Friday, August 20, 2010

Zaitchik on Point of Inquiry

The best way to learn about a book is to read it. This is obviously so, but given that we don't have time to read every book that might be of interest, the second best way to learn about a book is to get a good second hand account of the book through a review or a discussion of it. Which is why my favorite programming on tv is C-Span 2's Book TV, which I used to watch every weekend until my cable provider removed it from my service. I feel myself noticebly less informed in its absence.

My digression has a point: if you had neither the time nor the inclination to read Alexander Zaitchik's brilliant book Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance - a must read book for understanding the phenomenon that is Glenn Beck - you can still learn a great deal about the book's subject material by listening to Zaitchik discuss the book with Chris Mooney on Point of Inquiry, the official podcast of the Center for Inquiry.

Mooney chose to have Zaitchik on the show for mostly the same reason that I have blogged about Beck so much: Beck has become a significant force of unreason, leading a campaign of anti-intellectualism and bigotry antithetical to the principles of the Enlightenment, while demonizing the values that I hold as a secular humanist as some sort of anti-American conspiracy. Zaitchik also discusses what is generally overlooked: how deeply influenced Beck and his media empire are by his roots in right-wing Mormon extremism.

The discussion between the two is highly informative - and in honor of it, I'm going to break out another passage that I highlighted on my Kindle edition of Common Nonsense.

Beck's decision to feature [Ezra Taft] Benson on his show was a revealing one. As Beck knew quite well, Benson was not just a member of Eisenhower's cabinet. He was a notoriously illiberal Mormon Church president who helped pioneer Mormonism's apocalyptic hard-right strain, which Beck latched on to and appropriated following his conversion. Had Beck allowed the tape of Benson's lecture to continue, it is possible that listeners would have heard Benson ask, "When are we going to wake up? What do you know about the dangerous civil rights agitation in Mississippi?" Or they might have heard the sound of Benson's voice railing against "traitors within the church" who criticized the mixing of religion and extreme right-wing politics.

They might have heard Benson speak about his attempts to build a third party, led by himself and South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond. Or they might have been treated to snippets of Benson's wisdom as found in the foreword he penned to the 1967 tract of Mormon race hate, Black Hammer: A Study of Black Power, Red Influence and White Alternatives, which featured on its cover the severed, bloody head of an African-American.
Zaitchik continues on to note that Benson was a "dedicated foe of the civil rights movement, which he thought was part of a communist plot to destroy the Mormon Church."

Notice that this signifies another incident in what appears to be a pattern of Beck promoting to his audience the work of racists without informing them as such. Although the quote above is bad enough in itself, it is even worse with the context added back in.

Beck had played a clip of Benson saying that Soviet leader Khrushchev had told him communists would slowly bring about (in some undisclosed conspiratorial manner) small doses of socialism until one day America woke up and was communist without realizing it. After the clip, Beck suggested that America was already at that point. Back to Zaitchik

Beck had proof that we were already there. He then played an audio clip of a giddy African American woman who had just left a Barack Obama campaign speech.

"It was the most memorable time of my life," she says. "It was a touching moment. I won't have to worry about fas or mortgage. If I help him, he's gonna help me."

In these words, Beck heard the fulfillment of Khruschev's threat, as relayed by that grandfatherly seer, Ezra Taft Benson. "I never though this day would happen," said Beck, "as if extraterrestrials had just landed a spaceship in Central Park."

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