Tag Archives: Bill O’Reilly

Question [Glenn Beck] With Boldness

This is not a post about all talk-radio hosts, nor about the left’s entertainer/newsman Jon Stewart (an interesting comparison to our subject), nor about the theology of Mormonism, nor on how many people attended the Restoring Honor rally, nor about the proper separation of church and state, nor even about how to use the tools of modern media to fullest advantage – as our subject certainly does.

It is about media personality Glenn Beck: where his culture war is taking him, and whether or not we should be along for the ride. More than simply one of many news sources, Beck has quickly gained an intensely devoted audience. Respected, God-fearing friends of mine have a “shrine of Glenn” at their home, full of his books and materials. To his credit, Beck tells his audience continually to question with boldness – so, I am.

I once was part of this crowd. “Here’s a guy who gets it and knows how to speak to today’s audiences,” I thought, never missing his radio show for months. Upon closer observation, Beck’s subtle flaws became clear.

The buzz around Beck has gotten so big, let me address a larger audience. As I am committed to both evangelical Christianity and political conservatism, you may question whether my views are dangerous or wrongly balanced. Perhaps they are sometimes.

Here’s the thing: for many Americans, Christians among them, politics and public policy is a habit picked up every four years or so. Others of us study and think about these ideas everyday because it’s part of our job or calling. If you’re in the former group, especially if you lean more to the left, God bless you. We trusting in the same Father matters more than sharing political ideology.

You may not like this blog though. Ask me sometime why I see politics from the lens of conservatism. For now, “Just smile and wave, boys, just smile and wave.”

Back to where we started… What Beck wants is for you, Mr. or Ms. Conservative, to watch his show; my case is why you should do so with a very critical eye, or not at all.

Conservatives must learn to reason and debate well, which won’t happen if we play it loose with reality (political or otherwise), if we never question simplistic arguments, and if we marry spiritual and political activism in a passionate, emotional fling.

But before the crit, a word on Why is Beck so incredibly successful?

My theory: he is a very talented entertainer, and he is the ultimate coalition-builder.

The entertainment factor gets people in the door – the funny voices he does, witty banter with his producers, soaking a guest with gasoline, and a hundred other things. Beck started as a radio DJ, bicycle horn on-air and all. Today, he still plays the part, though it’s a tongue-in-cheek humor sensitive to not offending his increasingly faith-based audience. As writers tell me humor is the hardest thing to do well, Beck talking four hours on-air daily is no small feat.

In terms of rallying folks to his cause, look no further than those involved in the Restoring Honor rally. From James Dobson to Bishop Harry Jackson, from Rabbi Daniel Lapin to Jerry Falwell Jr., conservative religious leaders are lining up behind Beck like he’s the second coming of Billy Graham. In short: Beck out-Palins Palin. Unlike her, his fun-to-watch programs also bring in edgy libertarians, economy-minded centrists, and right-leaning politicos motivated by many diverse issues.

Influential leaders are among Beck’s fans not only due to his magnetic personality; Beck truly enjoys people and believes each person has unlimited potential.

How could such a funny, outgoing guy – seemingly doing a world of good – create trouble?

1. Glenn Beck Plays it Loose with Reality

Working in a Congressman’s office gives you a new perspective. Today, more so than Limbaugh, Levin, Hannity or Dobson, it’s good ol’ Glenn Beck who generates the highest number of calls to Capitol Hill… usually on bogus issues.

A prime example of this is HR 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010. Now, the issue of Puerto Rico’s past and future status is quite complex; dig into this 54-page CRS report if you’re curious. This latest bipartisan bill was designed to give the citizens of Puerto Rico a path of self-determination, laying out a long process of possibilities.

Beck boils it all down to the caption of this video: “Call your Congressman or get ready to sew another star on the flag”:

Politics is, by nature, boring and complicated. It’s easier if you color every political issue with red and blue crayons then tell people, “OK, blue is the bad guy.” As long as he’s getting top ratings, Beck has no qualms about miseducating his audience on conservative ideals… not to mention breaking every basic principle of journalism.

To understand how this came to be, look back at how Fox News started with a journalist on a culture war. Like him or not, Bill O’Reilly spent years as a reporter at ABC News. Sure, he has an ego, but O’Reilly is fair and he understands the big ideas of our time. Then Fox ups the ante. To capitalize on anti-media sentiment, why not give a prime-time slot to an “average Joe”? Enter Glenn Beck.

