Glenn Beck has expressed on-air desires to strangle Michael Moore with his own hands, beat Charles Rangel to death with a shovel, and once aired a sketch on his Fox News show that had him poisoning then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Appearing on the Today show this morning (1/19/11), responding to questions about his frequent murder fantasies (a specialty of Fox News personalities), Beck told host Meredith Vieira that he was just being funny. Beck said the host should ask Jon Stewart and the Simpsons the same question. “Comedy is comedy,” he explained.
Vieira did not point out that while Beck is a political commentator, the Simpsons is a cartoon, and Stewart is a comedian who is not known for fantasizing about the murder of people with whom he disagrees.
The reader can decide if continuous on-air fantasizing about the murderous deaths of one’s political foes is okay, as long as one says he isjoking.
I think it’s a problem, not least because hateful jokes are not always harmless, and because it’s often not clear when Beck is joking. After all, when one has just concluded a tirade against someone they portrayed as among the dark forces trying to steal the country, with a whimsical fantasy about that someone’s violent death–well, I think you get the point.
And sometimes Beck’s violent fantasies are clearly not jokes.
In March 2003, Beck was one of the most energetic war mongers in the country. He was organizing and addressing pro-war rallies for his radio employer, Clear Channel, and using his national radio show to disparage and smear anti-war figures on a regular basis. In a program I heard on WABC-AM in New York City (3/16/03), Beck inveighed furiously against the anti-war activism of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D.-Ohio), in a tirade that concluded with the host, in all angry sincerity, wishing to see Kucinich burned alive: “Every night I get down on my knees and pray that Dennis Kucinich will burst into flames.”
But comedy is comedy, as Beck would say.