If you’ve kept up with the outraged tsunamentary (“tsunami of commentary” — I made that up) following Glenn Beck’s televised sliming of billionaire currency trader George Soros, you might suppose there’s nothing left worth saying about it. But you would suppose wrong. There’s much more to say.
Beck, the top-rated bloviator at top-rated Fox News, spent three consecutive evenings in mid-November depicting Soros as a megalomaniacal empire-builder who collaborated with the Nazis during childhood and now masterminds a vast left-wing conspiracy to destroy America. It was a baroque pastiche of manipulated quotes, half-truths and outright lies, skillfully crafted into a frightening admonition and, perhaps, a call to arms.
The part you’ve probably heard about, the part that’s got critics agitated, is Beck’s claim that Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, was a Nazi collaborator. He was referring to Soros’s own descriptions of survival at age 14 in Nazi-occupied Budapest. Posing as the “godson” of a non-Jewish local official, young Soros tagged along when his “godfather” inventoried confiscated Jewish property or delivered deportation notices. How did Beck put it? “Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps.”
It’s a horrible thing to say about any Jew trying to survive the Nazi nightmare, let alone a child, and Beck was rightly denounced. The Anti-Defamation League called it “horrific” and “repugnant.” Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants called it “a particularly monstrous lie.” The left-wing blogosphere had a field day with it. Even the right piled on. Reason magazine called the canard “appalling on a human level.” At Commentary magazine, executive editor Jonathan Tobin called it “simply inadmissible.”
Tobin took an essential next step that seemed to elude most critics: After condemning Beck’s collaboration slur, he went on to note the perverse combination of ignorance and dishonesty pervading Beck’s overall screed. For example, Beck illustrated Soros’s supposed lust for global domination by repeatedly reciting the financier’s record of undermining various regimes, and playing a clip of Soros boasting of his “subversive activity.” Beck’s audience, Tobin wrote, “had to assume that it was part of some leftist conspiracy that he [Soros] was funding. Beck left out the fact that what Soros was talking about was his Cold War-era funding of movements that sought to support anti-Communist dissidents in countries like Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and the Soviet Union.” Soros, he wrote, was “one of the good guys” there.
As tasteless as Beck’s victim-blaming and other distortions might be, though, his larger project is downright frightening. Throughout his three-hour philippic, he painted an all-too-familiar portrait, complete with grainy black-and-white images and scary horror-film music, of a demonic plot. At the center of it, he stated over and over, stood the almost supernatural figure of Soros, the malevolent, all-powerful and unmistakably Jewish financier bent on subjugating the world for his own profit. We’ve heard this bilge before. But Beck has millions of viewers who take him very seriously.
Nor is this global conspiracy merely metaphor to Beck. He warned of a five-step Soros plan for domination. “In country after country after country,” he told viewers, “we found that there are five steps to him gaining control.” Here is how Beck described them:
Step one: “Form a shadow government using humanitarian aid as cover.” This refers to a network of nonprofits Soros funds and “controls,” from MoveOn.org to the Center for American Progress, as well as his own Open Society Institute, with its tentacles in quiet, unassuming places like Belarus and Georgia.
“Step two: Control the airwaves. Fund existing radio and TV outlets and take control over them or start your own outlets.” Soros does this, Beck explained, by donating to National Public Radio and the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America.
“Step three: Destabilize the state, weaken the government and build an anti-government kind of feeling in this country. You exploit an economic crisis or take advantage of existing crisis — pressure from the top and the bottom. This will allow you to weaken the government and build anti-government public sentiment.…
“Step four: You provoke an election crisis. You wait for an election. And during the election, you cry voter fraud.…
“Step five: Take power. You stage massive demonstrations, civil disobedience, sit-ins, general strike, you encourage activism. You promote voter fraud and tell followers what to do through your radio and television stations.…
“Do any of those sound familiar? This is the way George Soros takes a country down every time.”
It’s too easy to joke about this nonsense. A donation to NPR, even a hefty $1 million, hardly controls the nation’s airwaves. The last time Democrats cried election fraud was in 2000 in Florida, and they got over it pretty quickly. As for weakening the government, weren’t we worried about liberals expanding it? When did weaker government become the problem?
But wait a minute! Something does sound familiar. Didn’t we see anti-government demonstrators going wild in the summer of 2009? Chanting something about an illegitimate government and teabags? Yelling about election fraud and a bogeyman called Acorn? Wait — isn’t someone actually gobbling up the airwaves and telling people how to vote? And weren’t his broadcasters out there leading the chanting?
Of course! It’s kindly old Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. He has six channels on my cable system alone. He actually pays Republican presidential contenders to pontificate on air. He owns The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and a major Hollywood movie studio. But he doesn’t pull anyone’s strings, does he? Nah.
Beck can relax. We’ve got Fox guarding our chickens.
Contact J.J. Goldberg at email@example.com and follow his blog at www.forward.com
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).