Whereas the purpose of journalism is to inform, Beck’s is to entertain. In this case, a real news outlet would follow-up: “HR 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, passed the House, here’s where it stands now…” After working his audience into a frenzy over this issue, Beck went right past explaining the bill’s next steps; he just pulled another rabbit out of his hat.

One rabbit Beck keeps tugging on is the need to “go back to simpler times,” to return to the virtuous and untainted past of America’s yesteryear. The problem is, such a time never existed in real life:

WATCH: Best segment ever produced on the ‘Nostalgia’ argument of the right

And the rewriting of history leads us to a related problem…

2. Beck Marries Spiritual and Political Activism – in a Fling of Emotion

I was surprised by what I found at Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally. It wasn’t a political event: no signs, no chanting, no get-out-the-vote closing directive. Social issues like abortion were mentioned only in the margins, primarily by Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; trying to censor her remarks would have been disrespectful of the day.

Yet the overall tone of the event was not just reverent: it was downright evangelistic. As I looked out across over 300,000 people (that’s according to a friend I spoke with days later at the National Park Service) gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, anyone could tell: Glenn Beck owns the Christian right. These were church-going, family-raising folks who saw something in this heavyset shock-jock that inspired them to drive across the country and be counted in his crusade.

What did they hear? Stirring music, the soothing voice of Glenn Beck, mixed with some interesting proclamations: “Our hope is based on our founders” … “We can either look at our scars, or let our scars redeem us” … “It is up to us”… and a lot of statements that began with, “There was a time when…”

For Glenn Beck, emotion (laughter, tears, anger, fear, nostalgia) trumps reason and facts every time. He reaches similar conclusions to orthodox Christianity, but how Beck gets there is not in keeping with the words of Christ: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). God cares about us using our minds fully for Him. Beck is so good at playing an emotional trump card, you don’t even realize it’s happening.

I can’t deny Beck and those he champions say much that is true. Not only politically, but also about the intersection of faith and government, about family as a central social institution, about respecting our fellow man, about natural law undergirding legislative powers. In fact, they get so much right that Beck is now accorded the status of a prophet in many circles.

Which is where many well-meaning people get derailed. “That Glenn Beck, we need to pray for his protection everyday, the enemy is out to destroy his prophetic voice,” the head of an international ministry told me privately.

Do pray for Glenn Beck, seriously. Just recognize this man is an entertainer who makes no secret of that fact.

3. Beck Trips Up on His Own Ego

My life journey has, for whatever reason, placed me very close to large, influential organizations who grew to critical mass proclaiming our role on the “frontlines of defending truth and right”: Oral Roberts University, New Life Church in Colorado Springs, the Republican Party… I could go on.

Each organization has recently faced far-reaching scandals. Most have regained balance in their mission and learned something in the process (jury is still out on the latter).

Why am I telling you this? In each case, we were so caught up in the bubble – the internal culture and excitement of being part of something “good” and bigger than ourselves – that we missed warning signs our leaders’ words and actions were telegraphing to us. Implicit trust in these leaders, without thought of accountability, created a stage upon which their ego had free reign.

Ironically, the one commentator who applied this most purely to Beck said it directly to him on-air. On the Glenn Beck Prayer Podcast (yeah, that really exists), James Robison spoke a message from Isaiah 50 – urging America to “Begin to walk in God’s light, instead of our own light.”

James Robison (Life Outreach International) on Glenn Beck Prayer Podcast – Aug. 25, 2010

Listen carefully to Beck. Even with his move from newsertainment to “inspirational” programming, count how many times in an hour he tells his audience to sign up for his subscribers-only service. Consider how much e-newsletter space is devoted to mocking anyone who criticizes him. And, in his three-hour patriotic love letter to his vast conservative faith-driven audience, where does Beck draw a line between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God? Erasing those lines, muddling theology for millions of Americans, does not line up with the Gospel.

If we platform Glenn Beck as a religious leader, we are setting up new Christians to be sorely disappointed by their patron saint. Result: even more people bitter at Jesus Christ and His followers. Though only in my twenties, I’ve seen this movie many times – the ending is a real downer.

