"A Lot of People Have Lost a Lot of Money Betting Where The Floor is in Recent Years"

By Chris Mooney | August 20, 2010 9:25 am

Glenn Beck Alexander Zaitchik bookI was re-listening to the latest Point of Inquiry podcast, and really loved this moment, around minute 23:00. I think it was Alex Zaitchick’s best sound bite of the interview, about how shifting media standards have enabled Glenn Beck:

One of the strange things about our era right now is that standards just keep mutating and changing. And just when you think something has gone too far, it’s not even a blip. What was a controversy a year ago gets one day on Media Matters now and then it’s on to the next controversy. I mean, calling the president of the United States a racist can lose you some sponsors, but then a year after that, [Beck] compares the president to a character from Planet of the Apes, and people don’t even notice. So it’s really–I think a lot of people have lost a lot of money betting where the floor is in recent years.

True. Too true. In fact, I feel like I’m one of them.

Once again, the show with Alex Zaitchik is here….hope you’ll check it out if you haven’t already.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: point of inquiry

Comments (24)

  1. CW

    Yeah, I listened to it. And that was a good sound bite. It was a good episode as a whole, but I ended up feeling a bit bummed afterward. Hearing the reasons why Beck isn’t going anywhere soon, was a bit discouraging.

    You mentioned something else in the show about how conservatives groups/pundits do a good job of ignoring opposing viewpoints, and many liberal groups/pundits do the exact opposite – thus giving the conservative voices more legitimacy (at the same time – feeding into the notion of how they’re position is under attack). If this is true, I’d be interested in reading information on why/how those strategies came to be.

  2. David

    These pundits are just filling a void that the rest of the media created. The whole ultra-conservative media of the likes of Beck, Limbaugh, Levin, et. al. are never going to go away as long as the rest of the media maintains the practice of biased reporting leaning the other way. The little bit I listen to the radio any more is during the commute to work where I alternate between NPR news and AM talk radio. It is like listening to news on two different planets. Both put out some truth interspersed with a whole lot of untenable garbage. Both are spending their time trying to persuade rather than inform. Thankfully, it is a short drive.

    As far as the floor of the level of civility, that went out the door when Rhett said, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Ever since, it has been a contest to see who could keep up the shock value fresh.

  3. Hans Peter

    That is a good, though disturbing sound bite. It was generally reassuring when those in the far right media get called out for making sensationalistic, irrational statements regarding Obama, e.g. “the president is a racist”, “the president is born in Kenya”, “the president is buddies with terrorists”; the accusations from which these are based all have sound, rational arguements against them that have been well-documented, and got good media coverage, over the past year. The lack of reaction to the more recent sensiationalistic statements is troubeling, regardless of your political orientation. It could be taken as a sign that rational arguements and statements are having even less of a role in politic discourses than the very marginalized role they had before. Beck threw out rationality out the window long ago, and his appeal is to the emotions of his conservative base, not their brains, is the secret of his success… it is just populism, and at its worst… It is just reducing the whole thing to an us vs them name-calling event…

    My Question is, what is the best media antidote to someone like Beck? An equally irrational person on the left, who says that decreased taxes are a slippery slope to religous-autocratic-based tyrannies on the drop of a dime. I say no. If irrationality kills out rationallity in the upcoming political discourse, I would like to say that those who believe in rational-minded political statements, and are in the media, to remain standing up, and don’t stoop to their playground antics…

  4. Mike

    Just some food for thought; perhaps the liberal default position of insisting that everyone who disagrees with them is either misinformed or “stupid” hasn’t endeared them to the viewing/listening public. Also, the liberal media seem to have a learning disability concerning how that pesky “free market” thing works. Glenn Beck dominates the ratings because he “reflects” his audience very effectively. Compared to Glenn Beck, who is for profit, the subsidized “Media Matters” whether more factually correct or not, is irrelevant to the national conversation.

  5. cgray

    Standards changing? Couldn’t agree more. Remember when Bush was accused of using cocaine and the media treated it like it was the biggest deal in the world, and Bush should be disqualified from being president? And just eight short years later, Barry Hussein admitted he used cocaine, too, and it was no big deal at all. Amazing how that works, isn’t it?

