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June 16th, 2010 HENRY STERN | Books
 

Alexander Zaitchik Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance

Pundit pile-on!

     
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Topic sentence: Glenn Beck is a boorish, weepy, fear-mongering, conspiracy-touting demagogue who will demonize any progressive person or group for ratings.

If you’re a reader of this newspaper, odds are you agree wholeheartedly with that sentence above and believe Beck is a scary symptom of everything that’s wrong with America. So does freelance journalist Alexander Zaitchik, who delves deeply into Beck’s rise from a small-town Washington kid to a multimillionaire media phenomenon. In Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance (Wiley, 282 pages, $25.95), Zaitchik firmly and properly compares Beck at different times to a huckster (P.T. Barnum’s mentor, Aaron Turner), a nut-job in perfect sync with his audience (the fictional Howard Beale character from the movie Network) and right-wing radio demagogues of more recent vintage (Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant and the like).

Zaitchik’s book is a useful corrective to the hagiography that Beck’s acolytes subscribe to—or that is glossed over in many supposedly “fair and balanced” mainstream media accounts of Beck. And Zaitchik is an engaging writer who takes down Beck with strong research and entertaining turns of phrase—“dry-drunk harbinger of the apocalypse” and “he’s not stereotypically premenstrual as much as classically Mormon,” to pick but two examples.

Problem is, a book about a one-dimensional creep can remain interesting for only so long before it lapses into repetition, rescued periodically in this case by intriguing back stories about the spooky thinkers and beliefs Beck draws upon. In smaller bits, as Zaitchik has done in part on Salon and Alternet, it’s worthy stuff about a bizarre person who more bizarrely has gained credence with millions.

Beck haters will relish this pile-on, and Beck lovers will discount Zaitchik as one more example of a media conspiracy that includes the Trilateral Commission, Woodrow Wilson, the Rockefellers and whomever else they choose from their usual list of suspects for contributing to America’s downfall. If you can tell a man by his enemies, Zaitchik could have done much worse.


READ: Common Sense is out in bookstores now.
 
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