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Clear it with SidneyHow our blog got its name >

Notes on journalism for the common good
by Lindsay Beyerstein

How our blog got its name

Sidney Hillman was a powerful national figure during the Great Depression, a key supporter of the New Deal, and a close ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When the rumor spread that President Roosevelt ordered his party leaders to “clear it with Sidney” before announcing Harry S. Truman as his 1944 running mate, conservative critics turned on the phrase, trumpeting it as proof that the president was under the thumb of “Big Labor.”

Over the years, the phrase lost its sting and became a testament to Hillman's influence.

It's hard to imagine a labor leader wielding that kind clout today, but we like the idea—and we hope Sidney would give thumbs up to our blog.

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Time Magazine Loves Glenn Beck (Again)

   Last month FCP discussed the revolting tendency of “liberal” publications like The New York Times and The New Yorker to publish gushing profiles of repellent public figures like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and, especially. Glenn Beck.   This week the trend accelerated as David von Drehle profiled Beck for the cover of Time magazine.

    Von Drehle’s piece is so humiliating on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin.   But at least the web version of the piece carried a headline which FCP thought posed a reasonable question: “Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?”

    Trouble is, after reading the piece, it was still impossible to know how Von Drehle might answer that query.  So FCP telephoned the Time writer to find out more. 

   “I haven’t seen the layout on the web,” Von Drehle said, “So [that question] is news to me.  I personally wouldn’t take one guy and say he’s bad for America.”

    You see, even though Von Drehle’s piece was–ostensibly–a profile of a media figure–von Drehele  is not interested in writing “media journalism,” the kind in which you actually try to evaulate the person you’re writing about.

    “I do not want to give every single person a score card,” Von Drehle told FCP.  There has obviously been no “shortage of rants against Glenn Beck,” so rather than give an intelligent appraisal of what Beck actually says each night, von Drehele wrote a story which focuses on the fact that “this is is a big business and a lot of people are making a lot of money.”

    Von Drehle’s total lack of interest in actual facts is briskly displayed in the very first paragraph of his profile, describing the tea party in Washington last weekend, which was largely the result of Beck’s six-month-long on-air organizing effort for what he called his “9/12 project.”

     “If you get your information from liberal sources, the crowd numbered about 70,000, many of them greedy racists,” Von Drehle wrote.  “If you get your information from conservative sources, the crowd was hundreds of thousands strong, perhaps as many as a million, and the tenor was peaceful and patriotic.”

    Members of the Washington, D.C., Fire Department will no doubt be delighted to be identified as a “liberal source,” since they originated the crowd estimate of  70,000 people.   As for the higher crowd estimates, the biggest one, of 1.2 million, was simply invented by Matt Kibbe, president of Freedom Works, one of the protest’s main organizers.  Kibbe announced from the stage that ABC News had reported the 1.2 million figure.   This led to an e-mail to news outlets from ABC, very shortly thereafter, pointing out that the network  had never done any such thing–but instead had relied on those “liberal” firemen who offered the lower 60,000 to 70,000 figure.  But you would never know any of that from reading Time.

    Jamison Foser of Media Matters does his own fine dissection of Von Drehle’s drivel here.   In an e-mail exchange with FCP, Foser listed some of the other lies from the organizers of the Washington protest: “they invented a Park Service spokesperson, they used a quote from an actual Parks Service employee saying it was the biggest gathering ever -- a quote that was actually about the inauguration;  they made up that ABC report that never happened, and they claimed that photos of the Promise Keepers march were photos of last Saturday's protest, in order to substantiate their claims of massive crowds.  Time, however, thinks their ‘estimates’ are just as valid as those of the ‘liberal’ DC Fire Dept.”

    Foser also highlights Von Drehle’s hideous tendency to draw utterly false equivalencies throughout his piece, like this one: “Between the liberal fantasies about Brownshirts at town halls and the conservative concoctions of brainwashed children goose-stepping to school, you'd think the Palm in Washington had been replaced with a Munich beer hall.”  Which leads Foser to ask:

    “What in the world is Time talking about?   Conservatives have been yelling about President Obama being a secret Kenyan bent on sending granny to the Death Panel, comparing him to Hitler and Mao and Stalin and who-knows-who-else -- and that, apparently, is matched in intensity and paranoia by liberals pointing out this unhinged behavior? Insane.”

   Von Drehle seemed to be more eager to point out to FCP all the nice things Beck says on his show: “work hard; love your country; be kind to each other; spend more time with your kids.”

    “What about comparing Obama’s non-existent death panel to Nazi eugenics?”  FCP asked.

    “That probably would classify as not productive in my book,” the Time writer replied. 

      These are some of the other lovely things Von Drehle  managed to say about his subject:

*  He is the hottest thing in the political-rant racket, left or right. A gifted entrepreneur of angst in a white-hot market.

*  A man with his ear uniquely tuned to the precise frequency at which anger, suspicion and the fear that no one's listening all converge.

* Beck is 45, tireless, funny, self-deprecating, a recovering alcoholic, a convert to Mormonism, a libertarian and living with ADHD.

* He is a gifted storyteller with a knack for stitching seemingly unrelated data points into possible conspiracies — if he believed in conspiracies, which he doesn't, necessarily; he's just asking questions. He's just sayin'.

*Beck describes his performances as ‘the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment’— and the entertainment comes first. "

* “Beck is a "radio nostalgic," in love with the storytelling power of a man with a microphone.

    After all those glowing tributes, I guess David just didn’t have enough space left for Glenn’s most memorable sound bites–like his declaration that we “at least in this country [need to] start having the necessary discussion of, do we want communists in the United States government”–a question asked in a segment which was bolstered by actual sound bites of some of Joe McCarthy’s finest moments at the Army/McCarthy hearings.

   Von Drehle also forgot to mention that in 2005, Beck said, “you know it took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 families.  I don’t hate all of them.  I probably hate about ten of them.  But when I see a 9/11 family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up.’  I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining. And we did our best for them!”  (To which Stephen Colbert memorably added: "Good point! [Beck's] 9/12 project is not for people directly affected by 9/11–just for people building their careers on it.”)

   Unfortunately, Beck’s mock poisoning of House Speaker Pelosi on air and his comparison of the Holocaust museum shooter to Thomas Jefferson also managed to escape the Time writer’s attention.   (Jamison Foser has the whole list of omissions here.)

    Von Drehle does mention in passing that Beck is currently the object of one of the most successful advertizer boycotts in history, sparked by Beck’s assertion  that Obama is a racist who harbors "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."

   Von Drehle identified the boycott as “a boon” to Beck’s ratings; but he didn’t say that it now includes more than sixty corporations, including Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and Procter & Gamble.   

    FCP asked Von Dehele if sixty wasn’t a rather large number–one perhaps worth mentioning in his piece.  “Well,” he replied.  “There are millions of companies.”

    Von Drehle also seems to think that the progressive hosts on MSNBC are really just like the right-wing crazies on Fox.  But when FCP pressed him about that, he admitted that had no basis whatsoever for making any comparison: 

   “I haven’t seen Keith Olbermann for at least a year and a half," the Time writer said.  "And I’ve never seen Rachel Maddow.  I have four children and a wife.  I don’t sit around watching cable TV.  I don’t understand why anybody watches any of these shows.  I know what these opinions are based on: they’re based on nothing.”

    Of course, Olbermann's and Maddow’s opinions are actually all relentlessly fact-based–the real kind, not the sort routinely invented by Limbaugh, Beck and their scores of imitators.  And Maddow is easily the most intelligent addition to television in the last five years.  But Von Drehleis too busy raising his children to have noticed any of that.

