09.01.10

Glenn Beck's Online Flop

Fresh off his spiritual rally, Beck has launched a crass commercial website that does nothing to advance the conservative cause. Conor Friedersdorf on why The Blaze is all heat and no light.

Glenn Beck has launched a Web magazine called The Blaze, joining the conservative media moguls who profit off the rank-and-file by slavishly telling them whatever it is they want to hear. The site is going to publish "news and information," says editor Scott Baker, a veteran of the Andrew Breitbart empire, "some commentary and opinion stories we're interested in that are being under-covered or not covered."

Its launch comes in the aftermath of Mr. Beck's wildly successful "Restoring Honor" rally, held last weekend in Washington, D.C. The television and radio host took a step back from partisan politics, garnering the rapt attention of media watchers by calling on his fellow Americans to find renewal through God. "It was a long festival of affirmation for middle-class white Christians—square, earnest, patriotic and religious," Ross Douthat wrote in The New York Times. "If a speaker had suddenly burst out with an Obama-esque 'we are the ones we've been waiting for,' the message would have fit right in."

Were the servers at The Blaze to crash tomorrow, sucking every word published into the ether, nothing of value would be lost.

Were we seeing a reinvented Glenn Beck? Had the political commentator turned tent pole revivalist for good? Based on the material so far published at The Blaze, the answer is no: The site is part The Drudge Report and part Big Government, insofar as its content is mostly driven by a populist right-leaning political agenda.

It's also less angry than those sites, and infused with notes of Beck's weirdness. Recent headlines include the following:

Actor John Cusack Calls for 'Satanic Death' of Fox News, GOP Leaders
US Muslim Group Releases Video Vowing Not To 'Take Over This Country'
Black Conservatives Stand for Truth
NYC Man Survives 40-Story Fall Onto Dodge Charger

John Avlon: America’s 9 Worst DemagoguesAre these the story choices of a man earnestly interested in the renewal of America through Christian faith? I leave that judgment to the reader, content to note what I regard as the most interesting thing about the new Web magazine: The savvy people inside Glenn Beck Incorporated have decided that this material is what will most appeal to the conservative entertainer's fans. That should trouble everyone who'd like to see people on the right function as sharp critics of liberalism or a credible alternative to Democratic rule.

Amid wars, ballooning debt, high unemployment, various environmental challenges, and all manner of other problems—the ones that supposedly so often bring Glenn Beck to tears on the air—the "under-covered or not covered" stories The Blaze highlights include an intemperate Tweet by a Hollywood actor and other pieces that are no more important.

Beck is merely the latest conservative publisher to talk a good game about doing good for the country while producing third-rate work on the cheap. Why go to the trouble of grappling with important issues when more page views per dollar can be garnered with headlines like, "UCSD Professor Wants to Dissolve U.S.—Give GPS Phones With Explicit Poetry to Illegals for Border Crossing"?

Elsewhere in hard-core conservative journalism, the lead item at Human Events as I write this piece is a petition to stop the mosque near ground zero. World Net Daily is still riding the birther wave, Drudge leads with a link to a blog entry about Sarah Palin traveling to Iowa, and top item on the Fox News opinion page is headlined, "In Desperate Bid to Stay Relevant, NAACP Chief Plays False Race Card Against Beck Supporters."

The profitability of these websites is evidence enough that hard-core conservatives gravitate to what they're publishing. Is it any wonder that these same conservatives fail to elect people who shrink government even when the Republican Party is in power? Sure, as voters they earnestly desire less spending, but politicos need not actually do the hard work of cutting from the budget to win right-wing loyalty.

Being on the same side in the culture war is enough, because the media environment they willingly inhabit dedicates the vast majority of its resources to inconsequential stories meant to provoke fleeting outrage. Were the servers at The Blaze to crash tomorrow, sucking every word published into the ether, nothing of value would be lost.

Gene Healy, a vice president at the Cato Institute, made an important point in a column on Glenn Beck's recent rally. "'Creeping secularism' and insensitively situated mosques aren't what plagues us—it's a deluge of red ink falling on the just and the unjust alike," he wrote. "Renewed faith may save your soul, but it won't save us from our looming fiscal apocalypse. For that, we need energized citizens who keep their eye on the ball."

Insofar as the citizenry visits The Blaze, it'll instead spend its time on items like the entry at the top of its blog as I finish this piece: "Whoops: New Oval Office Carpet Includes Incorrect Quote Attribution."

Where would the right be without Glenn Beck?

Conor Friedersdorf blogs at True/Slant and The American Scene. Follow him on Twitter at Conor64.