  6. David


    They think that if they snicker and roll their eyes enough, that Beck will scurry back under whatever rock he crawled out of. Unfortunately, many in the liberal media really want to be saved from Beck by outlawing him rather than out competing him. What most of them don’t seem to understand is that such a law would be a double edged weapon. Once the precedent is made and they don’t control both houses of Congress, the Presidency, and a good portion of the Court they will find themselves meeting the likes of Joseph McCarthy again and be skewered on the same laws they would like to see passed to silence these kooks.

  7. ThomasL

    Yes cgay & David, Short memories, a failure to realize “power” shifts over time – and nothing to do with science. though I guess it is an interesting look at what the end result of using “framing” in the attempt to direct another’s way of thinking leads too, and Chris is interested in using the media to sell a specific way of seeing something more than as a way to provide information and allowing society to work out what such “means”…

  8. David


    Well, that is also a side effect of the whole mentality that the left presents. They believe that people as a whole are inherently incapable and need to be taken care of. Any media source that doesn’t echo their beliefs should be stamped out because people are too stupid to listen to the likes of Beck and not be taken in. Many years ago, I used to really enjoy to listen to Limbaugh in the early days of his show (yikes, that was nearly 20 years ago – I am getting old.). His show used to be a lot of fun to listen to. He was poking at liberals and conservatives alike. Then he took off on the kook path and I tuned him out. On the other side, Larry King used to have a wonderful radio show. Then, when he went to television, they changed it into the liberal kook path. I tuned him out too.

    The liberals are their own worst enemy in the media battle though. When they try to stamp out the opposition, it only fans the flames and gives these people ammunition.

  9. Hume's Ghost

    I’ve had to shift my expectation of where Fox might draw a line for Beck, too.


  10. E.Hatt-Swank

    Chris, just listened to the interview with Alex Zaitchik — great stuff, very informative and enlightening. Thanks for putting it up. I agree with the sentiment you expressed in the interview, that I don’t really want to spend much of my time thinking about Beck and his ilk, and thus I have avoided reading “Common Nonsense”. Unfortunately the pernicious influence of Beck is too widespread to be ignored. My in-laws, for example, have recently gone down the Beckian rabbit hole, and it’s a disturbing process to observe. Their previous Bill O’Reilly-style, fairly mainstream, cranky conservatism has transformed into a strange, bitter paranoia with odd flashes of rage … buying guns, warning us that they’ll probably be in a prison camp soon. I listen to Beck and I’m tempted to just dismiss him as a ranting con-man / lunatic — but there are too many people getting caught up in the frenzy. It’s difficult to know how to respond to this.

  11. FUAG

    @3 “what is the best media antidote to someone like Beck?” Answer: Keith Olberman.

    As a moderate conservative, I find Olberman and Beck equally insane. I just tend to agree with Beck’s lunacy from time to time…

  12. Jon

    They believe that people as a whole are inherently incapable and need to be taken care of.

    OK, let’s abolish the stop sign so people can use their best judgement and stop on their own, the natural way. Because as long as I’m the fastest one through the intersection with the largest car, I have no need for instruments of social order like traffic signals.

    (Social order is overrated anyway. Why would any conservative care about it?)

  13. ThomasL

    Generally agreed David,

    If they can’t see it’s the same on both ends of the political spectrum and the left has its share of Rush’s & Beck’s (though not as entertaining or effective), I just write them off as being a political hackwhorezombie – because they are…

    I’m pretty sure the whole “framing” idea is just an evolution and variation of the previously developed and equally damaging idea of that known as “roles” found in psychology. You know, occupations place psychological demands on the practicing members that tend to lead towards self selection in the personality types of those pursuing such employment – and to make a long story short basically the mental requirements of the job end up creating the person and establishing the kind of accepted behavior for those in the field – you see it in these conversations now and then with the whole idea “I’m a scientist and therefore everything I ever do accords itself to the scientific method and anyone who doesn’t *always* follow such is obviously not a “real” scientist” (they failed to stay within their “role”…) – I.E., it is the role I play, and I cannot escape it (and apparently it has become so ingrained in our houses of higher education I am incapable of figuring out any idea of “role” is at most but a part of any individual, likely because they aren’t learning what the limits of logic are anymore…). To a large extent it is also the thinking behind all those “career placement” type tests where they try to figure out what you may be good at by asking about your personality. When taken to extremes it can be a very damaging way to see the world intellectually, but at the same time the full blown theory can be pretty persuasive, especially if one doesn’t know how to deal with it or argue against it.

