Glenn Beck has his moment

In my latest for the Guardian, I take a look at the fall of Van Jones — and at how a far-right Web site and Glenn Beck, improbably enough, took him down with a clean hit.

44 thoughts on “Glenn Beck has his moment

  1. lkcape

    Hmmm… I love the way this article speaks to your not being partisan!

    Is the Fourth Estate now going to turn and look at the administration’s vetting process or is it going to sit back and chant its mantra, “Obama”, at its next meditation session?

    As you are a media critic, it might be interesting to hear some probing questions from you regarding the willingness of the media to give the administration a pass on the laxity of its recruiting procedures.

    It might also be interesting to hear from a media-critic point of view about the alleged vendetta being waged the esteemed “opinion journalist” Kieth Olberman against Beck and his sponsors.

    How say you, Dan? Will you be a media critic or just a critic?

  2. Neil

    Van said he didn’t carefully review the petition before signing it “certainly does not reflect my views now or ever.” link

    If it was his position, he would not have been alone.
    “Overall, 22% of [American] voters believe the President [Bush] knew about the attacks in advance.” – 5/2007 Rasmussen
    link

  3. Neil

    What’s your definition of a clean hit?

    communist? czar? politically unaccountable? Marxist? socialist? truther? too rude a discourse for WH policy adviser, called Republicans “assholes” for ramming bills through during the Bush presidency.

    What was clean about the hit? Do you have to endorse Glenn Beck ‘s McCarthyism to justify this as a “clean hit”?

  4. cavard

    Good article, Dan.

    However, I think Beau Friedlander, Air America Radio, said it well on Huffington Post yesterday.

    “”What did he do to get in such a bind? He called Republicans names — or one totally PG-rated name — and he signed a petition asking for more information about the attacks of 9-11… The latter is not at all clear. There were a lot of petitions floating around during the years that followed 9-11, and many of those petitions included the title of an August 2001 CIA report titled” “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” Who wouldn’t want to know the whole story? There were questions regarding what the Bush administration knew, and when. And frankly, there still are. 9-11 was Katrina without the satellite imagery.

    It could be Jones signed the wrong document. The point is this: It doesn’t matter. His field of expertise had nothing to do with the questions raised by the opposition.”

    I’m sure there are plenty of Dems and Republicans who signed on to silly things, yet no one makes a stink and they keep their jobs. Van Jones was a rarity in the Obama administration. As long as it wasn’t calling on violence or something like that I don’t see the problem. The problem I do see is the Obama administration reacting to loonies like Glenn Beck. That I find hard to believe.

    I don’t see why Robert Gibbs could’ve said at a recent presser is “we’re behind Jones 100% and we don’t think he should leave over what an ill-informed news and infotainment host said about him. We know who Jones is and we know what he contributes to a sound and sustainable domestic energy policy. That’s why we hired him…. now back to health care.'”

    It seems like the Dems are willing to throw people with integrity overboard if it means getting health care reform passed.

    I still don’t get how the Dems allow people like Glenn Beck to define their actions. That’s not a party of conviction, that’s a party of capitulation. Am I right?

  5. Neil

    You don’t have to watch the Glenn Beck’s show for too long before you recognize the tactics of Joe McCarthy in the 1950. It’s fear and smear. Go to YouTube and search for “Glenn Beck Van Jones”.

    For Dan Kennedy to characterize the resignation of Van Jones as an improbable but clean hit by a far-right Web site and Glenn Beck is to endorse Glenn Beck’s new McCarthyism.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Just to be clear … although I think I was. Jones’ enemies took him down legitimately because of one issue and one issue only: his dalliance with the truthers. The evidence is not just a petition, but a pretty bizarre and offensive protest march he endorsed earlier. (The link is in my Guardian column.) The rest of the charges against Jones are all crap, and I say so in my piece.

  6. Dunque

    Separate issue but am I the only one troubled by, not only their proliferation, but the very use of the term “Czar” in the first place? Does no one in this administration appreciate the irony of that term being applied in an administration that prides itself on its “people first” values?

    I suppose I’m not surprised. There was also some self-reference during the Nov, 2008-Jan, 2009 formation phase to “the best and the brightest,” again, without the merest hint of irony.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Dunque: The term the White House used for Jones was “special adviser.” It was Beck who dubbed him a “czar.” Or maybe the media in general, I don’t know. But not the administration.

