Confidence Game

When Glenn Beck talks, people listen. Too bad he’s selling his fans to the highest bidder.

Photo: Anne Hamersky

Say what you will about Glenn Beck (yes, that…and that…and that, too), but he’s good at what he does. The wink, the nod, the tilt of the head, the preacher’s roar, and the seducer’s whisper—he deploys them all deftly, beautifully, really, if you’re into that sort of thing. This is a guy, after all, who helped pioneer the rants-and-pranks format known as morning-zoo radio back in the ’80s. (That was before Beck divorced, quit coffee and cocaine, remarried, and became a Mormon.) As Beck himself pointed out this spring, “I could give a flying crap about the political process…we’re an entertainment company.”

Fine. All of us in media are, to some extent, entertainers; all of us make a deal with the audience that you’ll give us your time, and we’ll try to make it worthwhile.

But we also make another deal. We promise to inform, challenge, or amuse you, and in return we ask for your trust. And that means the information (or amusement) we offer shouldn’t set you up as prey for someone else.

That’s the contract Glenn Beck has broken. Over and over on his show, he’ll lecture listeners on how the US dollar is about to go kablooie as the Obama administration destroys the republic to achieve its dream of global socialism. If you don’t prepare for the meltdown by buying gold, he warns, you’re not taking care of your future. And who should you buy gold from? Why, the same company that—now that most mainstream advertisers have fled Beck’s toxic orbit—is one of his biggest remaining sponsors: Goldline.

All of us in media make a deal. We promise to inform, challenge, and amuse you. In return we ask for your trust. That means we shouldn’t set you up as prey for someone else.

As MoJo‘s Stephanie Mencimer extensively documents, Goldline has been called out again and again for shunting hapless Beck fans into buying not bullion, as was their original intent, but antique Swiss francs and other foreign coins—which Goldline marks up by about a third. In May, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) asked federal agencies to investigate; Beck responded by asking his audience to send in pictures of the congressman with a “wiener nose.” Much ink has been spilled about how Beck and his cohorts are wrecking the nation’s political discourse (it’s saying something when Bill O’Reilly is starting to look like a voice of civility and reason). Far less attention has been paid to what these talkers, and the politicians who benefit from their invective, are doing to their own constituency. It’s one thing to rail against a president whom you genuinely believe is taking the country off a cliff (we’ve all been there). It’s another to lead your audience into a fantasy world where the political process is controlled by forces so dark and menacing, it really doesn’t make sense to try to participate—but hey, how about that nest egg? “There are those in power who [are] trying to destroy the dollar,” Beck exhorts. “Not much you and I can do about it. Well, there are a few things. You can prepare yourself… If you have the money to buy it, protect yourself from an out-of-control government with gold.”

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