    Framing seems to work within the same logic – we have a set way of interpreting that information which arrives within our mental awareness, thus the “trick” of persuasion is to always present the information in a manner where the boundaries and form of understanding are already established, basically: know your audience = know their “role’s”, knowing their “roles” = knowing how to provide any required understanding so that the information is accepted in only the way the presenter wishes it to be -> successful persuasion is the goal (successful = they now understand it “properly”, and I, the presenter, know what is proper or improper), not education or information…

    Thus, people are simply psychological profiles in need of direction and guidance (manipulation), to be provided by those whom are better educated (though one must wonder if such is true of the underprivileged, would it also not be true of the privileged, or do those with the education think they have managed to escape the situation because they’ve read more? For example, has Chris stopped to think about the idea that he was taught “framing” by those who believed such is how all thinking works, and thus “framed” everything that was presented to him, and can he be sure their “framing” was correct?). It really all goes back to the psychological problem of not being able to get into another’s mind to find out if they think, one can’t be sure and thus we have all the “appears to” and “behavior indicates” terminology. As I can’t verify they think I have to control the information to get the desired results…

    In other words, all those poor simplistic fools who can’t help but be taken in by those right wing nuts need to be saved as they lack the mental ability to know when they are being manipulated (and our manipulation is honest, and we are immune from being affected by such false manipulations somehow…).

    I continue reading here because I find it all very interesting…

  14. David


    Actually there are some places where they have taken that approach for traffic control. They remove boundaries between sidewalks and streets and remove traffic signals. It seems to work better. People have to look and think about where they are going and consider their surroundings and other traffic. What a concept.


    Actually quite interesting stuff.

    Now, I know you really didn’t mean that seriously though and intended it to be a sarcastic response but the whole idea of the government gaining greater and greater control over every aspect of life does not lead to a better society.

  15. Jon

    but the whole idea of the government gaining greater and greater control over every aspect of life does not lead to a better society.

    But that’s not what’s happening. Government is *not* “gaining greater and greater control over every aspect of life.” That’s hysteria. Government is trying to do common sense things like putting stop signs in roads and fixing obviously broken things. Although if you put on the psychedelic Glenn Beck glasses, I suppose it looks like we’re on the verge of militant statism–people who believe that are confusing their multiple viewings of Red Dawn with reality.

    News flash: there are real problems. Just because you’re trying to do what people elected you to do and solve them doesn’t make you a jack booted totalitarian. It seems an awfully convenient way to argue: every time people discuss the details of problems and how they might be solved, don’t participate. Just change the subject and call the person trying to get them solved Hitler.

  16. David


    Whether it is local, state, or federal, there has been a huge expansion of government in my lifetime and it is not just “putting up stop signs in roads and fixing obvious broken things”.

    These are not hysteria, psychedelic imaginings, jack booted totalitarian, or whatever other hyperbole you wish to add. They are actual things that are in place now that have been put in place in my lifetime:

    Police forces for every public school district and armed police in public schools.

    Extra Territorial Jurisdictions where people are being subjected to laws that they have no voice in or recourse.

    Unappealable, *secret* government lists saying who could or couldn’t get on a plane. (I am for the list. The whole secret thing bothers me.)

    A huge number of laws and police that have been put in place for the “war on drugs” that have done nothing to stop the drugs and have made the drug dealers fabulously wealthy and given the government nearly unlimited powers of seizure and forfeiture.

    A whole host of personal regulations of when you had to wear helmets, where your kids can sit, what kind of lightbulb you can put in your living room, what kind of car you can drive.
    The list I could give you of these would be much longer but this really isn’t the forum.

    Back to the original topic:

    There will always be kooks like Beck. You can’t legislate sanity or intelligence. There will always be stupid people that will say and do stupid things.

  17. David


    “I continue reading here because I find it all very interesting…”

    It is interesting at times but then it devolves to the same canned party line phrases or name calling. I guess that is what terrifies them about Beck and Limbaugh and the rest. If they can’t compete with them intellectually, they try to get them outlawed and cover it up with the label of “Fairness.”

  18. Jon

    David, I have great respect for libertarian activism, in its place. There are places where we need less government and less bureaucracy, no doubt (although I’d argue that government bureaucracy is not the only kind out there). More civil liberties, absolutely. Government should know its place, the fourth amendment, a man’s home is his castle, etc.