In conclusion

Not only have I been part of Beck’s audience, sometimes I still am. I love a good laugh, and I always get it with Glenn Beck: often at his jokes, sometimes at his inconsistencies.

He's not really a Professor - Beck just plays one on TV

We could all learn something from this singular entertainer about the importance of sharp humor, being transparent about past problems, and taking bold actions based on your beliefs. Not to mention how to master technology and multiple media platforms.

But if it’s cogent political analysis, cultural commentary, or (good heavens) anything coming close to Bible teaching, thankfully, we have so many better sources to turn to.

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Out of the FOXhole, Into the Battle of Ideas

When it comes to getting the news, we live in an incredible time. Americans in the 1800s had to rely solely on what stories came down the telegraph wire. Or fast forward to the 1960s, when three news networks reported the same events in the same way. Today, we are overwhelmed by options: satellite radio, hundreds of TV channels, millions of blogs and entire books that can be sent to an iPad in seconds.

To quote Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. We in the conservative movement have unfortunately given one network the power to begin every conversation, to set the tone and essentially draft the agenda on what matters to us.

Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel (FNC)

I respect the media empire Fox News Channel (FNC) has become. Roger Ailes, president of FNC since its start in 1996, says his guiding values are “God, country, family.” No wonder his network appeals to hard-working, everyday Americans.

However, it’s a dangerous thing to end your news-gathering at one media source.

After seven months on Capitol Hill, I see the love-hate relationship Congress has with Fox News—even a strongly conservative office like the one I served as an intern. The network is helping more than anyone to rally the right together. But to what end?

Fox News, like most TV networks, depends on revenue from advertisers to exist. Advertisers pay more if your audience is larger. Which means that, apart from any noble goal of truth-telling, FNC producers care most about increasing their audience. As Roger Ailes said recently on ABC News: “I’m not in politics, I’m in ratings.”

And Fox has figured out better than any other news/entertainment operation how to bring in more viewers: create an emotional connection with TV hosts, tell stories with clear-cut heroes and villains (when reality has more gray), always keep the drama high.

Bigger issues are also at stake. Every dialogue with your liberal friends (I hope you have many) is an opportunity to give new insight. Since they get news from the mainstream media, that’s your “in.”

For instance: if I started discussing President Obama’s connections to Mao, my Democrat friends would tune me out. But if I engage them with respect, talking up the stories they follow—mentioning relevant facts they perhaps missed—they’ll listen.

“It’s easier for me to watch Fox News,” a busy working mom recently told me. “At least they don’t have a liberal bias.” No need to abandon FNC entirely; even the New York Times assigned a reporter to watch Fox so the paper would not miss stories like why Van Jones resigned.

One thing we can all do is change the channel more often to hear what other credible voices are saying. Some places you can start:

TELEVISION

C-SPAN. It’s boring at first, I admit. But after a few dozen hours watching Congress in-session, you’ll begin to recognize Congressional leaders and how they discuss current events. I’d say at least 20% of current legislators are standing for conservative values; C-SPAN is the #1 source for getting to know them firsthand.

Morning Joe. A former Republican Congressman, Joe Scarborough hosts a casual panel of liberals and conservatives every weekday morning on MSNBC. Morning Joe provides a different sort of “fair and balanced”—where the right isn’t always guaranteed to win the debate. That’s a good thing.

RADIO

NPR. Without question NPR leans to the left. (Of the infamous exchange between Terry Gross and Bill O’Reilly, an NPR spokesman said: “…the interview only served to confirm the belief, held by some, in NPR’s liberal media bias.”) But no one does radio news better than NPR. No one.

Dennis Prager and Michael Medved. These two conservative Jewish hosts break the mold of talk radio, giving religion and culture as much airtime as the political battles of the day.

WEBSITES

The Wall Street Journal (wsj.com). With its accurate reporting and “big tent” of conservative opinion, WSJ has recently become the most-read newspaper in the nation. Be wary, though, of a corporate bent that can get out-of-hand; in late 2008, the paper was flush with pro-bailout editorials and not a single opposing viewpoint.

The Hill (thehill.com). Congressional staff read The Hill everyday, in print or e-newsletters. Despite a left-leaning perspective, it’s a valuable source for news on Congressional legislation, election fundraising and political stories that matter.

