly. Maybe I missed it.

  10. Noel Reply

    Hello,great interview John, it was good to get context for beck’s rise. Sometimes I turn Beck on without the sound just for fun. Most other times I find out what Beck is doing by watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Cobert. I loved Stephen’s skit on “Patriotic Tears” and Glen to the Mountaintop.

    • Swearing Elder Reply

      Yes and no. I agree that the episode provides certain contextual information, especially more background about Skousen.

      However, now that I think about it, I realize that I still don’t quite know how Beck went from a Top 40 DJ to a cult leader is such short order. I’m still not sure how that transition happened — and how it happened so quickly. Maybe I missed it.

  11. Erico Reply

    I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Beck on the radio back in the day when he was less political and the dude is absolutely brilliant in terms of being an entertainer. Well informed, no, but in terms of connecting with middle America on an emotional level he’s one of the best.

    Speaking from personal experience, having once been a part of the fringe, right-wing, Mormon underground, parts of the Skousen family are still very much believers in the conspirancy theories revolving around a cabal of ultra-wealthy bankers controlling the world from behind the scenes. Before I exited Mormonism I spent a few occasions visiting with Cleon Skousen’s nephew who was BIG into these conspiracies. This guy made a good living building nuclear fall-out shelters for wealthy clients all over the country and he even released a periodic newsletter detailing his reputed insider knowledge of conspiratorial world events. His newsletters typically contained a doomsday scenario wherein Russia would launch a volley of nukes at the U.S. at the behest of the secret cabal.

    One time in particular I was privy to this Skousen nephew’s “unified theory” type of newsletters that brought everything together which he only shared with his inner-circle of his subscriber base. In it he revealed that it was his belief that Satan had physically appeared to these ultra-wealthy bankers and they had entered into an unholy alliance wherein Satan promised these guys the world in return for yoking humanity with socialism and its attendant evils. By purposely fomenting endless war these guys operating behind the scenes would wear down humanity and thereby usher in socialism by degrees, bringing to pass Satan’s plan. It’s kind of like the reverse thesis of Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’ wherein she argues that powerful capitalists have purposefully created disasters to facilitate radical free market economic policies throughout the globe, assisted by U.S. foreign policy.

    The afore-described Satanic-driven conspiratorial rubbish is undoubtedly at the very heart of Glenn Beck’s current ideology although it’s obviously taken him a while to connect the dots. In my view he’s a true believer in this narrative even if he knows that he has to emotionally manipulate his audience through fake tears as a means to an end. His conservative appeal and growing financial empire is tangible evidence in his own mind that his message is true.

    • scott Reply

      Is this Royal Skousen? I took a linguistics class from him at BYU, and he seemed like a normal guy, even somewhat liberal. Of course sitting in a room full of other people 3 hours/week doesn’t mean I can make any claims to know where he is on the political scale…

  12. Erico Reply

    I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Beck on the radio back in the day when he was less political and the dude is absolutely brilliant in terms of being an entertainer. Well informed, no, but in terms of connecting with middle America on an emotional level he’s one of the best.

    Speaking from personal experience, having once been a part of the fringe, right-wing, Mormon underground, parts of the Skousen family are still very much believers in the conspirancy theories revolving around a cabal of ultra-wealthy bankers controlling the world from behind the scenes. Before I exited Mormonism I spent a few occasions visiting with Cleon Skousen’s nephew who was BIG into these conspiracies. This guy made a good living building nuclear fall-out shelters for wealthy clients all over the country and he even released a periodic newsletter detailing his reputed insider knowledge of conspiratorial world events. His newsletters typically contained a doomsday scenario wherein Russia would launch a volley of nukes at the U.S. at the behest of the secret cabal.

    One time in particular I was privy to this Skousen nephew’s “unified theory” type of newsletters that brought everything together which he only shared with his inner-circle of his subscriber base. In it he revealed that it was his belief that Satan had physically appeared to these ultra-wealthy bankers and they had entered into an unholy alliance wherein Satan promised these guys the world in return for yoking humanity with socialism and its attendant evils. By purposely fomenting endless war these guys operating behind the scenes would wear down humanity and thereby usher in socialism by degrees, bringing to pass Satan’s plan. It’s kind of like the reverse thesis of Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’ wherein she argues that powerful capitalists have purposefully created disasters to facilitate radical free market economic policies throughout the globe, assisted by U.S. foreign policy.