  7. Dunque

    I am fully aware that he is not. I didn’t say that he was. But I have noted the use of this term over and over again in this administration and find it troubling.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Dunque: Can you cite an example of an administration official using the term “czar”? I haven’t researched it, but it’s my impression that it’s entirely a creation of the media.

  9. Dunque

    http://www.ondcp.gov/news/press09/082709.html

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/White-House-Announces-New-Director-of-the-Office-of-National-Drug-Control-Policy/

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Urban-and-Metropolitan-Roundtable/

    From http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Interview-of-the-President-by-CNN-en-Espanol-4/15/2009/

    Q Will immigration reform be part of this whole process? And also you’ve named a border czar. Was this consulted with Mexico, and what is he going to do?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, the goal of the border czar is to help coordinate all the various agencies that fall under the Department of Homeland Security, and so that we are confident that the border patrols are working effectively with ICE, working effectively with our law enforcement agencies. So he’s really a coordinator that can be directly responsible to Secretary Napolitano and ultimately directly accountable to me.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Dunque: Thank you for proving my point. Let’s take them one at a time.

      http://www.ondcp.gov/news/press09/082709.html

      This is a government press release regarding the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The headline refers to him as a “czar,” but that’s not his title.

      http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Urban-and-Metropolitan-Roundtable/

      Another press release, also about the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In this release, the only person who refers to him as a “czar” is the president of the Police Foundation, not affiliated with the White House.

      http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Urban-and-Metropolitan-Roundtable/

      We’re still talking about the same guy. The relevant section is this quote, from President Obama: “I just want you to know, as well as our new director of our office of — I always forget the full name of this — I call it the Drug Czar, but — (laughter).” And by the way, the person who holds that position has been known as the “drug czar” going back to the Reagan administration.

      http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Interview-of-the-President-by-CNN-en-Espanol-4/15/2009/

      Here, the person in question is the assistant secretary for international affairs and special representative for border affairs at the Department of Homeland Security. The position has existed since the Clinton administration, and the person who holds it has been informally known as the “border czar” from that point on. You can see why — his actual title is quite a mouthful. Also note that the interviewer used the term “border czar” initially, and Obama merely repeated it. He had no way of knowing, back in April, that the term “czar” was about to become the subject of some boneheaded Republican talking points.

      I’ll grant you that you’ve proven that, on occasion, the White House has informally referred to some of its officials as “czars,” just as previous presidents have. But it’s not a real title.

  10. Neil

    What makes Jones’s fall especially painful for liberals was that, until he was exposed as a truther, the attacks against him had all the earmarks of a disingenuous right-wing smear campaign.

    Not just the earmarks Dan, the substance of a right-wing smear campaign. Conservative talk-show hosts have libeled and slandered Jones (literally) over the past month.

    Jones distanced himself from the 911 Truth statement. He said this was not and is not his position – “calls for immediate public attention to unanswered questions that suggest that people within the current [Bush] administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.” A list of 12 questions followed. It was not his position.

    You seem to be able to separate the smear campaign from his being on this petition, and you seemed to believe that his being on the petition is sufficiently damning. In what regard? Does it speak to his lack of a) loyalty to the US b) his character c) his political beliefs. Hwat does it say abnout him that makes him unsuitable for advising on green jobs or participating in the Obama White House?

    At the time “22% of [American] voters believe the President [Bush] knew about the attacks in advance.” (5/2007 Rasmussen) but that doesn’t matter because Van Jones said it wasn’t his opinion and isn’t his opinion.

    You call this a “righteous take-down”, make that “a clean hit”, but remember what Beck said about 9/11 victim families, “I hate 9/11 victims families for asking questions.”

    Right-wing media is a political hit machine; you say this was a “clean” hit. I say it’s bare-knuckled politics of personal destruction and modern day McCarthyism that doesn’t have qualms about liable and slander.

    Glenn Beck has suggested that Obama’s health care reform agenda is a means by which he can effect reparations for slavery. How’s that grab you?

    Glenn Beck argued that President Barack Obama has repeatedly shown “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” and saying “I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people. I’m saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.”

    FOXNews Corp. hasn’t asked for Glenn Beck’s resignation. Why not?

  11. Neil

    Just one example: “President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that Ron Bloom will serve as the administration’s senior counselor for manufacturing policy.” The headline: “Obama names first manufacturing czar.”

    The headline was not written by the administration. None of the quotes in the article made by government officials about the position refer to a “czar”, they refer to a “senior counselor for manufacturing policy.”