WORLD Magazine (worldmag.com). Some faith-based voices subtly assert that their worldview perfectly matches that of God Himself. Talk about dangerous. Thankfully, the journalists at WORLD Magazine cover politics, culture and international news with professionalism – recognizing the Bible is neither Democrat nor Republican.

PODCASTING

So how do I make time for all this media and still get on with life? The secret is podcasting. All the media sources listed above have an audio or video podcast – a program you can download for free onto your computer or portable device. Learn more about how to enjoy podcasts at www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts.

A few other programs not to miss if you get into podcasting:

Cato Daily Podcast (cato.org). For advocates of limited government, there is no more reliable or thorough source than The Cato Institute.

Sunday talk shows (search iTunes). It’s like watching presidential debates, only better. Each of these shows—Face the Nation, Meet the Press, etc.—feature guests from both left and right every Sunday morning. Thanks to podcasting, you can subscribe  online and enjoy the shows after whatever weekend worship service you attend.

Like a soldier leaving his safe foxhole, enter the battle of ideas. Have you found other news media with solid reporting and centrist analysis? Share them below.

Happy Holy Days!

I am a bit surprised by Christian groups who engage in the “War on Christmas” campaign. Perhaps if someone presented a clear case for why only “Merry Christmas!” is a valid greeting, I could be convinced otherwise.

Five reasons why “Happy Holidays!” works great as a Christmas greeting

1) Holidays = holy days. Look at the etymology, there’s nothing secular about this greeting. In addition to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, many consider Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve to be “holy days” – days set apart to share in thankfulness to God with close friends and family.

2) “Happy Holidays” respects Hanukkah. Because I respect that Jews observe their religious festivals, and I use the phrase “Judeo-Christian values” in discussing America’s heritage of faith, it seems appropriate to honor their celebration of eight consecutive days of gift-giving in December. Note that the observance of Hanukkah predates when the world began celebrating Christmas.

3) Followers of Jesus should not reinforce stereotypes of being pushy and overly vocal about non-issues. Christians already have a long track record of taking inappropriate actions in the public square: money-for-healing schemes on Christian TV, racial discrimination in churches, Pat Robertson’s remarks about assassinating the leader of Venezuela… the list goes on.

I do not equate the “War on Christmas” with those various scandals/offenses. What I’m saying is those actions came from not thinking through the consequences of speaking for God in mainstream culture. All those offenders perhaps had good intentions, but they harmed Christianity long-term. Surely being salt and light as Jesus exemplified doesn’t look like a pushy PR campaign insisting that the fallen world take certain actions to mollify believers. That seems and sounds wrong on so many levels.

4) The campaign to force the use of “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays” is actually a crass commercial itself. After Bill O’Reilly began achieving huge ratings in November and December whenever his cable TV show covered the “War on Christmas,” the marketplace began to take notice. The religious marketplace, that is.

As WORLD Magazine stated recently in an editorial, and I can confirm having worked for a ministry that sold these “Wish Me a Merry Christmas” trinkets – promoting this campaign to Christians leads to hefty sales of low-cost, high-priced promotional items. So rather than spending your limited giving budget on meaningful gifts or charity that could make a difference, it goes toward a self-perpetuating, largely pointless campaign.

5) Tax-deductible resources that Christian donors give for charity and public advocacy would be better used elsewhere. In DC, there is a great awareness of political capital and its limits: an organization or office can only devote time, effort, energy, public reputation, and funds to a select few causes. Otherwise, your message gets very muddy and confusing – very fast. True stewardship calls for using these valuable assets on significant causes like preserving human life or strengthening traditional marriage.

With his research staff and vast audience to provide story tips, Bill O’Reilly will certainly find a few examples of blatant religious liberties abuses in searching nationwide for juicy stories. All the best to O’Reilly in righting these perceived injustices.

Since Fox News is “looking out for the folks” on this issue, the question becomes: should religious non-profits be in the business of fleecing the flock by drumming up more outrage? Or is the message of Christmas something completely different, without a fundraising component to it?

Of course, it’s a free country and organizations will do as they please. But if I see this “War on Christmas” as nonsense, maybe other 30-something-and-younger Christians do too. And we’re tuning out the self-appointed judges of retail and media.