    The afore-described Satanic-driven conspiratorial rubbish is undoubtedly at the very heart of Glenn Beck’s current ideology although it’s obviously taken him a while to connect the dots. In my view he’s a true believer in this narrative even if he knows that he has to emotionally manipulate his audience through fake tears as a means to an end. His conservative appeal and growing financial empire is tangible evidence in his own mind that his message is true.

    • scott Reply

      Is this Royal Skousen? I took a linguistics class from him at BYU, and he seemed like a normal guy, even somewhat liberal. Of course sitting in a room full of other people 3 hours/week doesn’t mean I can make any claims to know where he is on the political scale…

  13. scott Reply

    I think it was smart of you to tackle this interview on your own, John. Alexander seems like a really sharp guy, and fielding questions from more than one person really would have slowed down the excellent banter you guys had. If GB ever becomes POTUS, I’m moving my family to Canada. I am not joking.

  14. scott Reply

    I think it was smart of you to tackle this interview on your own, John. Alexander seems like a really sharp guy, and fielding questions from more than one person really would have slowed down the excellent banter you guys had. If GB ever becomes POTUS, I’m moving my family to Canada. I am not joking.

  15. Gunnar R. Reply

    Wouldn’t it be fun if Glenn Beck himself listened to this podcast and/or read the comments about it and replied to them?

  16. Gunnar R. Reply

    Wouldn’t it be fun if Glenn Beck himself listened to this podcast and/or read the comments about it and replied to them?

  17. leeuniverse Reply

    Nothing but “bearing false witness” of Glenn and Conservatism by this guy. tisk tisk. 🙁

    Liberals and Anti-mormons are exactly the same in their tactics.

  18. leeuniverse Reply

    Nothing but “bearing false witness” of Glenn and Conservatism by this guy. tisk tisk. 🙁

    Liberals and Anti-mormons are exactly the same in their tactics.

  19. Mike Tannehill Reply

    I could care less about Glenn Beck, Ive watched one interesting show he did, but I cant stand the crying.

    What bugged me was the seeming embrace of communism and liberalism I heard in this. It was talked about like if we all only understood the idea of communism we would all live better lives.

    Why is it that when people lose their fith they seem to embrace liberalism along with it?

    • Mister IT Reply

      >I cant stand the crying<

      I agree, I have the same reaction to Mormon Fast & Testimony meetings – interesting but I can't stand the sight of men blubbering.

  20. Mike Tannehill Reply

    I could care less about Glenn Beck, Ive watched one interesting show he did, but I cant stand the crying.

    What bugged me was the seeming embrace of communism and liberalism I heard in this. It was talked about like if we all only understood the idea of communism we would all live better lives.

    Why is it that when people lose their fith they seem to embrace liberalism along with it?

    • Mister IT Reply

      >I cant stand the crying<

      I agree, I have the same reaction to Mormon Fast & Testimony meetings – interesting but I can't stand the sight of men blubbering.

  21. Sionpiensa Reply

    Mike
    liberalism comes from liberi, that means freedom
    We don’t lose faith, we gain freedom
    When one runs away from mormonism runs away from a close structure of rituals and disciplines that dominates all aspects of life, all times available and all lines of thoughts
    Is not a surprise that discovering that “God” gave us inner morality and common sense for the survival of the specie that we search for the higher truth on freedom to analyze every aspect of life… consequently adopting less dogmatic or programatic ways to see life and its affairs that the ones established by a structure like religion, conservative politics, bipolar view of the world…

    I invite you to try to see it with the eyes of the “dissenters” what would you think if you have lost your faith in mormonism, if you would not become more liberal, do the exercise and you may be surprised to find something amazing

    cheers

    • Carey Reply

      We don’t lose freedom because we have faith God, we’re still free to choose anything we want. In fact we believe that by following the advice of God that we’ll have even a greater degree of freedom.