    Perhaps it would help if Time  had chosen someone who actually watches cable TV to profile such an important cable personality?

    Probably not.  The magazine’s delightfully post-modern TV critic, James Poniewozik, has already written several hard-hitting assessments of the Beck oeuvre, including this one: “Sure, he may be selling a sensationalistic message of paranoia and social breakdown. But politics, or basic responsibility, aside, he has an entertainer's sense of play with the medium of TV that O'Reilly, or perpetual sourpuss Neil Cavuto, don't.”

    So why do magazines like Time put glowing profiles of Beck on their covers, while newspapers like The Washington Post invite him to lead chats on their websites?  

    For the very same reason that Beck tells disgusting lies on his program so frequently: there is money to be made.  News stand sales for Time as Beck’s fans gobble up copies of the magazine, and web hits for the Washington Post.

    And that, frankly,  is the most disgusting fact of all.


   Once again, it falls to Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart to do the real journalism on this subject.  To find out what Beck actually does, see two of Colbert’s finest contributions to the Glenn Beck story,  here and here. 

   Stewart's are here and, four days ago, describing America's "favorite bi-polar" TV personality, here.


 Update: The indispensable Scott Horton has another vintage Beck performance here.  Horton also links to an extremely sane and sensible piece by ex-George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum.  The headline:  Gop Surrenders to Beck's Mob Rule. Frum's bottom line:  "Glenn Beck is not the first to make a pleasant living for himself by reckless defamation. We have seen his kind before in American journalism and American politics, and the good news is that their careers never last long. But the bad news is that while their careers do last, such people do terrible damage...We conservatives are submitting our movement to some of the most unscrupulous people in American life. This submission disgraces conservatism, discredits Republicans, and damages the country. It’s beyond time for conservatives who know better to join us at NewMajority in emancipating ourselves from leadership by the most stupid, the most cynical, and the most truthless."  

Frum's great piece was posted one week before Von Drehle's; and yet, Time managed to ignore  this article of sanity as well.



You hit a number of good points here but, as someone who once worked Time Magazine over several years, I can tell you there are a few erroneous statements. Of course, doing a cover on Beck is a no-brainer for any newsmagazine -- he has a top-rated TV show, a bestselling book, and for better or worse (much worse, imho) he's the man of the moment in national political punditry. In the old days, Time would have had fun with a fraud like Beck, challenging his statements, mocking him as a crybaby, and exposing him as a loud clown who twists the truth to pump his ratings. Time's story on Beck was filled with inaccuracies and glowing statements because (a) the writer is an incompetent idiot who, as he admits, doesn't watch cable tv, (b) the fact-checking staff at the magazine has been decimated, with writers now required to verify their own stories -- which is to say, they frequently don't get fact-checked at all, and (c) the managing editor of Time and the editor-in-chief of Time Inc. don't really care about either the angle or the accuracy of their stories -- they just want them to get noticed. Just as the Ann Coulter story of a few years ago praised the right-wing harpy and was filled with many falsehoods, the editors care not a whit as long as the cover is discussed by their elite publishing friends at cocktail parties, gets mentioned in the NY papers, and is promoted by network morning news shows and cable tv programs. It's sad, really, because a handful of good-hearted and respectable people still work at the magazine, and for some strange reason they really do care about things like accurate facts and objective journalism. Von Drehle is an overrated hack who did some good stuff years ago at the Washington Post, but has been a major disappointment at Time. He's written only about a dozen stories for the print edition over the past year -- and just two of those were longer than 350 words. Yet he reportedly makes upwards of $150,000 in annual salary. He was hired at the same time that the magazine laid off dozens of far lesser-paid, much harder-working editors, writers, correspondents and support staff who could write circles around him. The blame goes to managing editor Rick Stengel and Time Inc. boss John Huey. They want writers to have opinions, even if they are boneheaded and ignorant opinions. These two have turned Time Magazine into a pale shadow of its former self, an ever-shrinking magazine with lots of white space, oversized photos, easy-to-read chart-icles, thumbsucking essays, and a paucity of actual reported details that breaks news or provides readers with fresh ideas. The magazine has little to offer the public, and even less to offer its remaining advertisers. Stengel and Huey took a greatly iconic, highly respected title and somehow crushed it into a pennysaver-thin, wispy-thinking piece of crap. Given all that, it somehow seems correct that the poisonous anti-patriot Glenn Beck appears on its cover and celebrated within its pages.
FCP Replies:  Thank you for your comments, though it's not clear to me what "erroneous statements" you are referring to.