Your thoughts? Always interested in hearing facts or perspective I’m missing…

Breakdown of Legitimacy: How the Disastrous Bailout Passed

I do not profess to know much on economics, especially not an economy as complex as our nation’s. But I do have a brain, along with a few years in business school. And for the past two weeks since this “financial crisis” has been looming, I’ve devoted many hours to researching this plan. Neither the mainstream nor conservative media has been much help.

Americans must realize what role the 24/7 news cycle has played in this debacle. For the past year or so, the words “credit”, “housing” and “financial” could not be said on-air without being followed by the word “crisis.”

Is that really an accurate way to view the world? Or have all these sectors gone up-and-down over the past many decades? Does the market inevitably have cycles?

We live in a world where TV commentators report on a story one day, then in the “follow-up” tomorrow want the issue solved. It’s more entertaining that way, and today the news industry plays the ratings race perhaps more so than dramatic TV.

TV is not alone in thinking only short-term, ultimately trying to build public support for this big-government solution. Here’s my recent letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Examining the role of media in the recent $700 billion bailout provides a missing understanding of how the events transpired. Though I have long been an avid reader of The Wall Street Journal, it is apparent that this “big tent” of conservative thought has excluded other viewpoints on this risky, highly controversial handout to Wall Street.

On any issue of the day–regarding education, government regulation, corporate policies, technology, health care, military, climate change, gun rights, and many others–I have counted on WSJ for robust debate and a discovery of facts that other media missed. So it was that I visited WSJ.com’s Wall Street in Crisis section trying to understand the pros and cons of the bailout.

Story after story, blog after blog, op-ed after op-ed in this section preached only the benefits and urgency of the bailout. This perspective even seeped into front page news stories. On Monday, September 29, as more Americans than ever were reading The Wall Street Journal trying to understand what was going on, the paper referred to Lehman Brothers as a “158 year-old” financial institution whose collapse meant certain “crisis.”

“Wow, Honey, maybe this financial stuff really is serious if a bank that old is going down?” The problem is, this article said nothing about Lehman Bros. being essentially a shingle for American Express, which spun off this unit in 1994. It said nothing about the 2003 investigation into the company’s shady investment practices.

We were just supposed to think that Lehman was as legitimate a bank as say Wells Fargo, backed with solid collateral but now going under. This was simply not true. Clearly The Wall Street Journal had a dog in this fight, and the editors made sure it ended up winning.

Not only has the financial sector suffered a breakdown of legitimacy in the past weeks–so has the media, even conservative-leaning media previously thought to be trustworthy. Media junkies beware: no news outlet is, in fact, “fair and balanced.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The last reference is, of course, to Fox News. It’s notable that Bill O’Reilly bought the Treasury’s arguments early on, and espoused those views for the two-week public debate on the bailout.

From what I could tell, O’Reilly’s stand with President Bush convinced Sean Hannity and others to back down on their hard line against the bailout. Interesting audio clip from Bill here:

Bill O\’Reilly audio clip from The Laura Ingraham Show

So where do we go from here?

For starters, don’t buy the pointless commentary espoused on TV: “We’re concerned about what the market’s going to do tomorrow.” The markets will go up and down. It would’ve gone down if the bailout failed, and that’s natural. We’re likely looking at a worse crash in 2009 due to this bailout; watch Cato.org for the best analysis I’ve seen.

Second, it pains me that President Bush’s legacy is The Republican who Stood for Big Government. Even apart from defense spending, you cannot deny that Bush has bloated the government beyond what any true conservative would ever stand for. He may be the strongest Christian evangelical the White House has seen in a long time, but that’s no excuse for his poor economic policies.

It should be noted, though, that the state of the economy isn’t all Bush’s fault–that’s a really dumb view propagated by the far left. A lot of people are at fault.

Third, the election. I’ve noticed an editorial tilt even in the Wall Street Journal that hopes for an Obama administration. Opinion columns are showing both views, sure, but regular coverage is giving more space to pro-Obama voices. Despite the fact that WSJ has traditionally been against big government, which is exactly what Obama/Biden mandate.

Maybe The Wall Street Journal, clearly in the tank for corporate fat cats, is scared that McCain/Palin would deliver on their promise to affect the financial sector in favor of the American people (to the extent that the Executive branch can, which may be negligible). And WSJ wants nothing of it. This is just my view, though, and less fact-based the rest of the commentary presented here.

Your thoughts?