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Tears of a Clown

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank examines the media and political phenomenon that is Glenn Beck.

By David Holahan / October 7, 2010

Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America By Dana Milbank Doubleday 261 pp., $24.95

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In his polemic biography of Glenn Beck, Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank vows redundantly to expose the lachrymose talk show host by “quoting him in his own words.” It is a technique, the author points out, that Beck himself purports to use in attacking his vast cadre of political opponents, dead or alive, who range from Woodrow Wilson and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt to Malia Obama, the president’s daughter.

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In the case of Malia, 11 at the time of the broadcast, Beck quoted her in his own words for a radio skit. Here’s one line Beck created for her: “Daddy, why do you still let Sarah Palin destroy the environment? Why are – Daddy, why don’t you just put her in some sort of camp?” Here’s another question that Beck’s Malia asked her father: “Why do you hate black people so much?”

Beck subsequently apologized for dragging the president’s family into the mud – families of his myriad ideological enemies are strictly off limits he had said both before and after maligning Malia – but practicing what he preaches is hardly one of Beck’s strong suits.

Crossing the line, however, is. For example, Beck spent a lot of air time – he’s on television and radio weekdays – propagating while simultaneously “trying to debunk” the rumor (although that might be too strong a word for it) that FEMA is setting up concentration camps for American citizens. In a show about the possibility of such camps in America, he asked guest James Meigs of Popular Mechanics if an Internet video narrated by a militia movement leader showed “a government-run concentration camp where atrocities – every reason to believe atrocities are going on?”

“Yes,” Meigs mechanically replied. On the next show, a day later, it was revealed that the video was of a North Korean camp, and weeks later Beck denied that he had ever said that the Obama administration was building concentration camps. He was just asking questions, trying to debunk something that clearly had him on high alert (virtually everything has him on high alert). Beck’s questions tend to be along the lines of, “Are you still cheating on your spouse?” Can’t disprove you aren’t, well....

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