  12. Neil

    Not just Van Jones but 1 in 5 Americans are vile and hateful to flirt with the proposition that some people in the Bush administration were complicit in the 9/11 attacks.

    Rosen’s “church of the savvy” doctrine seems to fit you in this article, who reports that the question is not whether Jones’ offense was a fire-able offense – merits termination – but will the claim “work” in getting him fired. You see, you would have to be blind to all the other attempts to smear and damage Jones in order to believe that the end justified the means.

  13. Neil

    They “have suggested he’s a “truther” (one who believes George W. Bush masterminded the 9/11 attacks as an “inside job”). As for this last charge, their evidence consists of Jones’s signature on a petition, which originally called merely for more openness about the pre-9/11 intelligence available to the former administration, but which was later altered to reflect the conspiratorial lunacy of its creators. Jones, and many others who reject the truthers’ nonsense, were tricked into signing and were appalled by the final product. But none of this matters to the right. Because after all, none of it was ever the point.” link

  14. Ben

    “The media” is responsible for naming Obama’s advisors “czars”? I thought it was only madmen like Glen Beck who made subversive analogies like that?

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Ben: For God’s sake, yes. Do you think anyone outside of the media ever referred to a legislator as a “solon”? “Czar” is a nice, short word that fits into headlines. Here’s a challenge for you: Find a single instance where the White House referred to any of its employees as a “czar.”

  15. I just watched Rachel Maddow and she had a bit about the whole “czar-mania” and mentions that Nixon wanted Bill Simon to be his “energy czar” and used that term when he offered him the job. Interesting piece–I’m sure it’ll be on her show’s website. She gives a history of its usage…

  16. Ron Newman

    I don’t agree that the 2002 protest march was necessarily bizarre or offensive, given the limited amount of information people had about 9/11 at that time. The 9/11 Commission Report would not come out for two more years.

  17. cavard

    I think there are a lot of idiots belonging to the 9-11 truther movement, but there are also a lot of idiots in congress as well. Think of Bob Dornan, James Trafficant, Katherine Harris, Virginia Foxx, and the worst of the worst, Michelle Bachmann. The same goes for those who believe there should be an independent investigation into the attacks on 9-11. There are wackos and there are some really intelligent people with valid concerns.

    I have my problems with the 911 truth movement, but in all honesty, how much have journalists REALLY investigated what the movement is all about? From what I understand it’s pretty diverse from the loonies to the rational, sober-thinking individuals who don’t believe 9-11 was an inside job, but believe an independent investigation into 9-11 is warranted. I’m not someone who’s gung-ho with this kind of stuff. However, before we dismiss them and take potshots at the 9-11 idiots who get all the media coverage, perhaps we should really look into all the aspects of what this movement represents.

    I think there are legitimate questions that need to be answered that the 9-11 government report hasn’t answered. But I won’t for the life of me argue that this was an inside job.

    I think there’s a valid case to be made to find out what happened. I think Americans can sanely and rationally ask those questions and have a discussion about this topic. As journalists, I don’t think we should dismiss the issue because a bunch of outspoken nitwits hog up all the attention.

  18. Aaron Read

    Honest question here: if Obama announced tomorrow that Fox News has become too influential and corrosive and he was suspending their ability to broadcast in any form…TV or cable…would enough people care?

    I mean, if you think about it, the people who would howl the loudest about government censorship are the same people who hate everything Fox News stands for.

    A titantic bitchslap of Glenn Beck would change *I* could believe in. I mean, we already live in a censored media world thanks to giant media conglomerates…if I’m going to have to live with that, I’d like to see SOB’s like Beck and O’Reilly and Hannity smacked down in the process.

  19. cavard

    Matt Rothschild, publisher of The Progressive raises a great point re: the Van Jones controversy. Rothschild HATES the 9-11 truth movement, but in his latest article, Rotschild writes the following:

    “Beck flailed against Van Jones because he signed a 9/11Truth petition, along with Ralph Nader and Howard Zinn and many others. Now I have my own problems with the truthers, but signing a petition seeking a redress of grievances gets you fired in today’s America?”

    Good question. That’s something that needs to be looked at more.

  20. So Dan, people can’t work in the government if they have marched with peace groups demanding answers to major questions about Sept. 11? Those folks can’t work in the government but war criminals can? Amazing.
    Even Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairmen of the 9-11 Commission, believe that the Bush Administration kept information and intelligence from the committee. Even they don’t believe they have the entire story.
    Frankly, a bigger story, was that Van Jones wasn’t really qualified for this job. I can think of at least three people more qualified to be a green jobs adviser in New England alone. But to say that someone who has questioned the government in a major, horrific event with a lot of holes in the story, is downright shocking.