      A young boy said to his dad who was flying a kite. Daddy cut the string and the let the kite fly higher, set it free. But his dad told him if he cut the string the kite would fall to ground. The rules/commandments that we choose to follow are sometimes regarded by outsiders as being restricted but we feel they are actually allowing us to grow and expand further. I’m sure you feel the same way with the values and morals you’ve chosen to follow.

      I think you should follow the path you feel will lead to freedom/happiness, etc… why would you Mike to do different?

      • Sionpiensa Reply

        Carey
        My question to Mike is to think what would he think if he did not have the belief, if he would become more “liberal”
        Once you put faith into a ritual, process and established control process with accountability towards others instead of oneself, like mormons do, then the kite string becomes a chain.
        cheers

        • Carey Reply

          I think I can agree with you there, not all rules or ideals that we subscribe to necessarily elevate us, some do end up become chains.

          Trying to see it through the eyes of others has its merits, as it provides us a way to truly listen to others and expand our own understanding. That actually seems like the very tenant of this site — I’ll admit I’m new here but so far thats the one thing I really like about this site.

          So I’ll 2nd your motion to have Mike demonstrate a little more compassion and respect for the those “dissenters”.

          • Sionpiensa

            I am new too, trying to break the chains
            cheers Carey

  22. Sionpiensa Reply

    Mike
    liberalism comes from liberi, that means freedom
    We don’t lose faith, we gain freedom
    When one runs away from mormonism runs away from a close structure of rituals and disciplines that dominates all aspects of life, all times available and all lines of thoughts
    Is not a surprise that discovering that “God” gave us inner morality and common sense for the survival of the specie that we search for the higher truth on freedom to analyze every aspect of life… consequently adopting less dogmatic or programatic ways to see life and its affairs that the ones established by a structure like religion, conservative politics, bipolar view of the world…

    I invite you to try to see it with the eyes of the “dissenters” what would you think if you have lost your faith in mormonism, if you would not become more liberal, do the exercise and you may be surprised to find something amazing

    cheers

    • Carey Reply

      We don’t lose freedom because we have faith God, we’re still free to choose anything we want. In fact we believe that by following the advice of God that we’ll have even a greater degree of freedom.

      A young boy said to his dad who was flying a kite. Daddy cut the string and the let the kite fly higher, set it free. But his dad told him if he cut the string the kite would fall to ground. The rules/commandments that we choose to follow are sometimes regarded by outsiders as being restricted but we feel they are actually allowing us to grow and expand further. I’m sure you feel the same way with the values and morals you’ve chosen to follow.

      I think you should follow the path you feel will lead to freedom/happiness, etc… why would you Mike to do different?

      • Sionpiensa Reply

        Carey
        My question to Mike is to think what would he think if he did not have the belief, if he would become more “liberal”
        Once you put faith into a ritual, process and established control process with accountability towards others instead of oneself, like mormons do, then the kite string becomes a chain.
        cheers

        • Carey Reply

          I think I can agree with you there, not all rules or ideals that we subscribe to necessarily elevate us, some do end up become chains.

          Trying to see it through the eyes of others has its merits, as it provides us a way to truly listen to others and expand our own understanding. That actually seems like the very tenant of this site — I’ll admit I’m new here but so far thats the one thing I really like about this site.

          So I’ll 2nd your motion to have Mike demonstrate a little more compassion and respect for the those “dissenters”.

          • Sionpiensa

            I am new too, trying to break the chains
            cheers Carey

  23. brandt Reply

    It was very interesting to hear the rise of Glenn (Beck that is). I use to be very dedicated to him, I thought he was entertaining, but then I realized he was a nut.

    I think John made a good point (and Alex backed it up)that you can only preach doom and gloom for so long before people lose interest.

    While this podcast about the Rise of Glenn and his present style is very interesting, I’m awaiting Alexander coming back on to discuss the Fall of Glenn.

  24. brandt Reply

    It was very interesting to hear the rise of Glenn (Beck that is). I use to be very dedicated to him, I thought he was entertaining, but then I realized he was a nut.

    I think John made a good point (and Alex backed it up)that you can only preach doom and gloom for so long before people lose interest.

