04.15.09

Right-Wing Becklash

It’s not just liberals who are scared to death by Glenn Beck. Prominent conservative pundits are speaking out, denouncing his hysterics before he sinks the entire movement.

It seems Glenn Beck is the man of the hour, with gushing profiles in The New York Times, exploding ratings, and the rapt attention of left and right alike. Yet Fox News and Beck's appeals to its more militant and conspiracy-minded elements are creating a backlash among a surprising group: the right.

Take Charles Johnson, a jazz musician and software programmer who is best known for his Web site, Little Green Footballs. Although an independent himself, for years Johnson's LGF has been one of the most popular blogs on the right, focusing mostly on national-security issues and the war on terror. It's also been a magnet for criticism from the left and even denounced by some as a "hate site" for its strident criticism of radical Islam.

"They've taken a real turn to the hard right, and Glenn Beck, I think, is kind of riding that wave," said blogger Charles Johnson. "I don't know if he's necessarily going to incite violence, but I do think it's irresponsible.”

But lately, posts on jihadists have dwindled in favor of a new target: Glenn Beck. Just this week, Johnson went after Beck for using violent imagery and rhetoric in a segment where he pretended to douse a guest with gasoline then threatened to set them on fire, accused Beck of promoting conspiracy theorists, and posted a video of attendees at one of the "Tea Party" events heavily promoted by Beck advocating for book burning.

In an interview, Johnson told The Daily Beast that he was extremely concerned by a lurch to the right among conservative media outlets, particularly Fox News, which he said has begun "deliberately pandering to extreme-right personalities."

"They've taken a real turn to the hard right, and Glenn Beck, I think, is kind of riding that wave," Johnson said. "I don't know if he's necessarily going to incite violence, but I do think it's irresponsible. It kind of drags down the discourse to a level that I, for one, am not comfortable with."

According to Johnson, he was most shocked by Beck's recent recommendation of books by Cleon Skousen, a longtime poster boy for far-right conspiracy theories about a "one-world government" that are now making a comeback.

Johnson says he has received a flood of hate mail and attacks from bloggers since he began publishing posts rebuking Beck, but strong support as well, including from some of his usual critics on the left.

"In a way it's nice and in a way it's a little ironic, because some of the same people have been calling me every nasty name in the book for eight years," he said.

Even while the network's ratings surge, Johnson is not the only high-profile blogger who has gone after Fox News lately. At Hot Air, Michelle Malkin's right-wing news site, one of its most popular writers, the anonymous Allahpundit, has been taking Beck to task as well.

"We’re not even three months into Obama’s term and already he’s screaming on air," Allahpundit wrote in one recent post. "How’s he going to deal with another three-plus years?"

Commenting on Beck's manic transitions between light comedy and frothing-at-the-mouth rage, Allahpundit added: "Either he’s acting or his mind is … highly nuanced."

"What the hell is going on at Fox News?" wrote David Frum, the former Bush official and conservative writer, in a recent column. He added, "There’s always been a market for this junk of course. Once that market was reached via mimeographed newsletters. Now it’s being tapped by Fox News."

Even Fox's own Shepard Smith seems to be uncomfortable with the new trend, frequently mocking Beck on live TV and referring to his show as a " fear chamber."

While not as specific in their targets, there have been some other eyebrow-raising commentaries from the right recently, calling for a more fair-minded approach. Few would ever accuse David Horowitz, author of books like Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, of shying away from strong language, but even he took up the cause of civility recently, penning a widely distributed column this month accusing conservatives of falling prey to "Obama derangement syndrome."

"Neither our support nor our opposition should be based on hysterical responses to policies that we just don't like," Horowtiz wrote. "Let’s leave that kind of behavior to the liberals who invented it."

Horowitz added that Obama should be given credit for pursuing policies in Afghanistan and Iraq largely supported by mainstream conservatives. His criticism that Obama can't catch a break from the right seemed to resonate with Fox News regular Bernard Goldberg, who recently got into a surprise tussle with Sean Hannity over whether Obama deserved praise for the Navy SEALs successful rescue operation in Somalia.

"If something bad happened here... I'll tell you who would have been leading the crusade against him—you," Goldberg told Hannity.

Politically, the right has always featured an uneasy alliance between social conservatives, cultural conservatives, national-security conservatives, and fiscal conservatives. Whether these rumblings of dissent about the state of the right-wing media are passing noise or a harbinger of a greater split, it's clear that Fox's latest gambit is not without its detractors.

"I just wish everyone would take a step back from this extremist brink," Johnson said. "It can't lead anywhere good. At best, it will bring the right-wing blogosphere into disrepute, and at the worst it could lead to violence if you encourage these real nuts out there."

Xtra Insight: Watch Glenn Beck's 9 Craziest Moments

Xtra Insight: Interview: Glenn Beck on Why He's No Rush Limbaugh

Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.