    But the notion that all government and laws are necessarily on the slippery slope to totalitarianism is what I find ridiculous. One of the authors on Crooked Timber had a great post on this a while back: http://crookedtimber.org/2009/03/27/the-totalitarian-temptation-and-all-that/

  19. ThomasL


    John Holbo states in the article “The Totalitarian Temptation and all that”: “At the philosophical level, the concern is not big or small. Coercion is as coercion does.”

    I hope how he got there isn’t an example of what goes for solid philosophical construct these days as he has stretched the idea of “Coercion” past recognizable to get to this comment… Interesting article, though it would have been more interesting if he had dealt with the topic in a serious manner and understood what he poked fun at (he does at least admit he has no respect for whoever the speaker was). Basically he equates society mostly left to itself without the coercive force of governmental intervention as somehow being equivalent to government sponsored coercion… amazing.

    “But obviously conservatives think they know what’s really good for people…” – actually libertarianconservative thinking mostly says they know what is not good for people – invasive government, and that the individuals are best left to sort things out on their own which they would do much better than government, which generally works through coercion (if you don’t think so, try being on the wrong side of an argument with them…). They also support the need of basic law and its equal enforcement, of course. I’m always amazed at those who think libertarians don’t think there is any need for laws or law enforcement…

  20. David


    No, Libertarians would never make it in a a real society. People are not that trustworthy. We have however gotten some aspects into our politics that even Orwell would be surprised by.

    The two dominant political party structures have overtaken the power of the entire political system such that regardless of who we elect a President, Congressman, or Senator, they are incapable of effecting any real change. We point fingers at things like the environment, banking, healthcare, and any other real issue and say that the Bush, Clinton, Bush, or Regan have ruined this or that when the same people have been in charge of making the rules for nearly thirty years regardless of who is elected to any office.

    People have gotten frustrated that regardless of who they elect, they cannot change anything. These same losers that are running things, whether it is Pelosi or Gingrich on the podium. They have a stranglehold to block out any newly elected people unless they toe the party line. Once people play along long enough they are rewarded with an influential committee position and they become unassailable. The people wouldn’t dare not re-elect them and lose whatever pork they are bringing back into their district.

    So far, much of the mainstream media which is predominantly liberal has played along. I am not knocking them for being liberal. We need liberal AND conservative media. They want to make things better and fix things which is why they got into the media. But they are frustrated at these alternative media people getting disproportionate audience and don’t know what to do about them.

    If the liberal media want to regain any respect and counter Beck or the rest, they need to get out of bed with the liberal politicians and start doing their job. The liberal media plays softball with the liberals and does not hold their feet to the fire too. They end up looking like a bunch of talking heads. That is why Beck and Limbaugh lash out at the Republican party as well. It lends credibility.

  21. Jon

    Basically he equates society mostly left to itself without the coercive force of governmental intervention as somehow being equivalent to government sponsored coercion… amazing.

    Of course it is. I pay taxes and want some of those taxes to go to putting stop signs in intersections and the police to coerce people to stop at them.

    And if people do things that are detrimental to society (say, hire child labor) then I would hope my government would pass laws to restrain that behavior and enforce that restraint. You can call this “basic law”, but the people who wanted child labor back in the day didn’t think of it that way. Same with with 40 hour work week, minimum wage, and many other things that we now take for granted.

  22. Mike

    David: I agree and also worry about the implications of criminalizing alternative points of view. That goes for both sides of the argument. For example if you recall, when “climate gate” hit, there were those who wanted to begin “investigations” of those scientists who promoted the AGW religion. Although AGW is an obvious offshoot of the earlier and horrific eugenics movement, freedom includes the freedom to be wrong and endorse monstrous idea’s. Perhaps a solution to that dilemma would be a new means of self identification so that the public could easily differentiate scientists who research and then inform the public of results, from scientists who begin with the answer they want to reach already in mind and then promote policy.
    I believe we may have to resign ourselves to the reality that there never was nor shall be a “free media”. Someone has to write the checks and that person will always have influence over the content of the information . Perhaps the “scientific optimists”, of which I include myself, who believe in the existence of the unbiased scientist working hard to figure out how the world works may well have to recognize there is always someone writing their checks as well.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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