    While this podcast about the Rise of Glenn and his present style is very interesting, I’m awaiting Alexander coming back on to discuss the Fall of Glenn.

  25. Carey Reply

    I’m not a big fan of Beck, but the times I’ve watched his show I do find him sincere. The only issue I had with this episode is they spent so much time debating that point which is entirely speculative. Even if Beck knowingly knows he’s going to get emotional at a certain point during an upcoming show that doesn’t prove that he’s its not sincere.

    I think its a safe assumption to believe people are sincere about the things they are passionate about. Could I be wrong in that assumption, of course, but I could also be wrong in not believe it.

  26. Carey Reply

    I’m not a big fan of Beck, but the times I’ve watched his show I do find him sincere. The only issue I had with this episode is they spent so much time debating that point which is entirely speculative. Even if Beck knowingly knows he’s going to get emotional at a certain point during an upcoming show that doesn’t prove that he’s its not sincere.

    I think its a safe assumption to believe people are sincere about the things they are passionate about. Could I be wrong in that assumption, of course, but I could also be wrong in not believe it.

  27. Joseph Reply

    My greatest fear is that Beck and his followers are really, really sincere. All of us humans are pretty stupid. The most dangerous among us are not necessarily the ignorant, but a special subset of the ignorant who think that they really know how to run the rest of our lives. Beck fits the profile (though he is certainly not the only prominent, dangerous idiot in America).

  28. Joseph Reply

    My greatest fear is that Beck and his followers are really, really sincere. All of us humans are pretty stupid. The most dangerous among us are not necessarily the ignorant, but a special subset of the ignorant who think that they really know how to run the rest of our lives. Beck fits the profile (though he is certainly not the only prominent, dangerous idiot in America).

  29. Mister IT Reply

    @John & Alexander
    FYI, I got a lot of unexpected umbrage regarding your sidebar conversation regarding Mormon Artists after I posted this on AnswerBag:

    TRUE OR FALSE: Because art comes from ‘living on the edge’, no artist can ever be truly great if they’re Mormon – they’d be excommunicated.
    http://www.answerbag.com/profile/839637/questions/#ixzz0smfT66s1

    I had no idea that TBMs are as passionate about Mormon Art and Artists as they are about the LdS Church!
    (Silly me I guess)

  30. Mister IT Reply

    @John & Alexander
    FYI, I got a lot of unexpected umbrage regarding your sidebar conversation regarding Mormon Artists after I posted this on AnswerBag:

    TRUE OR FALSE: Because art comes from ‘living on the edge’, no artist can ever be truly great if they’re Mormon – they’d be excommunicated.
    http://www.answerbag.com/profile/839637/questions/#ixzz0smfT66s1

    I had no idea that TBMs are as passionate about Mormon Art and Artists as they are about the LdS Church!
    (Silly me I guess)

  31. Tobin Reply

    I don’t know why it needs to be an either “or” type of thing? I really like some of the people in Mormonism, but I also like many Catholics, Jews and people of other faiths; I don’t have much problem with the core beliefs of Mormonism (the “be” nice parts); and I watch as much of General Conference as much as I can stand (I yell at the television when it gets stupid); and then go off and read or do something I enjoy more. Anyway, I do believe in the Gospel – I do NOT believe in the modern-day Mormon church as much. I believe it is a very flawed organization filled with bad traditions and lead by a geriatric society of “caretakers”. I do not believe they are particularly inspired men or that they are very bright nor adept at the job they have. But, God has to use whatever he’s got and in the end, it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, Mormonism is between you and God – not between you and any man and so I’ll take care of what I’m responsible for and leave the rest up to God.

  32. mcarp Reply

    If Elder Holland was really ministering to Japan as an apostle a few weeks before the quake, maybe he could have given them a tiny “heads up” about the quake and tsunami?

  33. Course Correction Reply

    Tierza,
    General Conference talks are about how to be a better Mormon, not how to be a better person. If that’s what you’re looking for, you need to go elsewhere.

    • mcarp Reply

      Course Correction, I love that statement about becoming a better Mormon. I’m stealing it for my signature on my accounts on all the DAMU message boards.

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