and in answer to the question, "Is Beck bad for America?", two words: Van Jones. Bad?? He's a metaphor for all that's rotten in the country -- Beck/ Palin 2012 ? (sorry, she's still a woman, gotta be #2).

You forgot to mention that he is an incredible denier of Global Warming, and redily bashes the environmental movement. For that alone he should be damned, for he is fighting against our childrens future. To hell with Glen Beck and Time.

If liberals say the world is round and conservatives that it's flat, well..I guess the world must be shaped like an American football.

Von Drehle's the print version of a Mika Brzzssezzinzkski: a none-too-bright, not -very-curious tool. Whoever hired him must be deeply cynical and dedicated to moving the corporate right's intentions forward.

This article was one too many. I canceled my subscription to Time.

Great piece, but I think you have the New Yorker mixed up with New York Magazine. This is not a "defense" of the New Yorker. Factually, it does not print "gushing profiles of repellent public figures like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and, especially. Glenn Beck." Right wing commentators are almost always mentioned only in a negative light. Otherwise, great article. Time is hard core Republican/right wing propaganda. They can't write an honest word. I believe the same, or another recent article, described all columnists who say anything favorable about president Obama as "left-leaning".
FCP replies: Unfortunately, I did mean The New Yorker.  Its profile of Michael Savage last month was a hideous example of this form, as I explained here.

...and frankly, I wasnt all that disgusted by it. I do find a lot of what Savage says to be quite repellent, but compared with other such shock jocks, he is more creative and stream-of-conciousness, which I think the New Yorker captured quite well. Reading pieces are are nothing more than liberal temper tantrums are just as boring and irritating as conservative temper tantrums.

Bush was spying on US citizens illegally with multinational telecoms. That is a fact. So, I don't understand your false equivalency. Klein reports something true about Bush, and then Von Drehle writes something completely bogus about Glenn Beck and they are equal?

After watching Time let Joe Klein write about Bush spying on Americans and the telecoms business, it seems to me they had to know they were deceiving their readers. They are just not that dumb. They knew Joe did not know what he was writing about and they let him do it. I don't think Joe personally mislead his readers, he was just inept. Time should have never given him the chance and they certainly could have vetted that awful reporting. Appears they intended to mislead to me. This is the same thing. Time just assigns a writer who has no knowledge of his subject and lets them do the dirty work. The man has not seen Olbermann in a year and has never seen Maddow - apparently thinks only fools watch these shows - and he's supposed to know something about this subject? Time knew he didn't know the subject and I surmise they knew what he would write - he produced what they wanted and that is why they printed it. Geez, they did a front page article praising Coulter. At what point can we stop playing games and say it like it is, Time intentionally misleads its readers and promotes the most divisive, dishonest, and radical forces in our country. For sales or propaganda - it's one of the two or both.

Thank you very much. TIME magazine can't die soon enough. They are basically lying to their readers here.

I wonder if the "millions of companies" line would fly if it was TIME advertisers boycotting the magazine.

When I first clicked to the Time story yesterday, I was interested to see that the "sponsored links" advertisements embedded in the story on the Time webpage both connected to drug company advertisements for bi-polar treatment. Today, they link to ads for whiter teeth and obesity. I think Time's advertisers have a more accurate take on Glenn Beck than its reporters.


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