Thursday, September 17, 2009


There really is a formula to these Time cover stories on right-wing demagogues, isn't there? Let's compare David Von Drehle's "Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?" from the current issue of Time (hereafter Von Drehle on Beck) and John Cloud's Coulter story, "Ms. Right," from Time's April 17, 2005, issue (hereafter Cloud on Coulter).

* Worshipped by fans!

Von Drehle on Beck:

One person listens, Frankowski believes, and that's why back home in Alabama she arranged to have 10 large signs made on white foam board, nine of them marked with a big letter and the tenth with we and a heart. Raised aloft, the signs spelled out "We ♥ G-l-e-n-n B-e-c-k."

Cloud on Coulter:

Wearing an ankle-length fur and a wide-eyed expression, Coulter had to be pushed through the crowd by a team of handlers. When she swept past the spot I was wedged into, the young men near me went aflutter. "Ann Coulter should be staying on our floor!" one said lasciviously. During a Q&A at a private reception later, another guy raised his hand and asked her out.

* Primarily an entertainer, not a demagogue!

Von Drehle on Beck:

Beck describes his performances as "the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment" -- and the entertainment comes first. "Like Limbaugh, Glenn Beck is a former Top 40 DJ," radio historian Marc Fisher explains, "first and foremost an entertainer, who happens to have stumbled into a position of political prominence."

Cloud on Coulter:

People say that Jon Stewart has blurred the line between news and humor, but his Daily Show airs on a comedy channel. Coulter goes on actual news programs and deploys so much sarcasm and hyperbole that she sounds more like Dennis Miller than Limbaugh....

"What p_____ me off," Coulter says, "is when they don't get the punch line."

* A multi-platform media success in a way that leaves us breathless!

Von Drehle on Beck:

There are bigger one-voice enterprises in the world: Oprah, Rush, Dr. Phil. But few are more widely diversified. In June, estimators at Forbes magazine pegged Beck's earnings over the previous 12 months at $23 million, a ballpark figure confirmed by knowledgeable sources, and this year's revenues are on track to be higher. The largest share comes from his radio show, which is heard by more than 8 million listeners on nearly 400 stations -- one of the five biggest radio audiences in the country. Beck is one of only a handful of blockbuster authors who have reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller lists with both nonfiction and fiction.... His latest book, Arguing with Idiots, will be published this month, and if things go as expected, it will be the third No. 1 with his name on the front published in the past 12 months.

Cloud on Coulter:

Coulter's ubiquity on political talk shows is exceeded only by her inability to write a book that doesn't become a best seller. Her current effort ... recently ended a 16-week run on the New York Times best-seller list even though it's mostly a collection of previously published columns. Despite Coulter's indifference to the online world--she doesn't blog, and until recently she had little direct role in has a staggering presence in cyberspace, where pro- and anti-Coulter forces wage unending battle. Her "official chat" site, which Coulter never visits, draws 1,000 posts a day. A recent documentary, Is It True What They Say About Ann?--co-directed by a friend of Coulter's, journalist Elinor Burkett--has played at film festivals and won some favorable notices.

* It's not any individual's fault that we live in such depraved times!

Von Drehle on Beck:

The creamy notions of postpartisan cooperation -- poured abundantly over Obama's presidential campaign a year ago -- have curdled into suspicion and feelings of helplessness. Trust is a toxic asset, sitting valueless on the national books. Good faith is trading at pennies on the dollar. The old American mind-set that Richard Hofstadter famously called "the paranoid style" -- the sense that Masons or the railroads or the Pope or the guys in black helicopters are in league to destroy the country -- is aflame again, fanned from both right and left. 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.

No one has a better feeling for this mood, and no one exploits it as well, as Beck.

Cloud on Coulter:

But no one on the right is so iconic, such a totem of this particular moment. Coulter epitomizes the way politics is now discussed on the airwaves, where opinions must come violently fast and cause as much friction as possible.

The articles aren't identical. Actually, the Coulter piece is harsher, even though, in retrospect, Coulter seems to have been far less dangerous than Beck is now. I guess all that phony gooeyness and tearing up is paying off for Beck.

No comments: