Glenn Beck doesn’t know the difference between a person and an office
Often, when a powerful person wants to silence some kind of criticism, they’ll file a SLAPP suit, a strategic lawsuit against public participation. The goal isn’t to win the lawsuit – it’s to force the critical party to mount a (sometimes quite costly) legal defense. As a side benefit, other would-be critics often become collateral damage; they don’t become actual critics out of fear that they’ll be sued, as well.
These kinds of threats, whether tacit or spoken, are threats against the First Amendment – they combine the power of capital with the power of government action to prevent an individual from having to answer their critics.
Instead of filing lawsuits, Glenn Beck hosts a right-wing talk show on FoxNews and frequently chooses to highlight members of the opposition who are more obscure – that is, less powerful. His latest target, Frances Fox Piven, is a professor of Political Science and Sociology at CUNY. She’s received career awards, association presidencies and various other academic awards. She’s a columnist in the Nation. As far as the academic world goes, she’s a relatively powerful woman whose ideas are well-regarded. However, this power is dwarfed by the bully pulpit that comes along with an hour-long prime-time talk show on a major cable news network.
The imbalance of power isn’t the only problem, though. The way Beck talks about Piven is, at best, problematic, and at worst, covertly threatening. Beck has characterized Piven as someone we should all be concerned about, in the wake of the Arizona shooting, due to her violent rhetoric. On his website, he’s compiled video clips of her public statements to support this contention:
It’s telling that at no point in this video does Piven actually call for violence against another person. She calls for a “massive defiant movement” against foreclosure, “striking, blockading the streets, shutting down the schools,” refers to “powerful, unruly, disruptive movements” from the “bottom of society. The closest she comes to actually advocating violence is her claim that she doesn’t treat non-violence as a necessary rule, within a discussion of her respect for non-violence. At no point does Piven advocate specific acts of violence against specific individuals.
But Glenn Beck is insistent that Piven’s rhetoric is exactly the kind of violent, inflammatory speech that should be monitored, equating Piven’s call for action against institutions with the kinds of violent threats the left-wing has been pointing to as problematic. I don’t think Beck is being disingenuous here; I think he genuinely can’t distinguish between governmental and economic institutions, like schools, businesses and welfare rolls, and actual human beings. This, I think, is truly terrifying.