It’s hardly news when Fox News airs something nasty. This time, though, it’s personal—or, at least, institutional. Recently, the nation’s highest-rated cable-news network’s biggest star devoted three hour-long episodes of his program to an attack on a single prominent citizen. The in-house advance publicity for these broadcasts was lavish. A promotional spot, distilling to thirty seconds the moral essence of the programs it advertised, is worth describing in full.
An empty black screen. Then a quotation is superimposed:
“MY MOTHER WAS QUITE ANTI-SEMITIC,
AND ASHAMED OF BEING JEWISH.”
Cut to black-and-white footage, nineteen-thirties-era, of anxious-looking people, presumably Jews, hurrying on a European street; a synagogue door; shawl-wearing Jews praying. On the soundtrack, the faint tha-thump of a beating heart. Another quotation, this one superimposed on a Star of David:
“I DON’T DENY THE JEWS THEIR RIGHT
TO A NATIONAL EXISTENCE—
BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE PART OF IT.”
A grainy photograph shows a grim-faced, middle-aged man glancing furtively over his shoulder. Who is he? The black background again, and this:
SOURCE: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SOROS
BY CONNIE BRUC,
THE NEW YORKER, JANUARY 23, 1995
More titles, each fading to the next, as the percussive heartbeat grows ominously louder:
EXPOSING GEORGE SOROS
A GLENN BECK SPECIAL EVENT
THE PUPPET MASTER?
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 9TH
Call us oversensitive, but when our efforts are shanghaied like a nineteenth-century sailor and forced to work as a deckhand aboard a ship of lies, we can’t help getting our hackles up. You don’t have to be a professional semiotician to see that the Glenn Beck promo is intended to leave the impression that George Soros, the hedge-fund investor and funder of anti-totalitarian and liberal causes, is an anti-Semite; that he was somehow complicit in the Holocaust; and that he is an enemy of Israel. These are lies—lies told by innuendo, but lies all the same. The promo’s shard of truth is that “The World According to Soros” was indeed published in The New Yorker. Its author was Connie Bruck. (“Bruc” is a Fox flub, not a Fox fib.) The quotes from it, though accurately transcribed, are made to function as lies by being placed in an utterly mendacious context. Bruck’s article is the “source” of these smears only in the sense that the brooks of the Catskills are the “source” of New York City’s sewage.
George Soros, born in Budapest in 1930, spent his boyhood hiding in plain sight from the Nazis and their local nationalist-Fascist surrogates. He survived, despite some frighteningly close calls, because his father disguised the family’s Jewishness with forged documents and fake identities. As a teen-ager, Soros witnessed the early years of Communist dictatorship. He immigrated alone to England, studied at the London School of Economics, and discovered that he had a feel for financial markets. In 1956, he took a job on Wall Street. (In New York, he was joined by his parents, who had become refugees after Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian Revolution.) He made himself wealthy; he currently ranks as No. 35 on the Forbes list of the richest people in the world. Soros made and makes his billions in the amoral world of stock and currency speculation; he gives them away in a quite different spirit, but with the same eye for leverage. He provided crucial support to civil-society movements throughout the Soviet bloc. He probably did more than any other private citizen in the West to nudge European Communism into history’s dustbin. While his pro-democracy initiatives continue (Burma is a current area of focus), he has lately added a large domestic component, including funding for liberal policy institutes and advocacy groups. And he spent millions in support of the Presidential candidacies of John Kerry and Barack Obama.
Apart from the forged documents and fake identities (and, of course, the support for Democrats), viewers of Fox News learned none of this from Beck. The promo was bad; the programs were worse. Beck pictured Soros as a deeply evil figure, a shadowy manipulator whose marionettes include unions, the Democratic Party, the media, and the President; a rapacious financier who seeks to subvert and destroy the American republic in order to satisfy his own greed for money and advance his plot to establish an all-powerful global state under his control. As it happens, these tropes correspond uncannily to those of classical anti-Semitism. This was too much for many who recognized the resemblance; Beck’s denouncers included not only the Anti-Defamation League but also Commentary, the neoconservative organ, and Reason, the libertarian bible. Certainly, the vast bulk of Beck’s fans didn’t recognize the tropes; probably he didn’t, either. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is not among the books he recommends to his fans. (“The Red Network,” by Elizabeth Dilling, to whom President Eisenhower was “Ike the Kike” and President Kennedy’s program the “Jew Frontier,” however, is.)
The ugliest single sentence Beck uttered that week came on his radio program, which supplements his TV show. “Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps,” he said, referring to Soros, age thirteen. That’s no ordinary libel—it’s more akin to the blood variety. It was Beck’s ruminations on the Jewish Question that exhausted the patience of some conservatives, but that is a relatively minor aspect of his malicious crusade against Soros. Early in the first of his three hours, he set forth his theme, illustrating his alchemical talent for turning facts into lies:
Soros has helped fund the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, the Rose Revolution in Georgia. He also helped engineer coups in Slovakia, Croatia, and Yugoslavia. So, what is his target now? Us. America.
Relying on his audience’s naïveté, Beck never mentions that all these uniformly peaceful “revolutions” were against Communist or post-Communist dictatorships. (As for the coups in the Balkans, there have been none to engineer.) The falsehoods quickly spin out into pathology; the next day, Beck is accusing Soros of plotting a Weimar-like inflation—“$11.43 for an ear of corn! One ear!”—in order to “reap obscene profits” and “bring America to her knees.” But enough. Too much of this can be hazardous to your health.
Beck is often dismissed as an “entertainer”—the Rush Limbaugh excuse, calculated to make critics out to be stuffed shirts who can’t take a joke. Beck is nobody’s puppet, but he does have masters: Fox News and the News Corporation. Their respective chief executive officers, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, are the responsible—which is to say, irresponsible—parties. In an interview last week, Ailes had this to say about his National Public Radio counterparts: “They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism.” No wonder that, for Beck, there are no strings attached. There don’t have to be.
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