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Johnson '11: Drive home safely, Glenn

Society scored a huge victory Wednesday when Fox News Network announced it is taking the hatchet to Glenn Beck's television show. In recent weeks, as the economy continued to create jobs, the esteemed Beck became increasingly erratic, spouting more and more ridiculous anti-Semitic drivel in an effort to draw his fleeing viewers back into the fold.

Chalk was flying everywhere, and Beck appeared as red-faced as ever as he told whomever would listen that the revolts in the Middle East were a conspiracy by American liberals and Muslim extremists to create a caliphate ruled by Sharia Law. He told what was left of his band of followers to start hoarding food and provisions for the coming apocalypse. Leave it to Beck to take pro-democracy revolutions and cast them as the devil — that is because democracy leaves blowhards like him behind.

For instance, when was the last time you heard from Sarah Palin? Michele Bachmann? The big Republican headline grabber now is Donald Trump, who unabashedly repeats thoroughly debunked myths and hearsay evidence to proclaim his doubt that President Obama was born in Hawaii. The birthers are back, and it is a sad day for the GOP when there are popular candidates — Trump trails the front-runner Mitt Romney in New Hampshire by just 6 percent — who make Palin and Bachmann seem centrist.

Now, it would be naive to think that we could declare the politics of fear dead in America. The cynic would say that Trump is being trotted out to make Palin look sane and more attractive as a candidate. If there is anything the political middle of the country hates more than a neocon, it's a birther. We will most certainly see more of Beck as time goes forward, but his pulpit is now reduced to sharing camera time with whatever poor soul the network uses as a balanced analyst on an issue.

There are three issues cited as the reason for Beck's unceremonious departure — the well-publicized advertising boycott, the possible damage he was causing to Fox News' "fair and balanced" brand and his precipitous drop in ratings in both television and radio. The ad boycott was a hollow promise. Those companies that pulled their ads from Beck's hour still advertised on Fox News at other times. While the symbolism of the boycott was not lost on the American viewership, the economic pressure was likely illusory. Furthermore, Fox News is not now, nor has it ever been, "fair and balanced." Brown students are all too familiar with a man by the name of Bill O'Reilly.

What really caused the toppling of the Beck monstrosity were active viewers. Viewers stopped watching his television show, listeners stopped listening to his radio show and his ratings took a nosedive too precipitous for Rupert Murdoch to overlook. Couple that with Beck's frantic dash even further toward the right-wing extreme to energize some new recruits — Zionists are responsible for the Federal Reserve, really? — Fox News' real reasons are clear. Instead of being an obvious conservative outlet, the station was swiftly becoming the platform from which Beck spun his tales of race-based conspiracy.

On Wednesday, the power of the television viewer was demonstrated. American democracy is no longer a once-a-year proposition. Millions of us across the nation vote every night with the simple decision to turn our television on or leave it off, and it's about time we began exercising that power. I would argue that the toppling of Beck was inevitable — he is, and always will be, a conspiracy theorist on the fringe, and should be firmly sent there. But perhaps now we can focus on the more mainstream analysts who simply color everything with their own partisan bias.

I recently read an article about the most memorable moments in journalism — they were all from before the 24-hour news cycle. Even the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001 did not make the cut. Perhaps it is because it is too soon to judge those moments, or perhaps this is because the potent moments were lost in the mind-numbing volume of coverage.

What happened to Walter Cronkite shedding a single tear with John F. Kennedy's assassination? There was more raw emotion in that single choked sob than in all of the Rachel Maddow and O'Reilly diatribes we are graced with every weeknight. In the old era of journalism, even ESPN had journalistic credibility — Jim McKay's mortified "They're all gone" at the 1972 Olympics said more in three words than any Keith Olbermann list possibly could.

Edward Murrow is credited with bringing down McCarthyism by demonstrating it was a witch hunt. He did this without calling McCarthy a Nazi or drawing on a chalkboard. He did this by looking into a camera and reading the news. The American people are smart — we demonstrated it leading up to April 6. We do not need partisan blowhards telling us what to think. We need the networks to tell us what has happened and let us form our own decisions. Force the news outlets to take us seriously, and we'll take back our news.

Mike Johnson '11 is mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore.


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