Glenn Beck, a former cornerstone of Fox News, made a return to the conservative media giant’s soundstage for an interview with Megyn Kelly last week.
However, his remarks were uncharacteristic and introspective, as the words he offered about his time on the network almost sounded like regret.
“I remember it as an awful lot of fun, and that I made an awful lot of mistakes, and I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language because I think I played a role unfortunately in helping tear the country apart. And it’s not who we are,” Mr. Beck said.
“I didn’t realize how really fragile the people were. I thought we were kind of a little more in it together. And now I look back and I realize if we could have talked about the uniting principles a little more, instead of just the problems, I think I would look back on it a little more fondly. But that’s only my role.”
The sincerity of Mr. Beck’s remarks remain in question, only to be answered by time, but they open a worthwhile discussion on the use of rhetoric — not to be confused with other terms like “facts” and “informed opinions.” It’s those little sound bites that get thrown around without pesky things like context.
And the Glenn Beck rhetoric mill was always, in my opinion, a bit low on grist. He certainly isn’t alone. Offenders can be found on both sides of the aisle, but Mr. Beck is a particular breed of the American pundit.
With the use of words like “Nazi” and “terrorist” as easy as breathing and careless “isms” flying about from every direction, the host was reckless, at best. However, his verbose style and infamous chalkboard repeatedly earned him a place on “Most Influential People” lists by TIME and Forbes magazines, and his self-titled show was the highest-rated segment on the network in its heyday.
With his massive success behind him, Mr. Beck’s sudden enlightenment — or, more likely, an attempt at rebranding — does not merit absolution of past media sins. A single interview pales in comparison to years of alarmist conspiracy theories and emotional manipulation.
But what was it Mr. Beck actually said in those few sentences? By saying, “I didn’t realize how really fragile the people were,” did he really mean, “I didn’t realize if I called (insert name here) a fascist my viewers would think he actually subscribed to those theories?”
Does, “I think I played a role unfortunately in helping tear the country apart,” translate into, “I perpetuated reckless media practices and now the country is paralyzed by hollow invective"?
Here’s what I heard. Mr. Beck was clearly and undeniably unaware the practice of demonizing, villainizing and occasionally dehumanizing anyone with an opposing view sends any and all hope for meaningful discussion up in flames.
The most important class I took in college was “Argumentation and Debate.” The first week we learned the basic standards of debate that each side must agree to before any discussion can take place. This included an adherence to logic and recognition of the debate’s purpose — a productive solution. It seemed obvious and trivial. But as I returned to my nightly news, now equipped with the rules for rational discussion, it became exceedingly clear some people just weren’t playing by them.
If two people happen to land on opposing sides of an argument, it is their differing morals and experiences that color their ideas on how to find a solution, not a deep-seated desire to actively destroy America.
Without these principles, media pundits degrade themselves to the level of a playground bully, possessing no more insight than a crude joke or a slur. And whether it is their intention or not, those who have been given a pulpit to spout their personal opinions are responsible for steering the agenda of public discussion.
Maybe there are some people in the world who just want to watch it burn and unfortunately meander in front of a camera.
Perhaps Glenn Beck isn’t one of these people. Either way, he definitely didn’t read the rules.
(Christa Nianiatus is a reporter with Bradford Publishing Co., which includes the Olean Times Herald, The Salamanca Press and The Bradford Era.)