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Time Misses the Mark with Glenn Beck Cover Story

This week’s Time Magazine cover story is dedicated to an in-depth profile of Glenn Beck. One could reasonably expect Time to do an accurate piece on Beck, documenting his endless lies and distortions, or perhaps even his history of anti-science rhetoric and blatant racism. Indeed, Time’s Managing Editor Rick Stengel hints at such an angle in the editor’s note in the print edition of the magazine:

"One of our jobs as journalists is to be the referee, the honest broker who sorts through the accusations and says, This is fact, and this is fantasy."

Greg Mitchell has already taken on the piece as a whole, taking particular issue with the he-said she-said style of journalism Stengel implies the piece would avoid.

I’d like to focus specifically on the short paragraph dedicated to Beck’s recent — and ultimately successfulsmear campaign against former White House green jobs adviser Van Jones.

He is having an impact. Along with St. Louis, Mo., blogger Jim Hoft, whose site is called Gateway Pundit, Beck pushed one of Obama’s so-called czars, Van Jones, to resign during Labor Day weekend. Jones, whose task was to oversee a green-jobs initiative, turned out to be as enchanted by conspiracies as Beck — he once theorized that "white polluters and the white environmentalists" are "steering poison into the people-of-color’s communities" and signed a petition demanding an investigation into whether the Bush Administration had a hand in the 9/11 attacks.

Distortion 1: Van Jones "turned out to be as enchanted by conspiracies as Beck".

This is absurd. Glenn Beck is a well-known conspiracy theorist. Here are a few examples of the crazy shit this guy believes:

Media Matters has much more on Glenn Beck’s history of promoting delusional conspiracy theories.

Van Jones, on the other hand, is a well-respected activist and best-selling author. Time Magazine itself saw fit to name Van Jones an Environmental Hero of 2008 and one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009.

Distortion 2: Time’s justification for claiming Jones was "as enchanted by conspiracy theories as Beck" was a statement Jones made prior to joining the Obama administration: "The white polluters and the white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people of color communities because they don’t have a racial justice frame."

This statement is largely true. United States history is filled with examples of corporations, state/local governments, and the Environmental Protection Agency — all run by white people — intentionally steering toxic and hazardous materials into impoverished communities of color. The Institute for Southern Studies recently documented some of this history. Here are just a few examples:
Sumter County, Alabama (1974)

In 1974, EPA nominated Sumter County, Alabama as a possible hazardous waste landfill site. The county, located in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt, is 71.8 percent is black. Over 35.9 percent of the county’s population is below poverty. In 1977, Resource Industries Inc. purchased a 300-acre tract of land just outside of Emelle, Ala. where over 90 percent of the residents are black. The permit for the facility was approved by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and EPA Region 4 over opposition of local residents who thought they were getting a brick factory. In 1978, Chemical Waste Management, a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc. bought the permit from Resource Industries Inc. and opened the nation’s largest hazardous was landfill, often tagged the Cadillac of Dumps.

Warren County, North Carolina (1979)

Between June 1978 and August 1978, over 30,000 gallons of waste transformer oil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were illegally discharged on roadsides in fourteen North Carolina counties. The PCBs resulted in the U.S. EPA designating the roadsides as a superfund site to protect public health. North Carolina needed a place to dispose of the PCB-contaminated soil that was scraped up from 210 miles of roadside shoulders. In 1979, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) along with EPA Region 4 selected rural, poor, and mostly black Warren County as the site for the PCB landfill.

In 1982, the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed suit in district court to block the landfill. The residents lost their case in court despite the fact that the Warren County PCB Landfill site was not scientifically the most suitable because the water table at the landfill is very shallow, only 5-10 feet below the surface and where the residents of the community get all of their drinking water from local wells. William Sanjour, head of the EPA’s hazardous waste implementation branch, questioned the Warren County landfill siting decision. The first truckload of contaminated soil that arrived at the landfill in September 1982 was met protesters. More than 500 demonstrators were jailed protesting landfill, sparking the national Environmental Justice Movement.

While an individual reporter for Time Magazine can be excused for complete unfamiliarity with the environmental justice movement, the magazine’s editorial staff can not. Portraying an accurate expression of environmental justice concerns as a conspiracy on par with Glenn Beck’s consistently hysterical lunacy is just not credible.

Distortion 3: Van Jones "signed a petition demanding an investigation into whether the Bush Administration had a hand in the 9/11 attacks."

Reporting on this claim without so much as noting the questions surrounding the claim’s veracity is the height of irresponsible journalism. Consider these facts:

  • Jones’ statement on the petition:"As for the petition that was circulated today, I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever."
  • Several of the other supposed signatories of the petition have disputed the method in which signatures were collected. Rabbi Michael Lerner: "I did not authorize my name to be used for all the other stuff that I now see was included surrounding the letter." Howard Zinn: "I did not sign a statement suggesting that ‘Bush had prior knowledge.’ I signed a statement calling for an investigation."

I will never cease to be amazed by the corporate media’s ability to cram three blatant distortions into one short paragraph. I’d accuse Time of printing such distortions intentionally but they would probably respond by calling me a conspiracy theorist and comparing me to Glenn Beck — a fate I’d rather avoid if at all possible.

Looking for further evidence that the Time profile of Beck was way off the mark? Glenn Beck himself has deemed it fair. This alone should make it clear to the casual observer that it is in fact anything but.

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Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson is a blogger, activist, and avid news junkie. He is currently the Manager of New Media at a Washington, DC area PR/Communications firm. In his spare time he enjoys arguing on the Internet, spending time with good people and talking politics. He can be reached at

Josh blogs about sustainability and politics at EnviroKnow.