It seems unfair that Glenn Beck, an admitted alcoholic and former drug addict with a penchant for race baiting, managed to drive green jobs evangelist Van Jones from his White House appointment because of minor missteps in Jones’ past.
And it’s excruciatingly ironic that Dick Morris, one of Beck’s lieutenants in calling for Jones’ head, was himself jettisoned from the White House a few years back. He’d been caught allowing a prostitute, whose toes he paid to suck, to listen in on private phone calls with President Clinton.
Unfair. Ironic. But politics isn’t fair. And neither nowadays is a large chunk of the media.
The most interesting question emerging from the controversy that cost Jones his job is what the episode tells us about the future of Glenn Beck. The real irony may be that, in going after Jones, the Fox hatchet man exposed himself as a modern day Joe McCarthy.
Ultimately, the senator who personified the red scares of the 1950s fell from his high wire, a victim of getting a bit too tricky for his own good. Despite his sky-high ratings and the celebratory somersaults he’s now taking while waving around Jones’ scalp, Beck appears to be losing his balance as well.
To reach that happy conclusion, we first have to acknowledge this: Jones had no choice but to quit the White House. As ambiguous and whimsical as they are, there are rules that govern media storms on the political landscape.
Applied in his case, those unwritten, ever-shifting rules say you can hang onto a midlevel White House post even if you once declared yourself communist. You can get away with being videotaped calling the opposition party “a**holes.” You’ll probably also be OK if you’re revealed to have signed a petition claiminggovernment leaders knew beforehand about the 9/11 attacks and allowed the attacks to happen anyway.
But, when you add those three small demerits together, you don’t get to keep your job in a White House that can’t afford distractions from its drive to pass a climate change bill. No matter how great a guy you are.
Many environmental bloggers are outraged that Obama didn’t stick up for Jones. That seems to me unfair. The outrage should be channeled productively toward Beck and Fox News. As much as Jones was made to pay for breaking those ambiguous ever-changing laws of political reality, so should Beck be made to pay for flouting them.
Beck, a right-wing radio host who parlayed say-anything showmanship into cable TV prominence, is a beneficiary in the devolution of the news media. His ratings have rumbled upwards as he rallied rightwing, demoralized citizens after Obama’s election victory. And the more he violates the principles that once governed journalism -- work like hell to be accurate, correct errors, seek to be fair, avoid conflicts of interest -- the more popular he seems to get.
But on July 28, he overstepped. In a rant of Fox & Friends, Beck called Obama “racist” and claimed the president has a “deep-seeded hatred for white people” -- two unfounded claims, especially given the president’s mixed racial heritage, that amount to race-baiting in themselves.
Here’s the kicker: Color of Change was founded by none other than Van Jones. Jones is no longer with the group. But Beck’s relentless attacks on Jones commenced after the Color of Change boycott began. Quite simply, he was settling a score, in the same way that the mob might do, and unfortunately Jones turned out to be vulnerable.
But the episode says more about Beck than it does about Jones. Call me an optimist, but it smacks of desperation to me. Beck isn’t likely to see his ratings drop any time soon. His Tea Party rallies will continue to draw huge and enthusiastic crowds. But the Color of Change campaign has marginalized him more than ever. And as he waves sheaves of supposed evidence, much as Joe McCarthy did, he is only drawing attention to his inevitable fate as another demagogue who did his damage but ultimately harmed his own cause.