Turn on CNN Headline News -- a supposed "news" channel -- on weekday nights and you'll be subjected to the lectures of a loudmouthed, factually-challenged, occasionally funny know-it-all whose shtick is that he's "just a regular American schmoe."
His name is Glenn Beck, a smiley-toothed monologist and proselytizer who is a recovering alcoholic, talk-radio host, convert to Mormonism and self-described "rodeo clown." His crude rants would be easy to ignore except that CNN -- part of the Time Warner conglomerate -- has chosen to give Beck a primetime platform which he uses day after day to cheer on a confrontation with Iran. (Imagine what an informed foreign policy critic could do with such a nightly forum.)
In Beck's world, he and his endless parade of like-mindedly hawkish guests are the only ones who see the danger: "It's Iran, stupid!" Most of U.S. officialdom and media are asleep at the wheel again, Neville Chamberlain-style appeasers.
Here's a typical exchange from Beckastan, as our fearless interviewer engaged rightwing Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu in mid-November:
NETANYAHU: Iran is Germany, and it`s 1938, except that this Nazi regime that is in Iran, that`s a religious kind of fanaticism. But it wants to dominate the world, annihilate the Jews, but also annihilate America. Remember, we`re the small Satan. You`re the big Satan. BECK: Right.
Beck's CNN guestlist is replete with often obscure, simplistic hawks. In his segment asking "How Long Until Iran Gets Nukes?," Beck's expert was novelist Joel Rosenberg, a Jewish-born born-again-Christian who describes himself as a "senior advisor" to Rush Limbaugh.
What's unnerving about Beck is that he seems to be amusing himself at least -- ever smiling like Pat Robertson -- as he does his best to prod the country toward war and confrontation with enemy Islam. He is obsessed with Iranian president Ahmadinejad, whom he calls "President Tom." A recent segment was titled: "Is Iran Pushing for Armageddon?" Alert viewers might ask: "Is Beck Pushing for Armageddon?"
Another segment asked: "Are We Too P.C. [politically correct] Over Islam?" Beck certainly isn't. A day before his hour-long Netanyahu special, Beck hosted Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, a Muslim and moderate voice on the Middle East. "I have been nervous," said Beck, "about this interview with you because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.'"
This was vintage Beck, seeming to hold a Muslim-American accountable by suggesting that Muslims prove they're not traitors.
But who is holding CNN accountable for hiring such a blusterer?
And are we mistaken to laugh off TV pundits and "experts" who now blow smoke at Iran?
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Three years ago, our country was driven to war in Iraq by a deceptive White House, abetted by blaring advocates echoing into every American household and car radio -- courtesy of a half-dozen media conglomerates.
And in the middle of that media propaganda onslaught was Glenn Beck. From his talk show distributed by radio giant Clear Channel, Beck sparked "pro-America" rallies across the country, some organized by Clear Channel stations. He wished violent death upon Michael Moore and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and called Cindy Sheehan a "big prostitute." All this was known to CNN when it hired Beck.
Today, the war-hawks are back, as Target Iraq has become Target Iran. And none of them -- including Beck -- are held to account for having been so deadly wrong when they urged on the last war.
When Beck interviewed Netanyahu, he politely didn't ask the Israeli about any of his resoundingly false pre-war claims about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and links to Al-Qaeda.
I worked at MSNBC during the run-up to the Iraq war and saw that the media offensive succeeded because pro-war "experts" dominated discussion, while dissenters were smeared and silenced (all described in my book "Cable News Confidential").
Before the Iraq war, former Reagan Defense official and uberhawk Frank Gaffney pushed for an invasion on the grounds that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not only behind the 9/11 attacks, but was behind Tim McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing. Today, he is on the warpath again in U.S. media, denouncing those who want America to "appease" Iran.
Before the Iraq invasion, former CIA analyst Ken Pollack repeatedly pushed for war in appearances on CNN and elsewhere as an expert on Iraqi WMD. He warned Oprah's audience that Saddam could use WMD against the U.S. homeland. After no weapons were found, Pollack was sheepish: "That was not me making that claim; that was me parroting the claims of so-called experts."
Has Pollack been held accountable for his role in egging on the war? Quite the contrary, he was just quoted in a blatantly biased frontpage New York Times article by Michael Gordon, emphasizing how bad it would be for the US to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. Gordon was kind enough not to bring up Pollack's faulty pre-war analysis. (Gordon himself is in no position to hold others to account; he and Judith Miller co-wrote the infamous September 2002 Times piece claiming that Iraq had "stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons" by seeking aluminum tubes.)
Americans spoke out loudly weeks ago at the ballot box. Revolted by the mess in Iraq, we changed the faces of those who represent us in Washington, ejecting many of those who'd steamrolled the country into war.
But how can we hold media leaders accountable -- those talking heads and "experts" and news executives who steamrolled us into war? How can we change the faces of those who speak for us in the media? We need a media consumers' revolt to match the voters' revolt. We must raise our voices to demand balance -- and dissenting hosts and experts -- on cable news and PBS and NPR and elsewhere.
A good place to begin is with CNN and the Glenn Beck issue -- urging that a progressive host (like Amy Goodman or Laura Flanders or Michael Eric Dyson or Jim Hightower) be added to the lineup. A good time to begin is now. . .before any new military adventure in Iran.