  21. Oops, I meant to say … But to say that someone who has questioned the government in a major, horrific event with a lot of holes in the story, can’t work for the government, is downright shocking.

    Where’s the preview button on this new template?

  22. aml

    If you look at the Google Timeline search for Green Jobs Czar the earliest reference is Van Jones telling a reporter “there’s no such thing as a Green Jobs Czar.”

    This does imply that the title has been attached to Van Jones since the beginning, but was an unofficial title bestowed in the press. It doesn’t seem like it came from the White House.

  23. Dunque

    That’s rich. I’m making your point.

    Dunque: Thank you for proving my point. Let’s take them one at a time.

    http://www.ondcp.gov/news/press09/082709.html

    This is a government press release regarding the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The headline refers to him as a “czar,” but that’s not his title.

    But they did use the word in the title. And I believe the logo in upper left corner (going from memory) says “Office of the President of the United States”

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Urban-and-Metropolitan-Roundtable/

    Another press release, also about the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In this release, the only person who refers to him as a “czar” is the president of the Police Foundation, not affiliated with the White House.

    This press release was issued by the office of the Vice President, was it not. If they were troubled by the term, surely they could have used another quote.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-Urban-and-Metropolitan-Roundtable/

    We’re still talking about the same guy. The relevant section is this quote, from President Obama: “I just want you to know, as well as our new director of our office of — I always forget the full name of this — I call it the Drug Czar, but — (laughter).” And by the way, the person who holds that position has been known as the “drug czar” going back to the Reagan administration.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Interview-of-the-President-by-CNN-en-Espanol-4/15/2009/

    Here, the person in question is the assistant secretary for international affairs and special representative for border affairs at the Department of Homeland Security. The position has existed since the Clinton administration, and the person who holds it has been informally known as the “border czar” from that point on. You can see why — his actual title is quite a mouthful. Also note that the interviewer used the term “border czar” initially, and Obama merely repeated it. He had no way of knowing, back in April, that the term “czar” was about to become the subject of some boneheaded Republican talking points.

    I’ll grant you that you’ve proven that, on occasion, the White House has informally referred to some of its officials as “czars,” just as previous presidents have. But it’s not a real title.

    I’m not alone, nor are Republicans alone, in being concerned. Robert Byrd, alternately reviled or revered depending on the Democrats current power position, has expressed a great deal of concern over the avoidance of the Senate’s advise and consent powers with the proliferation of these nominations.

    I will grant you the title has existed in previous administrations. But the role has exploded in this administration, enough so that at least one prominent Democrat is calling the whole issue into question.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Dunque: How many White House employees involved with policy and not subject to Senate confirmation are working for the Obama administration? How does that compare with previous administrations? Unless you can answer those two questions, you’ve got nothing.

  24. Dunque

    From noted conservative journal Politico;

    Czars are not a new part of White House life: President Lyndon B. Johnson tasked a series of White House advisers to look back at various aspects of World War II. Conservative William Bennett was President George H.W. Bush’s first drug czar, appointed in 1989.

    But the number of czars in the Obama administration, say historians, is unprecedented.

    “There just seems to be a few more in the Obama administration,” said University of Vermont professor John Burke, an authority on presidential transitions. “And they are using them particularly as a vehicle for their early policy initiatives.”

    There’s a bailout czar, a technology czar, a climate czar, an urban czar, and a health care czar. The pay czar is evaluating compensation packages for investment banks. The border czar is working to curb the violence and drug trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico border. The WMD czar is working on non-proliferation issues. The Great Lakes czar is overseeing clean up of the lakes.

    Noted right-winger Jack Cafferty says “It’s getting to the point where the White House has more “czars” than Russia used to have. The latest estimates put the number at 30. These special advisers are nothing new… many presidents have had them, including Republicans.

    Van Jones served as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in the White House Council on Environmental Quality from March until earlier this month.

    The “czars” work on issues ranging from health care to Middle East peace. But — the problem is how many President Obama has — combined with the fact that they’re not subject to congressional oversight or Senate confirmation”

    Something? Need more?

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Dunque: Yes, I need more — numbers, along with a considered analysis of what these folks are actually doing, and how that compares with previous administrations. You say 30 under Obama, but you don’t say how that compares with previous administrations except that some people seem to think it’s higher.

