Welcome author, Alexander Zaitchik, and Host, Sara Robinson.

Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance

“People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”
— Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf, chapter 6

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
— Joseph Goebbels

The biggest Big Liar on the American scene today is Glenn Beck. Two million Americans watch his show on FOX every day. Many millions more listen to his radio show.

How big a liar are we talking about here? Try this one on for size:

“We will reclaim the civil rights moments — because, dammit, we were the people who did it in the first place.”
— Glenn Beck, May 26, 2010

Gobstopping, isn’t it — how you can just rewrite a dozen of most agonizing, contentious, and important years in American history in one sentence like that? Where do you even begin to set the record straight?

Especially when Beck is planning to reclaim the central moment of that movement — the 1963 March on Washington — with a “civil rights” event of his own this summer, on the same date, in the same place. He’s obviously trying to overwrite an established piece of black-letter American history with an event of his own, muddling King’s legacy in a way that will mute his iconic place in our mythos as a towering witness for social justice. And since Beck is on a personal crusade against the very idea of “social justice” –which he blasts several times a week on his shows as anti-American and anti-Christian — taking down King is a necessary first step in that effort.

Who is this guy? A precocious former Top 40 deejay with a longstanding drug problem, no discernible book learning, and a mean streak a mile deep. A “morning zoo” radio host known for his ruthlessness in ratings wars, yet unable to keep any job for more than a couple of years. A Mormon convert who immediately gravitated to the farthest edges of that faith’s orthodoxy. The hottest host on cable TV. And soon, if all goes according to “The Plan,” America’s next great spiritual leader, stepping boldly forward to guide the Tea Party faithful in a complete re-making of this nation.

Just how much should progressives worry about Glenn Beck? It’s hard to say.

When you consider the toxic stew of faux science, revisionist history, rank fearmongering, out-and-out disinformation, and over-the-top sentimentalism that passes for “patriotism” that is a typical Glenn Beck show, the answer might be: we should worry a lot. Or — when you consider the way that the steam seems to have cooled out of the Tea Party tempest over the past few months (to the point where they had to cancel this month’s annual convention) — the answer might be: maybe not so much.

I can (and have) argued both sides of this question. Today, we’re going to put the conundrum to Alex Zaitchik, author of the new book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance. Besides being an engaging telling of Beck’s personal tale, the book examines Beck’s character and motivations in a way that might help progressives get a better handle on who he is, what he means to do to America, and what we’re really up against as long as he’s out there promoting this entirely alternative version of American reality.