      You also don’t consider the possibility that the number seems high because a few people have decided to make it an issue and have started looking for them. There could very well have been just as many under previous administrations with different titles doing different things.

      Finally, you are ignoring the fact that every administration employs many people in important policy positions who are not subject to Senate confirmation. That’s what makes this such a phony, manufactured issue.

  25. Dunque

    I can see how a UVM professor recognized as an expert on presidential transitions who says it is higher than other administrations wouldn’t be enough. I’m sure he’s been dying to make this an issue.

    And when noted bulldogs like Jack Cafferty and Robert Byrd who have been chomping at the bit to take down this administration say that there are too many of these who have escaped the traditional confirmation process I can see how that isn’t enough too. Note, of course, Cafferty says it’s 30, not me.

    The short answer, Dan, is your ideology has blinded you to a troubling tendency here.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Dunque: Ah, you can’t prove your point, so the personal insults come out. David Weigel has written a splendid piece for the Washington Independent showing what a phony issue this is. Among his (and my) findings:

      1. Of the 30 so-called czars, nine hold jobs that existed before Obama became president.

      2. Some of them are actually subject to Senate confirmation, which means they’re not czars by your definition. For instance, Cass Sunstein, who’s Obama’s choice to be his regulatory “czar,” is being held up by a Republican filibuster. And an example you cited three times — the “drug czar” — isn’t a czar: Gil Kerlikowske was confirmed by the Senate in May.

      3. Some of the other “czars” are in clearly subordinate policy positions and have no independent authority whatsoever. Examples: the “science czar,” a creation of Michelle Malkin; the “Guantánamo closure czar”; and how about Lynn Rosenthal, the White House adviser on Violence Against Women, sometimes portrayed as the “domestic-violence czar”?

  26. Dunque

    It’s not my definition. It’s Robert Byrd and Jack Cafferty who stand out from what you would like to characterize as a baying crowd of Republican attack dogs.

    By the way I consider the last sentence to be an observation. If you consider it to be a personal insult I can’t help that.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Dunque: You cited the drug czar as one of your examples three times, yet you say nothing now that I’ve pointed out that he was subject to Senate confirmation and is thus not a “czar.” I have presented evidence that you, Jack Cafferty, and Robert Byrd are wrong, and your response is to say that Cafferty and Byrd are not Republicans. Goodbye.

  27. lkcape

    It would seem to me that a debate over a descriptive name is a useless exercise. The real question is whether or not these “…..s” are policy makers abrogating the legislatively directed responsibilities of the Cabinet Secretaries.

    If they are, then that is a serious issue.

  28. Dunque

    Ikcape – That is exactly the point. Dan wanted to turn it into “Find me where it says…” When I did, he then wanted to quibble about what it says or who said it.

    I blame myself for going down that road. I realized finally I was chasing a never-ending rope.

    The issue is exactly as you described it.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Actually, Dunque, Ikcape posed the correct question. I’ve provided a partial answer to his question. You’ve provided none at all.

  29. Ben

    Dan, “czar” seems like a very loaded term to me. That it’s apparently considered an innocuous term by today’s media says something not so flattering about the fourth estate.

  30. Neil

    Since Dan has been engaged in his “czar/tsar” debate, I’d like to recall his attention to other issues directly challenging the substance of his article. A “clean hit”? What did the reader’s decide?

    Ron Newman says:
    September 8, 2009 at 10:16 pm
    I don’t agree that the 2002 protest march was necessarily bizarre or offensive, given the limited amount of information people had about 9/11 at that time. The 9/11 Commission Report would not come out for two more years.

    cavard says:
    September 8, 2009 at 10:39 pm
    “Beck flailed against Van Jones because he signed a 9/11Truth petition, along with Ralph Nader and Howard Zinn and many others. Now I have my own problems with the truthers, but signing a petition seeking a redress of grievances gets you fired in today’s America?”

    Tony Schinella says:
    September 8, 2009 at 11:14 pm
    So Dan, people can’t work in the government if they have marched with peace groups demanding answers to major questions about Sept. 11? Those folks can’t work in the government but war criminals can? Amazing.

    Neil says:
    September 8, 2009 at 9:30 pm
    Not just Van Jones but 1 in 5 Americans are vile and hateful to flirt with the proposition that some people in the Bush administration were complicit in the 9/11 attacks.

    Rosen’s “church of the savvy” doctrine seems to fit you in this article, who reports that the question is not whether Jones’ offense was a fire-able offense – merits termination – but will the claim “work” in getting him fired.

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